A night game in Kinnick stadium is not supposed to be easy for visitors, but No. 10 Penn State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) won their second consecutive night game in Iowa City in three years Saturday night. In a defensive battle, Sean Clifford and a strong display by the Penn State defense held off No. 17 Iowa (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) to remain undefeated. The game was put out of reach with a 17-6 score when Noah Cain took a pitch to the left side of the field for a touchdown. Penn State went on to win 17-12.
This was a tough defensive battle form the start. Clifford had a rough start to the game before he settled in during the second quarter. A.J. Epenesa of Iowa was in his face for much of the night, but the Nittany Lions protected the ball well and went 60 minutes without a turnover. Iowa, on the other hand, could not do the same in a game where possessions came at a premium.
Penn State appeared to take advantage of the first turnover of the game when Clifford connected with tight end Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown over the middle of the Hawkeyes defense late in the third quarter. But a video replay review ultimately overturned the call on the field and marked the ball shy of the end zone. Penn State would still manage to tack on a field goal, but the decision by the replay officials seemed to puzzle many watching the game.
According to David Jones of The Patriot News, the official word in the press box regarding the video replay ruling was it was a judgment call.
Penn State later picked off Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, which setup Cain to give Penn State some much-needed breathing room in the fourth quarter. After not throwing an interception in Iowa’s first four games of the season, Stanley has now thrown four in the last two games as Iowa’s offense continues to struggle against good defenses. They’ll have some time to figure that out before a road trip to Wisconsin in what should be a big game in the Big Ten West, although Iowa is already two games behind the Badgers in the loss column.
Stanley did give Iowa some late life though when he fumbled a snap and recovered for a first down and then tossed a deep ball to Brandon Smith for a remarkable touchdown catch (which was upheld by video review).
Penn State was able to run the clock out after recovering Iowa’s onside kick attempt. Cain picked up some big yardage in crucial situations to help milk the clock as he climbed over 100 rushing yards against a stingy Iowa defense. And in doing so, Penn State secured the first road win against a ranked opponent in the career of James Franklin. Franklin was 0-11 on the road against ranked teams in his career dating back to his time at Vanderbilt, and Penn State was 0-6 in those situations under their head coach.
Penn State will return home for what could be another tough defensive battle. The Nittany Lions host Michigan next weekend in a primetime showdown in front of a whiteout crowd. the game will carry a lot of weight in the Big Ten East as Michigan has already suffered one conference loss and Ohio State is leading the pace in the Big Ten. Iowa will stay home next week for their own division matchup with Purdue.