STATE COLLEGE – Penn State and Iowa had just about everything on Saturday, and not in a good way for the Nittany Lions.
The home side experienced mistake after mistake; including multiple safeties, poor kick-off coverage, penalties, injuries and ill-timed turnovers.
But even as poor as they looked at times, the 17th-ranked Nittany Lions scraped by, topping No. 18 Iowa 30-24.
“We were fortunate to get a win against a really tough opponent within our conference,” coach James Franklin said afterward. “We didn’t always play smart, especially early on in the game, but we played gutsy. We were fortunate to be going into halftime the way we were … But our defense was just so resilient to keep us in the game.”
With Iowa down by six and driving all the way to the Penn State 3 late in the fourth quarter, it appeared that the Nittany Lions were going to cough up another double-digit lead.
That is until Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley inexplicably threw into coverage at the goal line with safety Nick Scott coming up with the game-saving interception.
“It was a great team win,” defensive end Shareef Miller said. “(Defensive line coach Sean Spencer) always talks to us and tells us defensive lineman to end the game on our terms. I feel like we did that as a defense. It feels real good.”
Another collapse was averted. That’s now back-to-back games where the oppositions offense was on the field late in the game with a chance to go ahead, only for the Nittany Lions’ defense to make a stand and close out a win.
For a unit that experienced two narrow defeats to Ohio State and Michigan State earlier this season, games where it coughed up fourth-quarter leads, two straight weeks of late shutdown football is a confidence booster.
“It means so much to finish the game,” senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “We always talk about it: finish, finish, finish. That’s one of our core goals every game and to get that finish was great. We got guys all over the field making plays.”
After a safety from Iowa’s special teams unit, a Miguel Recinos field goal and a trick-play touchdown, Penn State found itself in a 12-0 hole.
Penn State’s offense finally got in gear on its next drive, going 85 yards on 10 plays. The result was an 18-yard strike from Trace McSorley to Pat Freiermuth.
Another safety extended the Hawkeyes’ lead to 14-7 and then the bad vibes continued as quarterback McSorley was sacked on Penn State’s next possession and he stayed down on the ground for a few minutes. He eventually stood up and walked gingerly to the sideline.
McSorley returned to the field later in the half, but only lasted three plays before being replaced by Tommy Stevens, again. He returned to start the second half and finished the game.
Stevens punched it in one play after a John Reid interception to tie things up at 14. The two teams traded field goals to close the half and go into the break tied at 17.
McSorley’s return in the second half came with fireworks, as he took a quarterback draw 51 yards to the end zone to give Penn State its first lead, 24-17.
“Trace McSorley, he’s the best football player in college football,” Franklin said. “I don’t care what anybody says. And he’s as tough as it gets. He’s as tough as it gets. Goes out and we’re able to get him back in the game.”
Jake Pinegar nailed a career-long 49-yard field goal with 4:10 left in the third quarter to push the Nittany Lions ahead 27-17.
A pick-six from New Castle native Geno Stone with 10 minutes to go gave a sense of deja vu for Penn State fans, and diminished the home team’s lead to 27-24.
Pinegar nailed a 44-yard try on Penn State’s next series to extend the lead back to six, 30-24, where the score would remain until the clocks hit zero.
“For a young man from Iowa, in Jake Pinegar, to come up as big as he came up today was huge,” Franklin said. “Just really proud of our guys. A gutsy, gutsy win. I thought we battled through.”