IOWA CITY – It was billed as the “Black and Gold Game.” A football game featuring two teams undefeated in conference play. Kinnick Stadium would host the primetime gridiron matchup to help decipher the powers of the Big Ten.
Instead Penn State switched the sport to auto racing, more specifically “NASCAR.” It’s what the Nittany Lions call their uptempo offensive scheme that ran 90 offensive plays Saturday against Iowa. Saturday may have been its Daytona 500, with the Penn State offense showing up in a Ferrari and the Iowa defense plugging along in a station wagon.
“It’s hard to prepare for. That’s a good defense we played today, I think they were ready for it. They just couldn’t match us today,” Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin said. “We were in a lot better shape than them.”
The 90 plays led to 504 total yards – 289 through the air and 215 on the ground. The offense actually tallied more snaps against Northwestern two weeks ago and scored one more point that its performance against Iowa. The caveat is, in the 38-14 win Saturday, 24 of those points came in the first half – the most since 1999.
It was 31-0 two plays into the third quarter.
“I didn’t think we could come in here and just huddle, break the huddle and run a normal pace,” Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien said. “I felt like our guys were learning about the pace we wanted with better and better every week and for three quarters I think they did what we wanted them to do.”
Thirty-five seconds into the fourth quarter the score 38-7 with the Nittany Lions running 75 plays to that point, on pace to top both high water marks the offense set against the Wildcats.
The difference this week was the offense had two weeks to prepare for a defense that allows 317 yards a game. At the half Penn State totaled 304. In the past, it ran the high-octane offense about one third of the time. Against Iowa, PSU ran it more often than not.
“I think coach O’Brien, obviously I can’t speak for him, but I felt comfortable with it, so I think he felt comfortable and everybody else really responded to it throughout the week,” McGloin said. “And they couldn’t keep up with it so it was really good momentum.”
One of the main advantages with the hurry-up is defenses don’t have time to substitute personnel. This forces the defensive scheme to become stagnant. The offense then has the upper hand running plays against the same defense for an entire drive.
“They can’t sub. They can’t do whatever they want to do with different plays. The have to keep it basic and we are just able to attack it.” Penn State wide receiver Kyle Carter said. “It’s a heck of an advantage. When we can have them on their heels and we can attack them, as you can see, we get a lot of yards.”
As much as the Nittany Lions saw it as an advantage, the Hawkeyes weren’t about to use it as a crutch to lean on.
“We were doing our best. But at the same time, they’re not subbing lineman out, right? Why is it that we need to,” Iowa linebacker James Morris said. “That’s the way I look at it.”
McGloin and Company saw it differently. The fifth year senior passed for more than 200 yards for the sixth straight week. Allen Robinson was his favorite target, looking his way 12 times. Robinson finished with six catches for 39 yards. Carter reeled in a game-high six catches for 85 yards.
The passing game opened up the running game. Bill Belton amassed 103 yards with three touchdowns on 16 carries. He entered the game with 130 rushing yards and zero touchdowns on the year.
But the list goes on for Penn State who can have any one of many drivers guide its offense. It had five players gain at least 50 yards. It had eight contribute at least 25.
It took a performance like that for the Nittany Lions to come away with their first win in Iowa City since 1999. Penn State embarrassed Iowa then as well, 31-7.
“I think we definitely did need to make a statement,” Carter said. “I mean supposedly they call themselves ‘The Big Ten Bullies.’ We definitely used that for inspiration. We came out strong and I’m sure we showed a lot of people we can play.”