The No. 4 Nittany Lions (4-0. 1-0 Big Ten) avoiding the same fate that met the 2008 team (ranked No. 3) when they were upset by the home-standing Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) by a final score of 24-23 on a last-second field goal.
This time around it was Penn State getting the last laugh in the end.
After a pair of second half touchdowns by Akrum Wadley (70-yard catch, 35-yard run) the Hawkeyes were thinking upset once again but a 12-play, 65 yard touchdown drive that started with 1:42 remaining from the Nittany Lions put an end to yet another Iowa stunner under the lights at Kinnick Stadium.
Here’s what we learned from Penn State’s 21-19 win over Iowa last Saturday.
No. 1: This Penn State team is mentally tough
They heard all week about how Iowa spoils top five teams at Kinnick and how Penn State had lost there as one of those team just under 10 years ago. They heard about how they hadn’t played anyone yet and how they would be tested.
Then they went out and and racked up 579 total yards of offense, killed themselves with a pair of costly turnovers and committed eight penalties for 90 yards. The defense gave up two huge, back-breaking big plays for scores late and it still didn’t matter.
Trace McSorley and the offense put a frustrating night of dominating time of possession but still finding themselves in a tight game away and took care of business on the road in a tough environment that will claim teams.
It’s not easy to go win on the road in the Big Ten and Iowa is far from the easiest place to do so. Given how the night went it shows how mentally strong this version of Penn State is.
No. 2: Saquon Barkley is without a doubt the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy
No. 26 piled up more than 300 yards rushing and receiving and was breathtaking in willing his team to a victory. Barkley hurdled, juked and flat ran over Iowa defenders all night. He simply couldn’t be stopped and the nation got to watch him put on a show Saturday night. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson traded spots atop the Heisman conversation in recent weeks but Saquon Barkley has been impressive in every game and nearly every touch he’s had this season.
No. 3: The defense gave up a couple big plays, but proved they’re ready for primetime
Don’t let a pair of breakdowns that resulted in two long touchdowns for Iowa’s Akrum Wadley distract you from the fact that those two plays accounted for nearly 40% of Iowa’s total yardage all night.
Penn State’s defense held Iowa to just 11 first downs and held Wadley to around four yards per carry even with a 30-yard touchdown added in. Even though Iowa QB Nathan Stanley passed for 191 yards and a pair of scores, one came on the 70-yard throw to Wadley.
Save for Iowa picking off McSorley deep in Penn State territory which resulted in a touchdown throw on their first play of the drive, there’s a good chance Iowa doesn’t even score in the first half.
Penn State’s defense had two bad plays that ended up almost costing them dearly, but they made up for it with their play in-between those two scores and kept the offense in the game long enough to go win it.
No. 4: It’s not too soon to worry about Tyler Davis
Davis, who missed just two field goals in his career prior to this season, has already missed four of his eight field goal attempts in 2017. His misses in this one came from 41 yards out in the 31 yards out in the second quarter and from 31 yards out in the fourth quarter with 2:42 left. Wadley, of course, would give Iowa a 19-15 lead from 35 yards out on the ensuing drive.
Penn State’s kicker has now missed a pair of kicks from inside 40 yards in 2017 and they can’t afford any more misses especially when Michigan and Ohio State come calling in a couple of weeks. There’s concern for Davis now, but he has a few weeks to right the ship before it’s too late.
No. 5: Juwan Johnson stepped up in a big way
We talked this week about how the receivers were going to need to step up and sure was that true on Saturday night. With Iowa bracketing tight end Mike Gesicki, Juwan Johnson showed up with seven catches for 92 yards and obviously the game-winning touchdown. But aside from the winning score, Johnson became a go-to guy for Trace McSorley as his top option was taken away from him by the defense.
With Gesicki proving to be a matchup nightmare every week, look for more teams to try and take away the tight end and make guys like Johnson, DaeSean Hamilton and others beat them. In this one, Johnson made Iowa pay.
Next up for Penn State is a date with Indiana (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) for homecoming this Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3:30pm and the game will air on Big Ten Network.