There was a moment during Iowa’s 24-3 win against Penn State when a different outcome could have meant a different game. It could have led to a closer finish at color-coordinated Kinnick Stadium, rather than a blowout. It could have been a chance for a freshman quarterback to take a step to the next level on a chilly Saturday night.
Trailing 17-3, Penn State took the second-half kickoff, put together its best drive of the night and moved to a first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. A shovel pass from Rob Bolden to Evan Royster moved the ball to the 5 and a 4-yard run by Royster put the ball on the 1.
But Michael Zordich was stuffed by Christian Ballard and Jeremiha Hunter trying to run up the middle on third-and-goal, and Bolden was stopped by the same two defenders barely short of the goal line on a run to the right on fourth-and-goal.
An official review revealed what everyone watching on television already knew – the knee of the Nittany Lions’ freshman QB was on the ground before the ball reached the goal line.
Instead of cutting the lead to 17-10, it was Iowa’s ball … and, as it turned out, the ball game was over. Penn State never sniffed the Iowa end zone again while falling to 3-2.
“Nothing is easy in this game and certainly (it helps) when you can come up with some goal-line stands – we had a couple last year that really helped us win football games,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “To stop them on fourth down, that was a huge play. Our field position wasn’t so good in that second half, but we’ll take that one. We’ll take it on the 1 if it keeps them out of the end zone. That was a real tribute to our players again for doing a nice job.”
Ballard said he wasn’t sure if Bolden had stretched the ball into the end zone when he made the tackle.
“I didn’t know what they were going to call there,” Ballard said. “I just tripped him up at the last second and made the play.”
It appeared that Bolden might have scored if he had kept running outside rather than cutting in, but the Penn State coaches gave credit to the Iowa defense.
“We had a timeout, we got the play called we wanted called and they did a good job executing. They’re an awfully good defensive football team. I said this week they are the best defensive line we’ve played so far,” said Jay Paterno, son of coach Joe Paterno and one of the men calling plays for the offense. “Everybody talks about (Adrian) Clayborn. But (Broderick) Binns is fantastic, (Karl) Klug is fantastic. They gave us trouble running the football.”
The younger Paterno thought Penn State could have scored on any of those downs inside the 10.
“We called the shovel and I thought we had a shot to crack it. I’ll have to look at the film,” he said. “Up until that third-and-one, I thought we did pretty well in the red zone.”
On the third-down play, Clayborn said the defense had the wrong call.
“It was crazy,” Clayborn said. “I don’t know who got the tackle. We just happened to make the tackle. It was a real big play. We tried to come up with something and we were able to stop it.”
On the fourth-down play, Paterno said they had a great play called with a no-back offense.
“That’s an awful good defensive football team, but we have to start to make those plays,” he said. “We have to execute in those situations. We had the numbers, we had the guys, but it looked like someone came off from the inside. Without looking at the video, I don’t want to tell you that he should have done this.
“But it was close. We just have to get it in there.”
The momentum from the goal-line stand wasn’t lost on the Hawkeyes, who upped their record to 4-1 and now get to enjoy an open date.
“Whenever you stop a team like Penn State, who has a ton of athletes and is very well coached, it’s a big momentum boost,” Ballard said. “The offense can feed off that and the defense can feed off it.
“It was really important that we got that stop.”