After a double-overtime victory last weekend, the Iowa football team returned home on Saturday to take on Penn State in a game played under the lights. Despite the pregame excitement, the Hawkeyes (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten) came out flat and were rolled by Penn State (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) in a 38-14 defeat. Let's look back and grade Iowa's performance.
The season-long struggles of James Vandenberg continued Saturday night. The same issues that have plagued him in the first half of the season reared their ugly head against Penn State. He was erratic, jumpy in the pocket, had poor mechanics, lacked touch on his passes and threw short of the first down on several occasions. You don't want to harp on Vandenberg for his problems against the Nittany Lions because he was hardly the only Hawkeye to play poorly, but the fact is he has struggled for most of the season. You keep waiting for him to turn it around but at some point you have to accept that maybe this is the norm rather than the exception.
Overall, Vandenberg was 17 of 36 for 189 yards and a touchdown to go along with two interceptions. Grade: F
With Mark Weisman limited due to an injury he suffered against Michigan State, true freshman Greg Garmon got the starting nod against Penn State. While he didn't struggle in his first start, he didn't really breakthrough, though in fairness, the opportunities for the Iowa running backs were limited due to the Hawkeyes falling so far behind. Garmon did look a bit tentative at times, but the holes in the PSU run defense were few and far between and he finished with eight carries for 27 yards. Garmon also caught two passes for 10 yards.
Though the aforementioned Weisman didn't start the game, he did test out the ankle for a couple possessions but after rushing five times for 9 yards, the coaches decided to shut him down for the rest of the game. Brad Rogers also had one carry for 2 yards. Grade: D
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Despite the struggles of the offense, the receivers actually played pretty well. They made several nice catches, blocked well and were able to get open on several occasions. Kennan Davis had the best day of the group, finishing with four receptions for 83 yards, including an 18-yard TD catch late in the fourth quarter. C.J. Fiedorowicz led the team with five receptions for 35 yards, while Kevonte Martin-Manley hauled in four passes for 42 yards. Jordan Cotton rounded out the group with one catch for 13 yards. Grade: C
It was a bad night for the offensive line and I'm not talking about the on-field performance. The Hawkeyes took a big hit when Brandon Scherff went down and was carted off the field in the first quarter. Though Kirk Ferentz said in Sunday's presser that Scherff would be out "a couple months," for all intents and purposes, Scherff is finished for the rest of the season. Things got worse for Iowa a couple of plays later when Andrew Donnal went down with a knee injury, leaving an already shorthanded O-line in worse shape. Donnal's status is still unknown at this point, though he will likely be out for a while.
As for the on-field performance, the offensive line did not have the best game on Saturday, though losing two starters will have that kind of impact. There wasn't much room for the running backs to operate, and after falling so far behind, the run game was essentially finished for the evening. Pass protection was solid, though they did allow four sacks. Grade: D
Overall Offensive Grade: F
The individual grades may not be this bad but it's hard to give anything close to a passing grade when you barely muster over 200 yards of total offense (209). The passing game looked bad and the rushing attack was non-existent.
One of the pleasant surprises of the first half of the season was the play of the defensive line. Unfortunately for Iowa, that level of play did not carry over against the Nittany Lions. Iowa was unable to generate any pressure on PSU quarterback Matt McGloin and was equally ineffective against the run, as Penn State was able to pick up 215 yards on the ground.
Joe Gaglione led the group with seven tackles, while Darian Cooper, Steve Bigach and Louis Trinca-Pasat had five each. Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis rounded out the group with two stops apiece. Grade: F
Like the defensive line, the linebackers struggled against Penn State. The Iowa linebacker corps was exploited in pass protection by McGloin and the PSU receivers and also struggled against the run, often getting eaten up by blockers, allowing running lanes to remain open.
Christian Kirksey and James Morris led the team with 12 tackles apiece, with Kirksey adding a 45-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter. Anthony Hitchens finished with eight stops. Grade: F
Continuing the theme of the day for the defense, the defensive backs did not have a good night on Saturday. After a strong start on the opening Penn State possession, the Nittany Lions picked apart the secondary for the rest of the game. There were blown coverages, missed assignments and missed tackles throughout the game. Though there were a few nice plays made by the secondary during the game, they were easily overshadowed by the miscues.
Tanner Miller led the group with nine tackles, a forced fumble and broke up a pass. Micah Hyde had six stops to go along with a forced fumble and three pass breakups, while Greg Castillo added eight tackles. Tom Donatell had six tackles but was replaced in the second half by freshman Nico Law, who finished with four stops. Law looked a little lost at times in terms of where to line up but his potential on the field was evident. Grade: F
Overall Defensive Grade: F
No shock here. With an offense that has struggled, Iowa needed the defense to play well against Penn State. That did not happen, however, as the Hawkeyes allowed 38 points and 504 yards of total offense, numbers that Iowa simply cannot afford to give up.
The only highlights Saturday night came from the special teams, but even then, the overall performance was a mixed bag. First, the good. Cotton returned another kickoff for a touchdown with a 92-yard return in the fourth quarter, but unlike last weekend, a silly penalty did not wipe this one off the board. With his performance the past few weeks, Cotton has seemingly cemented his place as a playmaker in the return game, something Iowa hasn't had for the past couple of seasons. The Hawkeyes also blocked a field goal early in the fourth quarter, their first block since 2010.
As for the bad, Mike Meyer had an uncharacteristically bad night, as he missed both of his field goal attempts (49, 37). True freshman Connor Kornbrath also continues to struggle with distance on his punts. Against PSU, Kornbrath averaged 36.4 yards on five punts. Kick coverage was also an issue with Iowa allowing a 46-yard return to start the second half. Grade: C+
Overall Grade: F
Not much to say here. This wasn't a game where a play here or there changed the game. Penn State simply outplayed Iowa, pure and simple.
Stat of the Game: 2 of 12
There were a lot of bad statistics on Iowa's end, but one of the most telling was the performance on third down. Whether third-and-long or third-and-short, the Hawkeye offense was unable to sustain drives, forcing an already reeling defense back onto the field. This also allowed Penn State to dominate the time of possession, 38:08 to 21:52.
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