Iowa football: Grading the Hawkeyes after tough loss to Penn State
It’s tough to win in Happy Valley and, once again, the Iowa Hawkeyes found that out the hard way on Saturday. They had a shot right at the end, but came up short 30-24, wasting a chance to take over the Big Ten West race.
Here’s what I liked — and didn’t like — about the Hawkeyes’ loss to Penn State:
What I liked
Defense was good, just not great
Penn State gained only 312 yards, which is a pretty good representation for Iowa’s stout defense. What defies that, though, was seeing 30 points on the scoreboard and not being able to do quite enough to get a win. Two of Penn State’s scoring drives were long, and the third touchdown drive was a gift after a Nate Stanley interception. I’ll always have a hard time criticizing this defense in 2018, because it’s done a lot to carry this team. They played well, just not off-the-charts awesome. The loss hurts, so that takes away the good feelings of holding Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley to just 167 yards passing and 62 yards rushing. The 229 yards of total offense was his lowest amount of the season other than the Pitt game when he was pulled early in a 51-6 rout.
No moral victories, but respect the fight
When you’re trying to win a division title and see where it takes you, there is no such thing as a moral victory. There certainly wasn’t one Saturday either, but I will say this: In a very hostile environment, Iowa gave its all for 60 minutes. That was a great game, and the win was there for the taking. The Hawkeyes know everything is going to be okay. “We know we’re going to bounce back,” Iowa center Keegan Render said. “It’s going to be all right.”
Running game was all about Mehki Stewart
Mekhi Stewert had a season high in carries (16) and yards (91) Saturday, and he looked really good doing it. The Hawkeyes needed him too, because Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin combined for just 32 yards on 12 carries, a 2.7-yard average. It was nice to see the junior college transfer have a day. The running back by committee approach can work, but you’ve got to go with the hot hand. Saturday, that was Stewart.
What I didn’t like
Red zone turnover was a killer
Nate Stanley really struggled against Penn State on a night when the Hawkeyes really needed him to be at his best. He was just 18-for-49 passing (36.7 percent) for 205 yards and two interceptions. It was the second-worst completion percentage of his 21 career starts (Wisconsin 2017, only 33.3) percent. The last interception ended Iowa’s threat to pull off the upset. There was confusion on an audible and the first-down play got rushed. It led to a pick, and a loss. “Just tried to rush it,” Stanley said. “With the clock running down, I should have just taken the timeout.” That’s for sure. It was first down and you had plenty of chances. It was 30-24 at the time and a touchdown would have won it. It was a a disastrous play that should have never happened.
Wasting good field position in the first half
Iowa jumped out to an early lead but it could have been so much more. They wasted a ton of field-position opportunities in the first half, and it came back to bite them. The Hawkeyes’ average starting point was their own 41.5-yard line on their first seven possessions, and they only scored one touchdown. And even that, it came on a fake field goal. That’s poor productivity there.