UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s first offensive drive was a subtle as a fist to Iowa’s nose.
The Nittany Lions took the opening kickoff 48 yards, then scored a touchdown six plays later. Before Iowa heard the first of many renditions of “Seven Nation Army” across the Beaver Stadium loudspeaker, it was down by a touchdown.
Equally stunning was Iowa’s first possession. The Hawkeyes moved to the Penn State 34 and faced fourth-and-1. C.J. Beathard attempted a quick quarterback sneak and was knocked backward a well-timed jump from linebacker Jason Cabinda. Iowa failed to convert, and the rest of the game was a 41-14 technical knockout.
“I don’t know if we really got shell shocked,” Beathard said. “They went down and scored right away. We had a decent drive going and we just got stopped short on third down, fourth down, whatever it was. … If we were able to convert on those plays, who knows what will happen differently?”
In all honestly, probably not much. Penn State (7-2, 5-1) ripped apart Iowa (5-4, 3-3) in every fashion. The Nittany Lions out-rushed the Hawkeyes 359-30. That’s the third-most rushing yards allowed under a Kirk Ferentz-coached team, according to Stats, Inc. Penn State’s 599 yards were the most allowed by Iowa since 1999.
Penn State entered the game as the nation’s worst in third-down conversions and picked up seven of 14 opportunities. The Nittany Lions were last among Big Ten teams in time of possession and held the ball for 35 minutes, 3 seconds. Penn State averaged 6.9 yards per rushing attempt — and there were 52 of them — and 21.8 yards per completion. Converting on fourth-and-short in the first quarter would have only postponed the inevitable.
In his opening statement, Ferentz said his team wasn’t “capable of responding.” When pressed what that meant, he said, “We didn’t play well enough, we didn’t coach well enough, however you want to slice it. We just weren’t up to the challenge.
“We couldn’t answer.”
No amount of deodorant could cover up the product Iowa put on the field Saturday night. The numbers alone showed that. Outside of a handful of positions, Iowa lacked the athletes that could keep up with Penn State. To his credit, Ferentz didn’t try to deflect the performance with cliches.
Ferentz owned every part of it, from his decisions to line up in their defensive Raider package (nobody on the defensive front positioned in a three-point stance) that led to a 57-yard touchdown run by Penn State superstar Saquon Barkley to the team’s struggles at wide receiver.
“I’ve coached long enough where I’ve been fortunate to have been through games like this,” Ferentz said. “You don’t always see them coming. I’ve been through a few where I did see them coming. I go back 18 years ago but you don’t see those things coming. It’s a part of sports, nobody likes it. Nobody in our locker room feels good.”
With fan irritation reaching palpable levels, Ferentz was asked about re-evaluating his staff. He didn’t shy from the question.
“I tell you one thing; we’ve got great people to work with, whether it’s our players or our coaches,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got a good attitude and a really good work ethic. You check those boxes off and you go from there. We have to look at everything, obviously. We have to look at everything but right now our focus is on our players, what we can do to help them prepare and compete next week but that’s our focus is right now, certainly.”
That tells you everything about the state of Iowa football. Everything after Ferentz is up for evaluation. Based on Saturday’s performance, it’s sorely needed.