No. 4 Penn State stuns Iowa with TD on final play
Champions find a way to win and James Franklin has No. 4 Penn State believing it can overcome any sort of adversity.
Quarterback Trace McSorley threaded the needle, completing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson on the game’s final play to give the Nittany Lions a 21-19 win on Saturday against a dogged Iowa Hawkeyes squad at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.
“Our team believes,” Franklin said. “We’ve believed for two years now. We had great field position throughout the game. We just weren’t able to get into the end zone.”
In a game that was dominated by the defenses for most of the first three quarters, it was the offenses that rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter.
McSorley, who finished 31 of 48 for 284 yards with an interception, drove the Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) 80 yards in 12 plays in the final 1:42 after the Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1) took a 19-15 lead in only three plays.
“Trace is one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around,” Franklin said. “He never stops believing.”
Akrum Wadley put Iowa in great position to pull off the upset when he scored on a 35-yard run to put the Hawkeyes up by four. Earlier in the quarter, Wadley and quarterback Nathan Stanley hooked up for a 70-yard touchdown pass.
Wadley scored twice and finished with 155 total yards on 19 carries and four receptions.
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley rushed for a career-high 211 yards and one touchdown. He also had 12 receptions for 94 yards while earning Franklin’s praise.
“From a coach’s perspective, I can’t imagine a better player in the country,” Franklin said.
Barkley was quick to credit McSorley for engineering the victory.
“Trace did an unbelievable job going through his progression,” he said. “I was able to make some guys miss and get some yards.”
On the game-winning play, Barkley picked up a blitzing linebacker to give McSorley some extra time to throw the game-winning pass.
“We’re disappointed with the loss,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s gonna hurt for a while. But we will have to move on. This team has great attitude and great character ... we’ll flip the page on Monday.”
The Nittany Lions could have taken an 18-13 lead with 2:28 left in the fourth quarter, but came up empty on a 15-play, 75-yard drive when Anthony Nelson blocked Tyler Davis’ 31-yard field-goal attempt.
On that drive, Penn State leaned on Barkley, who converted a crucial fourth-and-1 with 5:38 left to keep the drive alive.
Three plays later, Barkley took a short pass 15 yards to the Iowa 15.
“It was a critical moment of the game,” he said, adding that he had to “get the first down and do whatever it takes.”
Barkley’s 8-yard scamper midway through the third period gave the Nittany Lions a little breathing room at 15-7. The key play was his 44-yard run where he dodged tacklers and tiptoed down the sideline to set up Penn State’s first touchdown
Barkley became the seventh player in Penn State history to reach 3,000 yards.
McSorley atoned for costly errors at the end of the second and third periods. His interception late in the second period led to the Hawkeyes’ first touchdown.
Toward the end of the third period, he was sacked by A.J. Epenesa and fumbled on the Iowa 45. Josey Jewell recovered. The Hawkeyes moved into field-goal territory but came up empty as Miguel Recinos’ 36-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Troy Apke.
“That game is illustrative of what it takes to win in the conference,” Ferentz said. “Both teams competed about as hard as you possibly can, and there were a lot of different swings in the game, certainly the last two drives; both teams executed well down the stretch.”
The name of the game in the first half was defense.
With temperatures in the low 80s, the Hawkeyes’ defense didn’t wilt despite Penn State’s offense holding a 2-to-1 time of possession advantage.
Even though the Iowa offense was thoroughly outplayed in the first 30 minutes, the Hawkeyes hung around and took a 7-5 lead into halftime.
Penn State held Iowa to 54 total yards and three first downs. The Hawkeyes had only one first down until the 4:34 mark of the second period.
More than a smattering of boos could be heard at Kinnick Stadium as the swarming Nittany Lions defense was in command.
“Playing night games at Kinnick are always special,” Ferentz said.
Penn State’s offense in the first half ran nearly 30 plays in Iowa territory and had 219 total yards but only three points to show for their effort as the Iowa defense matched the Nittany Lions tackle for tackle.
Penn State downed three punts inside the 10-yard line and the Nittany Lions defense finally took advantage of a third punt, which was downed on the 1-yard line.
On a second-and-8 from their own 3-yard line, Wadley took a pitch from Stanley and was tackled in the end zone by Shareef Miller for a safety and a 5-0 Penn State lead.
Iowa’s best play was a Colten Rastetter 53-yard punt that backed up the Nittany Lions inside their 6-yard line with less than two minutes left. McSorley moved the Nittany Lions out of danger to their 45-yard line, but made a costly mistake by throwing an interception with 43 seconds left in the half.
Jewell returned the interception 33 yards to the Penn State 21-yard line. On the next play, and the first play the Hawkeyes ran in Penn State territory, Stanley connected with Nick Easley for a touchdown and a 7-5 Iowa lead.
NOTES: Penn State had scored 30-plus points in 10 straight games. ... Nittany Lions QB Trace McSorley has thrown a touchdown in 19 straight games. ... Penn State confirmed DE Torrance Brown, who injured his knee in a game against Georgia State, will miss the rest of the season. ... The Hawkeyes were averaging 33 points coming into Saturday night. ... The Nittany Lions had given up only two touchdowns in their first three games. ... Former Iowa LB Chad Greenway served as honorary captain.