FIVE SENTENCES ON PENN STATE RESULT
1) It’s a giant sweat sock sandwich and everyone has to take a bite.
2) It’s Vandenberg and it’s Vandenberg, because if there were any serious competition behind him, you would’ve seen it by now, at least in mop-up last night.
3) The play-action passes that were called when Iowa averaged 0.9 yards a carry last night showed the lack of range in the Iowa/Kirk Ferentz playbook.
4) The most shocking element of Iowa’s defeat was the way PSU’s OL handed the Hawkeyes their helmet up front.
5) Back to No. 3 for a second, yes, everyone loves the playbook when it works, but there is no counter for times like now, when it’s not working.
THREE PLAYERS WHO PLAYED
1) No . . .
2) One . . .
3) Played well . . . — It would be disingenuous to try to sell you something here. You saw the game.
1) Coaching — Sure, Iowa might not have the players to be what Iowa has been under Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, but the number that first-year PSU coach Bill O’Brien pulled on the Iowa defense has to be highlighted. PSU tight ends caught 11 passes for 151 yards and a TD. Certain route combinations and spacings beat Iowa’s match-up zone coverage underneath. “I just think they knew areas where maybe we were weak,” linebacker James Morris said. “. . . They tried to run the same stuff but get to it in different ways. For us, it’s understanding this is the formation and how can they get to what they want to do? I didn’t go a good job of recognizing that early on. We all need to be better.”
2) Flexibility — This goes along with coaching. Maybe the sanctions PSU is playing under for the next four seasons has created a go-for-broke mentality. Or maybe O’Brien is a brilliant coach. Probably the latter. Anyway, the reupholstering he’s done with parts that were long left in storage is amazing. Matt McGloin has gone from wallpaper to playmaker. “He’s much improved,” Morris said. “You can just tell that program has more of an identity right now and that starts from the top down. Not to speak too globally, but they’ve got a good thing going. We knew they were a good team coming in and they have a great coaching staff.
“They had us figured out.”
3) QB depth chart — James Vandenberg isn’t working. The possible reasons for this have been laid out since Northern Illinois. Yes, it’s an 11-man game on offense, but Vandenberg hasn’t lifted the offense. A healthy QB depth chart has a No. 2 who’s pushing the No. 1 at every turn. Ferentz’s answer to the 2008 QB competition last night was telling. He said the ’08 QB race was a race, a close one that eventually forced a decision. After Jake Christensen couldn’t lift Iowa at Piitsburgh — the “gut feeling” game — Ricky Stanzi replaced him and that was that. Last night Ferentz ended the question flatly, “James is our quarterback.” One way to interpret that is the difference between No. 1 and No. 2 (Jake Rudock) is pretty big.
1) Belton for 23 yards on a trap play to the right — This play epitomized a night where the Iowa defense allowed 4.1 yards a carry (good, not great) on 52 carries (that’s an unbeatable number). TE Matt Lehman got under DE Joe Gaglione’s pads and then got a double team out of pulling guard Miles Dieffenbach. They pushed Gaglione 7 yards off the ball and caught scraping linebacker Anthony Hitchens in the wash. Neither Hawkeye factored in the stop, which came when FS Tanner Miller pushed Bill Belton out of bounds 23 yards down field to Iowa’s 43.
Linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey blitzed from the field side and took themselves out of the play. DT Steve Bigach was pancaked by right tackle Mike Farrell. DT Louis Trinca-Pasat was pancaked by guard John Urschel.
The BTN cameras flashed on O’Brien after the play. His look was that of a coach who knew he could push whatever button he wanted.
2) McGloin’s first TD pass — This play was everything that Iowa isn’t. Freshman DE Riley McMinn was unblocked on a free run to McGloin and whiffed. McGloin drifted right, made a gesture to a receiver and then spotted tight end Jesse James, a 6-7, 264-pound true freshman who joined the program in January, when it might not have even had a head coach. Iowa was in a zone, with Kirksey handing James off to strong safety Tommy Donatell. James ran horizontally to the sideline to help out his QB, who had two Iowa DLs closing. Donatell fell into trail position and it was a beautiful 31-yard TD. It was a play made by a playmaker (McGloin). Donatell was pulled for sophomore Nico Law late in the game. It was for performance.
NEXT — AT NORTHWESTERN (6-2, 2-2)
– Wildcats running back Venric Mark plays at the speed of sound. He had an 80-yard TD run in last week’s bruising 29-28 defeat to Nebraska. Mark and Iowa RB Mark Weisman are tied for fifth in the country with five plays of 30 or more yards. Mark left in the third quarter with what might’ve been a concussion. Weisman rushed five times for 9 yards while attempting a comeback from a sprained ankle suffered a week earlier. He said after the game he didn’t think he suffered a setback, but also didn’t know if he’d be full-go Saturday.
– There was some unrest with the way NU played QB against the Huskers. The Wildcats stuck with Trevor Siemian, who finished 15 of 35 for 116 yards and two TDs. Do-everything back Kain Colter, who’s completed 70 percent of his passes this season, attempted just two passes.
CLOSER LOOK AT THE NUMBERS
Closing the deal (Red zone TDs/possessions)
Penn State 4-for-6
That’s 28-7 and that’s the game. This number also reflects how this was a sweat sock sandwich for everyone. The defense takes just as big of a bite.
Setting the tone (defensive three-and-outs)
Iowa 4 — That’s not horrible, but if you add drives that ended with two missed field goals, a fumble and two interceptions, that’s nine drives that came up with zero points.
Penn State 2 — And one came in the fourth quarter when it was over.
After adjustments (second-half yards and avg. yards per play)
Penn State 200-5.0
Yeah, Iowa couldn’t get out of its own way. PSU’s number came with a 24-0 halftime lead. In the first 30 minutes, the Lions averaged 6.08 on 50 plays. That’s hard to do in practice.
Game-changers (offensive plays of 20-plus yards)
Iowa 2 — These were both passes to Keenan Davis. Weisman wasn’t a factor with the ankle. It got worse when left tackle Brandon Scherff had his season ended with a broken leg and guard Andrew Donnal left the game with a serious right knee injury.
Penn State 4 — Just one of these was a run. The other three were a TD or set up short TDs. O’Brien has made McGloin a weapon in less than 10 months.
Two-minute magic (points, final two minutes of half)
Iowa 0 — All the good will from the Michigan State road victory has been washed away. Iowa is back at zero, only this time top RB and one of the better O-linemen are injured. Iowa’s next five opponents are 7-9 in the Big Ten, with Purdue (0-3) and Indiana (0-3) lowering the curve.
Penn State 0 — I joked with a PSU writer to have fun with that impending coaching search. With his NFL resume, O’Brien has created a wonderful market for his services. He’s got a nine-year deal at PSU. We’ll find out what’s in his heart, the NFL or college, State College specifically.