Despite the same all-white uniforms, black shoes and white laces on Saturday, it certainly didn’t look the same Penn State football team that hadn’t won at Kinnick Stadium since 1999.
News flash: It wasn’t.
Under coach Bill O’Brien, these Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) are the same aggressor on defense that they’ve been for the past four decades, but now they add that same aggressive style on the offensive side of the ball. The result is yet another 500 total yard performance in the utter dismantling of the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten), 38-14 on Saturday night.
Behind a breakout performance from sophomore tailback Bill Belton, another steady performance from senior quarterback Matt McGloin and the same lock tight defense, the Lions won their fifth-straight game. Penn State controlled the clock all game and took advantage of a couple early Hawkeye turnovers to take a commanding lead 24-0 lead at halftime. The Lions extended their lead to 38-0 late in the fourth quarter before a pair of garbage time touchdowns from the Hawkeyes. Despite the late touchdowns, this game wasn’t even that close.
Penn State dominated time of possession, keeping the ball for nearly 40 minutes at 38:08 compared to just 21:52 for the homestanding Hawkeyes. The Lions stifling defense held a high powered Iowa rushing attack to just 20 yards on the night. While the Hawkeyes were forced to abandon the run game early due to the deficit, Penn State was impressive in stopping red-hot tailback Mark Weisman, who gained just nine yards on five carries while playing banged up following an injury last week. Even so, the Lions intercepted Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg twice and forced a fumble off the senior quarterback while holding the offense to just 209 total yards.
O’Brien’s Lions got off to yet another fast start with 14 points in the first quarter and 24 points in the first 24 minutes of the game. Quick starts have become a staple of the team under O’Brien, where the Lions have outscored opponents 66-0 so far in the first quarter this season.
This week’s fast start was kicked off with a 31-yard touchdown pass from McGloin to Jesse James at the 7:24 mark of the first quarter. McGloin scrambled to his right and unloaded a pass to the tight end who did the rest banging into the endzone to put the Lions up 7-0 early. Five minutes later after a key fourth down completion to who else, a tight end, McGloin hit his favorite target in Allen Robinson over the middle for an 8-yard touchdown to entend Penn State’s lead to 14-0.
After a Sam Ficken 34-yard field goal to put the Lions 17-0, Vandenberg fumbled deep in his own territory to setup a Belton touchdown run with just five minutes left in the half. Penn State carried the 24-0 lead out of the half and never looked back, adding two more Belton touchdown runs to push the lead to 38-0 and close the book on their third-straight win to start conference play. The Lions also beat Illinois and Northwestern in that stretch.
For Penn State on offense, it was a welcome sight to see Belton produce a breakout game. The sophomore has been less than 100 percent all season since spraining his left ankle in their opener against Ohio. Looking more like the one-cut back with agility and vision in the hole, Belton rushed for a season-high 103 yards on 16 carries. With the three scores, he becomes the first Penn State back to do so since the 2008 season, when Evan Royster did it.
On defense, it was more of the same for one of the best units in all of college football. Linebacker Michael Mauti’s crew has been impressive all season long, and stuffed the Iowa running game early leading to good field position for McGloin and the offense. The defense also provided turnovers and short fields for the offense that was easily able to capitalize. As for Mauti, he finished the night with 10 tackles unofficially, but did notch his third interception of the season and nearly took it back for a touchdown. The senior will be on the short list for most every defensive award at the end of the season.
Bill Belton, RB, Penn State. We marked the sophomore down in “Players to watch” in the preview for the first time since opening week, and he didn’t disappoint. Belton found the endzone three times and showed the vision and burst that had coaches, including O’Brien, drooling throughout fall practice. We know Penn State can throw the ball with Matt McGloin, Allen Robinson and a stable of tight ends, but if they can establish a consistent running game led by the electric Belton, the Lions will be scary on offense.
Penn State welcomes the Ohio State Buckeyes to Beaver Stadium for a twilight “White House” next Saturday. A big question all week will be the availability of Buckeye’s QB Braxton Miller, who left Saturday’s game with a head/shoulder/neck injury. For updates on Miller’s status, as well as information on the game throughout the week, be sure to follow me on twitter (@Duce_90).