STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Happy Valley is known almost as much for its agriculture as its football with about 500 animals residing in its dairy barns across the street from Beaver Stadium.
If those barns produced cheese Saturday night resembling Iowa’s performance, it would come in two varieties: Swiss for its defense and Limburger for its offense. Penn State exploited every hole in Iowa’s Swiss cheese defense, from the Hawkeyes’ inability to contain RB Saquon Barkley on the edge to repeatedly missing tackles in space and in the secondary.
Iowa’s Limburger offense dropped a stinker, pure and simple. It generated next to nothing on the ground and was nearly as woeful through the air. At halftime, Iowa was out-gained 348-128. Penn State entered the game with the nation’s worst third-down conversion percentage and was last in Big Ten time of possession. Before the second half, the Nittany Lions converted 5 of 8 chances on third down and held the ball 58 percent of the time.
This 41-14 loss was a clear reminder that Iowa (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) is falling behind the Big Ten blue bloods in both player acquisition and retention. Even as it recovers from crippling recruiting setbacks as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sanctions, Penn State is miles ahead of Iowa in talent. Of course the Nittany Lions (7-2, 5-1) have the advantage of an oil well’s worth of athletes within its backyard, but their staff completely out-coached the Hawkeyes, too.
You have no chance if you have a talent deficiency and are blatantly out-coached in every phase. That’s where Iowa stands against Penn State even with a bye week. That’s what we’ll see next Saturday against Michigan.
The Hawkeyes’ best shot on offense is to run the football with Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels. Yet the coaching staff continues to make bafflingly predictable plays in critical situations. Three times when Iowa faced third down and less than 2 yards to go, Iowa lined up with two tight ends, a fullback, a halfback and one wide receiver. That’s known universally as ’22’ personnel. All three times they ran the football. All three times they fell short of a first down.
What, does a bootleg not work anymore? Why not spread out a team like Penn State and run inside the tackles? Time and time again Iowa stubbornly tells its opponents, ‘Here’s what’s coming, stop us.’ Chances are this year, they will.
That’s exactly what the Hawkeyes did against Wisconsin last week. Third and 1, late in the third quarter, line up in 22 personnel, run the ball left, lose 3 yards. Iowa has the negative effects of a predictable play down to an art.
But this isn’t just an offensive indictment; the defense was in search of a Swiss Army knife and instead offered up a Swiss cheese effort. Games like these test that careful line of calling out college players but offering a reasonable explanation of what happened on the playing field. Iowa’s safety tandem of Brandon Snyder and Miles Taylor continues to get torched in space, yet there are no viable replacements? Pro Football Focus identified Snyder in the bottom 25 percent and Taylor in the bottom 8 percent at their position, yet nobody replaces them. What does that say for the backups? You could make a similar case at linebacker outside of Josey Jewell.
This game provided a snapshot of what happens when 10 of your 20 signing day recruits in 2013 leave the program. If they weren’t good enough to contribute, Iowa didn’t recruit good enough in the first place. The cumulative effect of attrition combined with lack of talent leaves blatant holes at critical areas. Walk-ons are salt-of-the-earth, try-hard players but lack the talent to compete with high-caliber teams like Penn State.
So consider this performance a lesson to what happens when development can’t make up for your talent disadvantage. This is what happens when your tendencies are so clear a sports writer knows where the play is going simply by the personnel grouping. This is what happens when you start too many walk-ons and either are too stubborn or too woeful behind them to offer a replacement when they’re beaten consistently.
With a performance like that, you get compared to Swiss cheese and smelling like Limburger. Based on what we all saw Saturday, the cheesy analogy fits.