UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Thanks in large part to a stellar defensive effort and the ability to end the game on the terms of the defense, Penn State was able to outlast Iowa, 30-24, at Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon.
“We didn’t always play smart especially early on in the game, but we played gutsy,” James Franklin said following the game. “We were fortunate to be going in at halftime the way we were.”
The Nittany Lions spotted the Hawkeyes 12 early points via a safety, field goal and touchdown on a fake field goal in the first quarter, but after that it was the defense’s time to shine. And that they did as they held Iowa to only a field goal from the first quarter on.
“Our defense was just so resilient,” Franklin said. “Brent Pry, our defensive staff, our defensive players did not give up a traditional touchdown tonight not one. Pretty impressive, gutsy performance by our defense.”
It was the gritty performance the defense has been known for since the loss to Michigan State and at the forefront once again was defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos who led the Nittany Lions with nine tackles and two sacks.
“It’s a great feeling being out there and being able to contribute to the team,” Gross-Matos said.
It’s finally starting to click for the sophomore defensive end, someone who has been an impact player since stepping foot on the Penn State campus.
“He’s always had all the tools. We always thought he had a chance to be a really special player for us,” Franklin said. “He’s always had ability, but there’s a lot of different things besides just rushing the passer.”
It wasn’t just Gross-Matos making plays for the Penn State defense as they also forced Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley to throw two interceptions. John Reid returned a Stanley pass 44 yards to set up a Tommy Stevens rushing touchdown in the second quarter to tie the game at 14.
A fourth quarter interception by safety Nick Scott halted what could’ve been an Iowa scoring drive and turn momentum toward the Nittany Lions. If you ask him though, the interception, even at that pivotal moment, wasn’t the biggest play of the game for the defense.
“I think the stop we had in the two minute was even bigger than the interception just because it didn’t necessarily result in points,” Scott said. “Yeah, it did take some points off the board but we still had a job to do.”
It’s the second week in a row the defense ended the game on their own terms and got the job done which is something they will need to continue as they take on No. 5 Michigan next week.
“We were able to close it out,” Scott said. “I’m super proud of our defense and how we finished.”
THE GAME BALLS
My top three performers:
1. Yetur Gross-Matos
Penn State defensive end
Gross-Matos, who had a team high 10 tackles last week, picked up right where he left off finishing with nine tackles, four for loss, and two sacks.
2. Jake Pinegar
Penn State Kicker
Pinegar was perfect on extra points for the Nittany Lions as well as knocking home field goals from 45, 49 and 44-yards respectively.
3. KJ Hamler
Penn State wide receiver
Hamler hauled in five receptions for 96 yards and as well as a 67-yard kickoff return.
It was a kicker from Iowa who ultimately had one of the best performances against the Hawkeyes Saturday afternoon as Jake Pinegar went 3-for-3 on both field goals and extra points providing a bright spot on an otherwise dismal day for Penn State special teams.
“For a young man from Iowa, Jake Pinegar, to come up as big as he came up today, was huge,” Franklin said.
Pinegar, an Ankeny, Iowa native, made the first three 40-yard field goals of his career against the Hawkeyes knocking home kicks from 45, 49 and 44-yards for the Nittany Lions. It was his best performance of the season to date and continues a stretch where he’s now six of his last seven in the field goal department.
A true freshman, Pinegar is quickly becoming more reliable from longer lengths and seems to be earning the trust of his coaches in doing so. It the rainy, wet conditions of this afternoon, Pinegar showed he’s on the right path at becoming a seasoned kicker.
Special teams gaffes continued to be norm against Iowa as two bad snaps led to safeties for Iowa. Punter Blake Gillikin has struggled this season after being one of the better punters in the Big Ten last season.
Gillikin had a 32-yard punt from his own end zone that would set up the first touchdown of the afternoon for the Hawkeyes but it was how Iowa scored that really exposed the special teams gaffes.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of two snaps that ended up resulting in safeties, two safeties like that in one game, so that was pretty challenging,” Franklin said.
The Hawkeyes lined up for a fake field goal not once but twice and still the Nittany Lions couldn’t defend it. Special teams issues have been a thorn in the side of Penn State all season as game after game they continue to get in the way of the Nittany Lions being successful.
Whether the blame lies on special teams coordinator Phil Galiano or not, Penn State needs to clean up the special teams issues as they gear up for the remainder of their season.
As Trace McSorley limped off the field with the aid of trainers in the first half the Beaver Stadium crowd was silent.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 27, 2018
After that 51-yard run by McSorley on the first possession of the third quarter, the crowd erupted both in relief and jubilation as he showed no ill-effects of his leg injury. The touchdown put Penn State ahead for the first time and for good.
After a short Gillikin punt, Iowa was given a short field to get to the end zone. The Hawkeyes moved the ball down to the Penn State 10 yard line before getting stopped by the Nittany Lions.
The field goal unit came out and set up for a fake field goal only to get a delay of game penalty. Following the penalty, Iowa came out and set up for a fake field goal once again as holder and punter, Colten Rastatter took the snap and found defensive end Sam Brincks for the touchdown.
It was a gutsy call by Kirk Ferentz and company and they caught Penn State off-guard which has developed into the norm on special teams for the Nittany Lions.
THE OTHER SIDE
Iowa benefited largely from Penn State miscues in the punting game leading to their two safeties as well as setting up an early touchdown.
Quarterback Nate Stanley struggled mightily throughout the game against the Nittany Lions going 18-for-49 for 205 yards and two interceptions. With play like that from their quarterback, their offense had a hard time finding a groove for a majority of the game.
The defense of the Hawkeyes kept Penn State at bay during the first half and really most of the game, but at the end of the day the Nittany Lions were too much for Iowa to handle.
THE INJURY UPDATE
• Trace McSorley, quarterback, left the game briefly in the first half with an injury to his right leg but returned in the second half to lead the Penn State offense.
• Juwan Johnson, wide receiver, was banged up last week against Indiana and saw the field sparingly against Iowa. Franklin mentioned he was less than 100 percent today.
No. 17 Penn State will hit the road to take on No. 5 Michigan next weekend for a 3:30 p.m kickoff from Michigan Stadium.
Visit our Penn State team page for everything from this game.