Saturday, October 20, 2012
Instant analysis: Penn State 38, Iowa 14
By Brian Bennett
Penn State is for real, folks.
Bill O'Brien has worked wonders with a limited roster in his first year as Nittany Lions head coach, and his team appears to be getting better every week. On Saturday night, Penn State waltzed into Kinnick Stadium -- a house of horrors for this program in the past -- and absolutely threw the hammer down on an Iowa team that came in riding a wave of confidence. The offense is clicking in ways we haven't seen in years from Penn State, and the defense is locking things down. The Lions are playing as well as anybody in the Big Ten right now, and nobody expected that.
Here's a look at how Saturday's wildly impressive 38-14 blowout of the Hawkeyes went down:
It was over when ... Penn State recovered a James Vandenberg fumble at the Iowa 14 and, two plays later, capitalized with a Bill Belton touchdown run. That made it 24-0 with 5:53 still left in the first half, and the rout was officially on.
Game ball goes to: Quarterback Matt McGloin. The fifth-year senior is the league's best pro-style quarterback, which is still a shocking development. He's had a great season and showed his burgeoning mastery of O'Brien's offense with a crisp performance, going 26-of-38 for 289 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. The defense also needs some major recognition after holding Iowa to zero offensive points until the final five minutes of the game.
Stat of the game: Iowa had just 21 rushing yards for the game, including five in the first half. Mark Weisman's ankle injury probably had something to do with that (he had just 9 yards on five carries) but Penn State's defense also played a large role. When the Hawkeyes can't run the ball effectively, they're pretty much toast. Extra-crispy burnt toast, in this case.
Unsung hero of the game: Penn State running back Belton was healthy for the first time since he hurt his ankle in the opener, and he ran 16 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns. Belton brings a much-needed speed element to the Nittany Lions' backfield.
What it means: During the bye week, O'Brien described Penn State's remaining schedule as "Murderers' Row." Well, his team played the executioner tonight. That's five straight wins for the Nittany Lions, and astute Associated Press poll voters will give them serious consideration for the Top 25 this week. A win next week over Ohio State at home could put Penn State in line for a Leaders Division title, even if that doesn't equal any postseason opportunity. The Nittany Lions will be extremely tough for any league team to handle the rest of the way if they can stay relatively healthy.
For Iowa, its 2-0 start in the Big Ten was exposed as potentially fraudulent with this train wreck of a performance at home. The Hawkeyes still don't appear strong enough offensively to hang with the best teams in the Big Ten, and a defense that had been playing at a high level lately was destroyed by O'Brien's attack. It was a costly loss, too, as two starting offensive linemen -- left tackle Brandon Scherff and guard Andrew Donnal -- left the game with what looked like serious leg injuries in the first half. For an offense already struggling to score points, that's a tough blow. The Legends race isn't out of reach, since this was a cross-division game. But the Hawkeyes still have difficult games left with Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.