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Penn State Nittany Lions

37 Random Thoughts on Iowa

As afternoon turned to evening on Saturday, the Penn State Nittany Lions hosted the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania in a game of American football. The Nittany Lions hung on for the victory, 30-24. I have some thoughts, which are set forth randomly below:

  1. Never have I felt older than when I watched Twitter videos of the team dancing on the field to Sheck Wes’ Mo Bamba. Damned if I know the lyrics, the beat, or anyone named Sheck Wes, for that matter.
  2. But they were having fun, and these days, that’s all that matters. Because Lord knows these guys haven’t looked like they’ve enjoyed themselves for weeks. This week, they got to dance with their peers, so I’m all in.
  3. I can’t blame them. Last week, I talked about how this team looked stressed over the last several weeks, with the weight of great expectations strapped firmly to their shoulders. Losses to the Buckeyes and Spartans created all of the “what could have been” takes, and with good reason. This team is inexperienced and shallow in key spots, but it’s clear from these last few weeks that the only sure thing in college football is Alabama, with Clemson running a modestly distant second. A few missed tackles and dropped interceptions are the only things standing between Penn State and 8-0 at this point.
  4. Missed opportunities hurt, and they hurt worse when you know you’re talented enough to get the job done. Penn State scored a lot of points and won with style in the first few weeks of the year before a different narrative began to emerge – the Team of the Fourth Quarter Collapse.
  5. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve seen that same graphic over the last two weeks. Yes, Penn State has had leads in the 4th quarter in its last 5 losses. Remind me again, ESPN – throw some salt in the wound.
  6. All of those graphics, all of those questions, all of these blog posts, they all lead to one place – creeping doubt. Are we actually any good at all? Was it all just a fluke? How can we ever hold a lead in the 4th quarter against a quality opponent?
  7. And you’d have hoped that last week’s win against Indiana would have erased those feelings and brought these guys back from the brink. But unfortunately, those uniforms still say “Indiana” across the chest, and whether that squad finishes bowl eligible or not, they’re still Indiana and Penn State, in any iteration, is expected to be better.
  8. There’s that word again – expectations.
  9. But this week was different. Historically, Iowa isn’t Penn State – it’s got more than 200 fewer wins and 40,000 fewer seats in its stadium. But Iowa is one of those teams – a top 20 team with a penchant for upsets, a familiar head coach and a recognizable brand. The Hawkeyes sat at 18th in the country, 6-1 and in control of their own destiny in the Big Ten West when they hit the grass in Beaver Stadium on Saturday. And beating Iowa is beating someone meaningful. And it took every second on the clock in order to get the job done.
  10. The less said about the first half, the better. As far as I’m concerned, James Franklin’s halftime spot spoke volumes. I don’t have the exact quote, but it was, more or less, the following – “We’re fortunate to be tied, we couldn’t have played any worse, between the bad snaps, the safeties, and that last thing that happened out there.”
  11. There were multiple points during the second quarter in which Franklin looked like he was trying to prevent himself from exploding on national television. I’m glad he did, but I’d pay good money to hear what his halftime speech to the team sounded like. I’m guessing there wasn’t a whole lot of “Go! Fight! Team! Win!” in his voice.
  12. But seriously, I almost walked away from my living room after the first 10 minutes of game play. Let’s recount this – a blocked punt, two safeties, -14 total offensive yards, a trick play touchdown on defense, and down 12-0 before you could bat an eye.
  13. On 3rd and 18 on the second drive, Trace McSorley dropped back to pass and was faced with an onslaught of Iowa pass rushers. In response, Trace folded to protect himself and was overrun. It looked like he had given up. Frankly, I couldn’t even blame him for doing so, given what he had witnessed with his teammates over the first quarter thus far.
  14. I should have known better. Trace McSorley doesn’t quit anything, even if he’s injured.
  15. That hushed silence over Beaver Stadium was both horrifying and, paradoxically, well earned. It’s not that no one trusts Tommy Stevens, or even Sean Clifford. Far from it. Both of those guys have bright futures, and that’s not just mindless homer drivel. But at the end of the day, Trace McSorley is our guy, and you’d hate to see a career end in that fashion.
  16. Watching Trace walk off under his own power was huge, but I think most everyone expected to see Stevens in for the rest of the game, especially when he headed to the medical tent.
  17. Every father should be so fortunate to have the relationship with their son that Rick McSorley has with his. Watching him lean over the railing to simultaneously console and inspire his son was one of those moments that, of all be major sports in America, could only happen in college football. I can only hope that one day Cooper talks about me the way Trace spoke about his father in his post-game, on field interview.
  18. Two things frustrated me in the first half – drops and offsides. Obviously these have occurred regularly, but after taking a wholesale look at the game, the former was less a problem than originally expected.
  19. I only recall two drops – one early one by Deandre Thompkins, and another on a long ball by Brandon Polk. Otherwise, I thought this was substantially improved. Am I forgetting any?
  20. The young receivers showed some game. KJ is KJ – Hamler is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the rock. But Jahan Dotson had a nice day too, getting himself in space, making the grabs, and doing positive things. Very reminiscent of early DaeSean Hamilton. Nothing overly difficult, but he was put in a stronger spot to contribute than I would have expected.
  21. The offsides, though. Maaaaaaaan. On fourth down by an upperclassman no less? You’re killin’ me smalls. This is the most undisciplined PSU I’ve seen in some time, and it caused problems time and again.
  22. Overall though, the defense played well. I was pleased generally with the linebackers, particularly the Ellis Brooks/Micah Parsons/Cam Brown trio. The future is bright.
  23. Speaking of, Cam Brown played a really nice game. And someone tell Todd McShay that the final hit wasn’t remotely targeting, and any call like that to end the game would have Brennan a complete disgrace.
  24. Iowa is a good team, but not a smart team. I’m baffled by the going for it on 4th down at midfield at the end of the half that gave us the ball and, basically, points.
  25. The staff handled the QB issues mostly well. They gave Tommy a run-oriented drive to get his feet wet, but let him take the wheel and sling it a bit to get in field goal range to close the half. Nice to see him respond well when given the keys. Penn State’s in good hands next year in the post-McSorley era.
  26. I wouldn’t have put Trace back out there in the second quarter, but that’s nitpicking. He looked uncomfortable on the sideline jog and clearly needed a bit more time.
  27. Gotta love how unpleasant life was made for Nate Stanley. Kid heard phantom footsteps all night.
  28. John Reid – welcome back to the party. He’s returned to form in a big way.
  29. If this team could play the rest of its games like it played the third quarter, we’ll see it at the NY6.
  30. Watching this week reminded me how much these guy are really still just kids. Emotions matter. They aren’t pros and they aren’t able to just put things behind them. They play hard and have a tough time getting themselves together when things don’t go their way.
  31. It’s clear they’ve been waiting for someone, anyone, to make a play to jump start them. Unfortunately, those plays just didn’t come the last few weeks. But they DID come this week – Trace’s “Willis Reed moment,” Nick Scott’s big goalline pick. Those are the plays that make and break seasons.
  32. I’m proud of this team. I’m proud of Jake Pinegar and Trace McSorley and a team growing each week.
  33. Let’s not talk about special teams, though…
  34. Nice win against a good team. Let’s see what some momentum can do.
  35. On to Ann Arbor…
  36. It’s 4:44 on Monday, and Michigan still sucks.
  37. We are…

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