By JAMES ALLAN
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — No. 17 Penn State staved off a University of Iowa rally to hand the 18th-ranked Hawkeyes a 30-24 defeat in a top-20 matchup Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.
Iowa trailed 27-17 entering the fourth quarter before the defense jumpstarted the rally. On second-and-9 from the 10, sophomore Geno Stone intercepted a Trace McSorely pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown, making the score 27-24.
Penn State’s K.J. Hamler followed with a 67-yard kickoff return on the Nittany Lions’ next possession, but Iowa’s defense came away with a “win,” limiting the Nittany Lions to a 44-yard Jake Pinegar field goal.
The Hawkeyes followed with their most sustained drive of the game, moving 72 yards over 12 plays. Junior Noah Fant opened the series with catches of 12, 4, and 7 yards before Mekhi Sargent broke free for a 20-yard rush to the Penn State 32.
After converting two third-and-10s — a 15-yard pass to Sargent and a 14-yard completion to Brandon Smith — to the 2, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley audibled at the line of scrimmage. With time winding down on the play clock, Stanley targeted Fant at the goal line, but there was confusion and Penn State’s Nick Scott intercepted the attempt to fend off Iowa from taking the lead.
Iowa had one final chance, taking over with 1:23 remaining at the Penn State 23. The Hawkeyes moved the ball into Nittany Lion territory, but the Hawkeyes’ comeback attempt fell short.
The Hawkeyes finished with a 350-312 advantage in total offense, including 135 rushing yards. Stanley finished 18-of-49 for 205 yards, but threw two interceptions. Sargent led Iowa’s rushing attack with 91 yards on 16 attempts.
Fant led a group of seven different receivers to record a catch, making five receptions for 56 yards.
Iowa ran 88 plays (compared to 64 for Penn State) and had a 35:18 to 24:42 advantage in time of possession. Iowa finished 7-of-20 on third down.
Defensively, junior Amani Hooker and senior Matt Nelson tied for the team lead with six tackles. Iowa finished with three sacks and five tackles for loss in the game with junior Anthony Nelson tallying 1.5 sacks.
QUOTING HEAD COACH KIRK FERENTZ
“We knew coming in that we were playing a good team in a tough environment; we knew what we were walking into. To lose is frustrating, and it’s disappointing. You have to credit Penn State. We did a lot of good things, but we left the door open on some things and wasted field position.
“They made it tough on us. They did a good job in keeping us from getting into an offensive rhythm until the end of the game. It was an unusual game, unconventional in the first half with some of the special teams plays that took place.
“We weren’t able to make the plays you need to make to be successful against a good football team. With that being said I am proud of our football team. They had another great week of preparation, they fought hard, they just didn’t play well enough today and Penn State did.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
- After Iowa’s defense forced a three-and-out on Penn State’s first possession, Iowa took the early lead courtesy of its special teams play. Nittany Lion punter Blake Gilliken mishandled the snap and Iowa’s Dominque Daffney blocked the punt and it caromed out of the back of the end zone for a safety to give the Hawkeyes a 2-0 lead.
- The Hawkeyes followed with an eight-play, 47-yard scoring drive. Stanley hit T.J. Hockenson for 29 yards on the second play and junior Nate Wieting recovered the fumble, giving Iowa a first down at the Penn State 29. Four rushes and a Nittany Lion personal foul saw Iowa move to the 5, but the Hawkeyes were forced to settle on Miguel Recinos’ 27-yard field goal, making the score 5-0.
- Iowa pushed its lead to 12-0 with a nine-play, 42-yard touchdown drive. On fourth-and-goal from the 10, the Hawkeyes employed some trickery. Punter Colten Rastetter fielded the snap and connected with senior defensive lineman Sam Brincks, who hauled in an over-the-shoulder 10-yard touchdown catch, giving Iowa a 12-0 lead.
- Penn State awoke with a 10-play, 85-yard scoring drive on its final possession of the first quarter. McSorely closed the drive with back-to-back completions of 15 and 18-yards with the latter being a touchdown pass to a wide open Pat Freiermuth in the back of the end zone that made the score 12-7.
- Iowa was the beneficiary of another special teams’ mishap to push the lead to 14-7. After Iowa roughed up McSorely on the play prior, Penn State was forced to punt. Nittany Lion long snapper Kyle Vasey airmailed the snap over Gillken’s head for the second safety of the game.
- Penn State capitalized on the game’s first turnover to tie the game at 14. Stanley floated a throw to Nick Easley that was picked off by John Reid and returned 44 yards to the Iowa 3. Penn State backup quarterback Tommy Stevens scored on a designed quarterback run on the next play, tying the game at 14 with 6:49 left in the second quarter.
- Sophomore Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s 49-yard kickoff return set up a drive that gave Iowa a 17-14 lead. Sophomore Mekhi Sargent had an 11-yard run on the first play before the drive stalled at the 31, but Recinos connected on a field goal from 49 yards out.
- After Iowa turned the ball over on downs at the Penn State 42 with 37 seconds left in the first half, the Nittany Lions drove 31 yards over four plays to set up a game-tying field goal. Stevens connected with K.J. Hamler for 18 yards to the Iowa 27, setting up Pinegar’s 45-yard field goal to tie the game at 17.
- Penn State grabbed its first lead on its first drive of the second half. McSorely hit Hamler for 18 yards on the first play and three plays later, the quarterback broke free for a 51-yard touchdown run on third-and-2, giving the Nittany Lions a 24-17 lead.
- The Nittany Lions stretched their lead to 10 points courtesy of a 49-yard Pinegar field goal with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
- Stone had a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was his third interception of the season and marked the 11th straight year Iowa has returned an interception for a touchdown.
- Dominique Dafney blocked a Penn State punt on the Nittany Lions’ opening possession. It is Iowa’s first blocked punt since October 31, 2015 (Aaron Mends). The punt rolled out of the end zone for a safety (Iowa’s second of the season – Amani Hooker TFL vs. Northern Illinois).
- Mekhi Sargent set career bests in carries (16) and rushing yards (91). He is the third different Hawkeye to set a career high in rushing yards in the last three weeks (Young, 96 yards at Indiana; Kelly-Martin, 98 yards vs. Maryland).
- Nate Stanley had 198 yards total offense, raising his career total to 4,158 and moving past Ed Podolak (4,026) and Sedrick Shaw (4,156) for 11th all-time in school history.
- Miguel Recinos’ 49-yard field goal in the second quarter was a career-long. Recinos had two field goals (27, 49) and two extra-points today. He has made his last nine field goal attempts dating back to Week 3. His 49-yard field goal moved him into 20th on Iowa’s all-time scoring list, passing Mike Saunders (144). Recinos has 146 career points.
- Iowa scored 24 points without the benefit of an offensive touchdown. The Hawkeyes recorded two safeties, kicked two field goals, returned one interception for a touchdown, and scored one touchdown via special teams (fake field goal).
- Penn State sacked Iowa three times. The Hawkeyes entered the game having surrendered just six quarterback sacks, the fewest in the Big Ten.
- Iowa’s first touchdown was a 10-yard pass from P Colton Rastetter to DE Sam Brinks. It was Brinks’ first career reception. It was Rastetter’s third career completion and first career touchdown pass. He is 3-for-3 passing in his career for 43 yards.
- Iowa lost for the first time in 13 games when scoring at least 20 points.
- Iowa had two safeties in the game. It is the first time under Ferentz that Iowa has had two safeties in a single game, and the first time Iowa has had two safeties in a single season. It is the first time an FBS team recorded multiple safeties against an FBS opponent since Memphis did it against Tulane in October 2015. The last Big Ten team to do it was Wisconsin in Nov. 2008 vs Minnesota.
ON THE HORIZON
The Hawkeyes return to action Nov. 3, traveling to West Lafayette, Indiana, to face Purdue. Game time is set for 2:30 p.m. (CT).
Iowa’s next four games are against Big Ten West opponents. Iowa trails Purdue and Northwestern by one game in the loss column, and plays both schools in the next two weeks.