Fourth-ranked Penn State was in complete command Saturday at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, building a 14-point lead in the first 17½ minutes over the Hawkeyes in their Big Ten showdown.
Then Sean Clifford walked up the tunnel to the Nittany Lions’ locker room reaching for his back, and everything changed.
Clifford missed the rest of the game, and Penn State’s offense collapsed in a 23-20 loss to No. 3 Iowa.
With inexperienced Ta’Quan Roberson filling in at quarterback, the Lions mustered three points and 94 total yards in the final 42½ minutes. They committed a mind-boggling eight false start penalties after they had none with Clifford.
“We had a bunch of guys go down,” Penn State coach James Franklin told Steve Jones and Jack Ham on the postgame radio show. “The next guy coming in has got to find a way to get the job done. It’s our job to train them.”
Roberson, seeing his most meaningful playing time in his three seasons at Penn State, completed 7-of-20 passes for 34 yards with two interceptions. He carried 10 times for 27 yards and also had poor field position.
He was no match for Iowa’s defense, especially when he started five of his 11 possessions inside the Lions’ 15-yard line.
“It was not ideal,” Franklin said.
Here are 10 takeaways from Penn State’s first loss in Iowa City since 2012:
1.Ta’Quan Roberson will be vilified and crucified by fans, but he was put in a difficult position in front of a hostile crowd. He was nervous, dropping his first snap, and was clearly not in sync with the offensive linemen, who jumped eight times. He certainly didn’t look like Clifford’s successor at quarterback in 2022.
- James Franklin preached about protecting the football all week, and so did offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and Clifford. But Clifford and Roberson each threw two interceptions and Penn State was a minus-3 in turnover margin. How big were those three points that Clifford gift-wrapped to Iowa early in the game with his first interception?
Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson was a non-factor for the first time in a long while. He finished with eight catches for 48 yards, but he didn’t score for the first time since late last season. Much of that had to do with Clifford missing almost the final three quarters.
The Lions’ injuries piled up. Penn State didn’t describe the nature of Clifford’s injury, but it looked like he had a back or rib injury. Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher suffered an injury to his left knee on the first series and was on crutches on the sideline in the second half. Dvon Ellies, another defensive tackle, was hurt in the first half but returned to action in the second half. Running back John Lovett was in street clothes in the second half with an unannounced injury.
Penn State’s defense was on the field for more than 35 minutes and looked tired in the fourth quarter when the Lions allowed the go-ahead touchdown on a play-action pass from Spencer Petras to Nico Ragaini. Otherwise, they played superbly, mostly linebacker Ellis Brooks (14 tackles), safety Jaquan Brisker and defensive ends Arnold Ebiketie and Jesse Luketa. The Lions had 11 tackles for losses, including three sacks.
Kicker and punter Jordan Stout had another outstanding game for Penn State, kicking two field goals and averaging 50.4 yards on five punts. He also sent all five of his kickoffs into or out of the end zone for touchbacks.
Iowa punter Tory Taylor also had a great performance, averaging 44.2 yards and pinning the Lions inside the 20 six times on his nine kicks.
Penn State running backs Noah Cain, Keyvone Lee and Devyn Ford combined for 19 carries, 46 yards and one touchdown, not good. Lovett did not carry the ball.
The Lions would have won if Clifford had played the entire game. With him in the game, Penn State outgained Iowa 193-49. With him out, the Hawkeyes outgained the Lions 256-94.
Penn State’s championship hopes are not over, unless Clifford is out for a long while. Even if the Lions had beaten Iowa, they would have to beat Ohio State in Columbus at the end of the month. Almost all their goals remain in play.
“We’re not done,” Luketa said. “We were blessed to start the season 5-0. We lost a tough one, a very close one. There’s plenty of football left to be played and we’re excited. We’re going to get back to work. We’re not done.”
Source: Berkshire mont