The Good: Defensive Line
This wasn’t a dominating defensive performance by the Hawkeyes but it was one of your better "bend but don’t break" games. Penn State totaled 294 total yards on 77 attempts, a mediocre 3.81 yards per play. The defense only had truly one bad series, giving up a 85-yard touchdown drive that ended with KJ Hamler moving very fast for a 22-yard touchdown. Side note: Nick Niemann was asked to cover Hamler and did so admirably, by which I mean he only fell down once or twice because why on earth is an outside linebacker covering KJ Hamler?
Iowa’s defense kept them in the game because Penn State decided to keep throwing the ball, which was a poor idea as Iowa’s defensive line harassed Sean Clifford all night. Clifford was sacked three times, hurried four times, and only completed 12/24 passes for 117 yards. He was often flushed from the pocket and had to rely on his legs, leading to a season high 16 rushing attempts. Chauncey Golston was second in team tackles, with eight, and had a TFL and sack. A.J. Epenesa was a hurry machine, notching three of the hurries and a solo sack of his own. Lattimore and Reiff also teamed up for a sack and Schulte had a TFL and four total tackles.
Were there some problems? Sure. Amani Jones got juked so bad his cleats are still on the turf at Kinnick Stadium. But if we’re looking to highlight a unit here, defensive line is the best.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Smith
The Bad: Interior Offensive Line
Where do we even begin here?
Iowa’s offensive line, especially the interior, did a little short of nothing on Saturday. It’s nice that Mark Kallenberger got his first start at right guard. It didn’t go well. It’s nice that Tyler Linderbaum was a great story this spring and dominated early on this season. He has gotten clowned the past two games. It doesn’t matter which Paulsen is in there, it isn’t working. I didn’t realize Cole Banwart was out for the season until Sean McDonough said something about him. “Please, send help, Kyler Schott” is not something I expected to be saying at this point of the season.
And it’s not a talent thing. All of those guys on the offensive line are talented. It’s coaching and communication. There were multiple plays where Linderbaum flat out didn’t block anyone due to confusion, a prime example coming on the Goodson fumble. On the play where Stanley threw an interception, Cody Ince couldn’t handle a swim move and allowed his defender to crush the quarterback. Because of this…
Honorable Mention: Mekhi Sargent wasn't doing his best blocking work either (see header image)
The Ugly: Offensive Tempo
…Iowa really couldn’t put anything together on offense. You wouldn’t believe it if you watched the game but Nate Stanley actually played pretty well, going 25/43 for 286 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. That’s impressive, considering:
- He is now shell-shocked and scared to step into the pocket because…
- There usually isn’t a pocket and…
- He can’t run…
- Because his coaches tell him not to and he’s not fast.
I was inclined to be a bit less understanding of Stanley until I listened to Washed Up Walkons from this week, which has Drake Kulick, Kevin Ward and Tyler Kluver breaking down the game. They explained, and I had this thought though I didn’t think it was right, that Stanley audibled into a blitz to count on the over-pursuit of the defenders, so the ball-carrier doesn’t get taken down from behind. Of course, I have to question that call by Nate when he’d seen what his line was doing to that point but that’s apparently a football-minded explanation for what seems like a very poor common sense decision.
Now, did he completely screw up that goal line pass to Brandon Smith? Yes. Should he have actually taken a sack when he threw that INT? Maybe, sure. If Iowa is starting a pro-style quarterback that can’t run, they need to block for the guy. If they can’t block for the guy, then he can’t do his job very well. Stanley couldn’t do his job very well on Saturday because he wasn’t afforded the time to do so.
Does Penn State have a good defense? Absolutely. But don’t sit here and tell me that you can’t rush for 100 yards on an opponent when your offense is supposedly run-first. Nate Stanley shouldn’t have to win games alone. Rushing for a paltry 2.3 YPC is pathetic and on the coaching staff, who do not have this line ready to play Big Ten football. Tim Polasek should have his job questioned and Kirk should be slightly embarrassed, being an offensive line coach himself.
Is there a lot left to play for this season? Sure. I mean, Iowa is pretty much out of the Big Ten race and lost two games they could’ve won, but that’s what happens when the balls don’t bounce your way. If it seemed like Michigan and Penn State got all of the bounces, it’s because they did. Iowa has been unlucky in their last two games. But Iowa can’t always count on fortune to win them football games. And if Kirk Ferentz is counting on luck to win his football games, it’s a questionable way to coach at this stage of his career.
Honorable Mention: My god those referees were bad.