NCF Nation: Iowa City 0811

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The plan going in called for Daniel Murray to handle any field goal snapped from the 25-yard line or beyond.

So when Iowa converted a third-down pass and reached Penn State's 15-yard line with less than a minute remaining in Saturday's game, Murray figured he would be nudged out of the spotlight. After all, that's where he's been for the last six weeks, ever since he missed a 35-yarder in a 21-20 loss at Pitt, putting him at 1-for-3 on the season.

 
  Jerry Lai/US Presswire
  Iowa Hawkeyes kicker Daniel Murray (1) makes the game winning field goal during the fourth quarter against the Penn State.

Surely Iowa would go with freshman Trent Mossbrucker, who entered Saturday's game having made 13 of 15 field-goal attempts, all from inside 40 yards. But with about 20 seconds left, the coaches came over to Murray and told him this was his moment.

"You go with your gut," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "But the important thing is Danny's ready. He was ready to jump in there and get the job done."

But how ready could he be?

Murray hadn't attempted a field goal in Big Ten play. Now he was about to go for the game-winner against No. 3 Penn State, with a "howling" wind blowing around Kinnick Stadium.

"I was nervous until I got on the field," Murray said. "Once I got on the field, it was kind of like, 'No turning back now.' ... I knew I could do it, from anytime, anywhere. But the ability for them to put the confidence in me, I could only thank them so much for it."

The kick sailed through from 31 yards out, giving Iowa a 24-23 win, its first against a top 5 team since 1990, when the Hawkeyes knocked off No. 5 Illinois.

It made it only sweeter that the guy who made the biggest kick in recent team history is a townie, having grown up in Iowa City and attending Regina High School. A star soccer player who chose to walk on to the football team, Murray was named to the freshman All-Big Ten team after hitting 7 of 10 attempts last year.

But a slow start and an injury, combined with Mossbrucker's emergence, put Murray backstage after the Pitt game. He continued to handle kickoff duties and waited for his shot.

"Just being an Iowa City kid, it only makes it a little bit better," he said. "You've grown up watching it all, and you understand the history and the tradition behind the whole program."

Now he has his own chapter.

"I always dreamed about it," he said. "But you can only dream until it actually comes true."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- There was no anesthetic for Penn State on Saturday afternoon.

The pain of what had just happened, the magnitude of what it all meant, set in as soon as Daniel Murray's field goal sailed through the uprights.

 
  Jerry Lai/US Presswire
 Nittany Lions quarterback Daryll Clark (17) had his hopes for a national championship dashed with a loss to Iowa Saturday night.

"It's hitting me now, man," Nittany Lions quarterback Daryll Clark said, his voice cracking as he spoke. "I'm hurting real bad because I let my team down."

Obviously, Clark didn't deserve all the blame for a 24-23 loss to Iowa.

Normally sure-handed wide receivers dropped passes in the clutch. A dominant defensive line couldn't pressure Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi on the final drive. The nation's third least penalized team drew two flags in the final five minutes.

"There's 25 plays in that game that if we make one of them, we win the game," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said.

In the end, it came down to one play, a 31-yard field goal with six seconds left. Murray drilled it, and Penn State's hopes for an undefeated season and a national title floated away into the frigid Iowa night.

"It was like a huge bomb exploded," senior wide receiver Deon Butler said. "It was so close to being a perfect season our senior year."

Moments after the kick, 81-year-old coach Joe Paterno hobbled of the visitors' coaching booth, his arm around an aide, as he made his way toward the press box elevators. Like Clark, Paterno couldn't hide the disappointment on his face.

This season was widely regarded as the coaching legend's final shot at a national title. He has no contract for 2009 and is expected to have surgery on his right leg following the season. Though Paterno has every intention of returning to the sideline next fall, he might never get this close to the top again.

"We still can have a heck of a year," Joe Paterno said. "We can't start moaning about this one, though. Maybe go home and cry on Sunday, but Monday we've got to come out ready to go to work. ...

"People are people. They have expectations and they're disappointed. I'm more worried about my football team. Their balloon isn't busted."

It's certainly deflated, at least for the moment.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Penn State's quest for a national title has ended.

A team that looked unflappable all season struggled down the stretch, giving Iowa a chance to rally for a monumental upset. The Hawkeyes erased a 9-point fourth-quarter deficit and won the game, 24-23, on a 31-yard Daniel Murray field goal with two seconds left.

Murray converted the winner with the wind at his back. Freshman Trent Mossbrucker had handled most of the kicks for Iowa, including the extra points Saturday, but with the game on the line, the Hawkeyes went with Murray, a more experienced player who kicked last year.

No. 3 Penn State made uncharactistic mistakes in the second half, dropping several passes and making questionable decisions. Junior quarterback Daryll Clark, who had displayed remarkable poise for most of the season, threw an interception that led to the decisive scoring drive. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi rebounded from two second-half turnovers and led the Hawkeyes downfield in the final minutes, going 57 yards in 15 plays.

The crowd is storming the field. I'll be back later with more updates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- In many ways, the third quarter encapsulated Iowa's season.

The Hawkeyes showed flashes of a team that should be much better than its 5-4 record. And then they showed exactly why they're 5-4.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi committed two turnovers in his own territory that led to 10 Penn State points in the quarter. Stanzi responded nicely from the first error, an ill-fated pass that Tyrell Sales picked off, and led an impressive 73-yard scoring drive that displayed greater balance. Iowa went to the air and got wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos involved.

But with all the momentum on Iowa's side and the green-and-black-clad crowd revved up, Stanzi fumbled a snap and Penn State linebacker Josh Hull pounced on it.

The Lions running game went to work and Derrick Williams continued his splendid afternoon with a 9-yard score after taking the direct snap. The rushing combination of Williams and Evan Royster has overpowered Iowa's talented defensive front.

As it has all season, Penn State made an opponent pay for unforced mistakes. There's a reason Penn State is tied for 14th nationally in turnover margin. This team doesn't beat itself. Iowa does.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

  

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Don't be fooled by the score. Penn State is in complete control after a lousy start at blustery Kinnick Stadium.

Sure, Iowa is within a touchdown and could come back to take the lead. But the Hawkeyes have shown little to suggest they can hang around with the Nittany Lions in the second half, particularly on offense.

After fumbling on its first drive, Penn State has executed a methodical game plan on offense, mixing different types of runs and various personnel to wear down a talented Iowa defensive front seven. It might not wow the people who need to be wowed, but this is the perfect game plan in these types of conditions (cold and windy).

Sophomore running back Evan Royster has dented the Hawkeyes up the middle and on the edges, and senior wideout Derrick Williams is showcasing his versatility. Williams has been an effective ball-carrier on direct snaps and end arounds, and he also caught a first-down pass. Quarterback Daryll Clark settled down after the early fumble and is making smarter decisions both with his feet and his arm. Hawkeyes linemen Adrian Clayborn and Mitch King have put some pressure on Clark, but the unit is struggling to stop the run.

Here are the vitals on Penn State's scoring drives:

  • 19 plays, 71 yards, 9:43
  • 11 plays, 75 yards, 5:02
  • 16 plays, 78 yards, 8:18

Now two of those ended in field goals, and Penn State must be more effective in the red zone. But the system is working. Penn State holds a 23:34-6:26 edge in possession time and 47-15 in total plays.

Iowa running back Shonn Greene is as advertised, but he can't beat Penn State by himself. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi has struggled under pressure, and Iowa's offense can't stay on the field very long. There needs to be more variety in the second half to move the ball against the Lions defense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Forget about style points. Today might be all about survival for No. 3 Penn State.

The Nittany Lions weathered a terrible start and appear to be finding their rhythm in a run-heavy offense. Penn State surprisingly came out passing and paid a heavy price, as Iowa's defensive line swarmed Daryll Clark and forced a fumble that the Lions recovered at their own 1-yard line. Iowa capitalized on extremely favorable field position and fed star running back Shonn Greene for a touchdown just minutes into the game.

But Penn State rebounded, thanks to a re-commitment to the run game. The Lions mounted a seemingly endless drive (9 minutes, 43 seconds) that ended in a field goal and are on the move again. Sophomore Evan Royster is hurting Iowa both up the middle and on the edges, and wideout Derrick Williams is taking some direct snaps in a Wildcat-like offense. Iowa's defensive line has come to play, especially Adrian Clayborn and Mitch King, but Penn State is moving the ball well. Royster's ability to run between the tackles is unexpected.

This is turning into a nice matchup of running backs between Royster and Greene, but Iowa needs to generate more of a passing attack to hang around.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Football weather is here, folks. No snow yet at Kinnick Stadium, but the conditions are brutally cold.

Here are some points of emphasis for No. 3 Penn State and Iowa as they lock horns later today.

PENN STATE

Run to the edges -- Despite having the Big Ten's top center in A.Q. Shipley, the Nittany Lions might struggle to run between the tackles against Iowa standouts Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Primary running back Evan Royster prefers to run up the middle but would be better served on the edges. Penn State also should use Stephfon Green more and pressure Iowa's linebackers with the option.

Stack the box -- Shonn Greene has been Iowa's only consistent weapon on offense. The Lions need to make quarterback Ricky Stanzi beat them down the field. Expect eight and even nine men in the box to contain Greene, the nation's third-leading rusher (139.6) and a player defenders hate to tackle alone.

Make smart decisions in the passing game -- Daryll Clark comes off a concussion and enters a hostile environment with less-than favorable weather conditions. You can bet Iowa will key on Penn State's rushing attack. But the Lions have superior receivers and if there's a weakness to Iowa's defense, it's the secondary. Clark must recognizing downfield passing opportunities when they're available and use senior wideouts Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood.

IOWA

Go Greene -- Keeping Greene on the field and the Penn State offense off it it is paramount for the Hawkeyes. No defense has consistently slowed down the 235-pound junior running back. Iowa needs to control the clock and pound Penn State's front seven with Greene and freshman Jewel Hampton, limiting third-and-long situations.

Red zone execution -- The Hawkeyes are tied for ninth in the Big Ten in red zone offense, scoring only 20 touchdowns on 40 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line. They won't get many chances today, so better execution is critical. Greene needs to be more of a weapon near the goal line, and Stanzi must make better decisions.

Win the field-position battle -- Iowa has been in every game this season, and the poor weather could keep the scoring down today. Punter Ryan Donahue needs to have a good day, pinning Penn State deep, so the crowd can get involved. The Hawkeyes have forced a decent amount of turnovers this season (20), and putting Clark in pressure situations is extremely important.

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