The Good: Bend Don’t Break
All the stats for Penn State are there:
- 579 total yards.
- 29 first downs.
- 40 minutes time of possession to Iowa’s 20.
Yet the Nittany Lions only scored 21 points. To add, as we’re all painfully aware, it was only at the last moment that they scored their second touchdown of the game. How did this happen? Penn State ran an unbelievable 103 plays on offense. Iowa ran 48. To add, Iowa punted a total of seven times and allowed Penn State, on average, to start from their 30-yard line.
So how did this happen?
Bend but don’t break.
Penn State made it into the red zone five different times, including two trips inside the Iowa five-yard line. Iowa forced field goals on both of those trips inside the five, blocked another field goal and only gave up two touchdowns. Bill C of SBNation created his own statistic where he started the red zone inside the 40-yard line. He explains why in this article. I think it’s better than starting at the 20, and agree with his justification. Using this statistic, Iowa’s defensive performance is even more impressive. Of the nine times that Penn State made it to Iowa’s 40 or farther, they only scored on four of those opportunities.
That’s credit to Iowa’s defense, that held the line when backed up to the wall against the apocalypse that was Saquon Barkley.
The Bad: Dropsies
Iowa was only credited three drops on the day but I believe there were more, as the definition of a “drop” must be “IT HIT HIM SQUARE IN THE HANDS AND HE DROPPED IT.” There were a few passes from Stanley that were high, but catchable, and I don’t believe that those are statistically considered drops. Anyway, VandeBerg was credited with two of the drops and Iowa was forced to punt three plays later on both drives. Ihmir Smith-Marsette dropped another pass but there was an offensive pass interference penalty so it would’ve been negated anyway. Sloppiness has been a problem for Iowa’s offense all season and it’s easy to say that things would’ve been different had they executed perfectly but c’mon, catch the dang football.
Speaking of VandeBerg, he’s been targeted 20 times this season and has only caught 10 of those balls. His yards per target is the lowest of the top three receivers at 5.4 YPT. I’m not saying Matt VandeBerg isn’t the same receiver but his stats are down across the board and his 10.7 yards per reception is the lowest of his career. Just something to keep an eye on.
The Ugly: THROW THE DANG BALL, BRIAN
How frustrating. If you subtract his 35 yard touchdown run, Akrum Wadley only rushed for 45 yards on 18 attempts. That’s 2.5 yards per carry. Also: that long rushing touchdown came out of a passing formation.
Iowa’s run game was downright ugly out of their “traditional” power formations. Single-I, offset-I or singleback, Iowa never got it going on the ground. But for some reason, that didn’t stop Brian Ferentz from trying until the end of the second and fourth quarters. Penn State was loading the box with 7-8 guys at the very least against Iowa’s “rushing formations.” Stretch right. Stretch left. Iso. Off tackle. It didn’t work. But Iowa kept at it in an exercise of futility.
Only when Brian opened up the playbook did Iowa have success. They came out passing after the Josey Jewell interception and scored a touchdown on the very next play. Wadley’s long reception for a touchdown was a go route out of the shotgun. On Wadley’s 35 yard run, Iowa had just moved the ball 30 yards with two passing plays. The pass opened up the run. Just like how the run opens up the pass.
Iowa is a run-first offense. They like to wear teams down. But Penn State wasn’t going to get worn down or ran on. When it’s clear that running the ball isn’t going to work, Brian needs to make that call. Nathan Stanley has now thrown 12 touchdowns to one interception on the season and has completed 61% of his passes. Going ultraconservative to limit a young quarterback from turning the ball over was a Greg Davis tactic. It was a Ken O’Keefe tactic before that. You were made offensive coordinator to be different, Brian. Be different.
Throw the dang ball.