Penn State’s Positives from Saturday’s 20-23 Loss to Iowa

I don’t always try to look on the positive side of things, but after a frustrating game, where everything that seemed to go wrong–did, maybe we need to find some positives from the disappointing loss on Saturday.

Let’s start with the defense. The unit was called upon for pretty much the entire game–especially in the second half. They were on the field for 75 plays and held Iowa to 2.4 yards per rush, and 110 total rushing yards (only 3 more than Penn State). They also held Petras to 55% passing and 195 yards, 44 of which came on one play.

Most impressively, was their ability to prevent Iowa from scoring off of turnovers. Penn State’s offense threw four interceptions–two by QB Sean Clifford and two by his replacement Ta’Quan Roberson–yet the Iowa offense only converted those turnovers into three points.

The injury to defensive tackle, PJ Mustipher appeared to be a death sentence for a defensive line that lacked tackle depth facing a run-heavy, Iowa offense, but the interior of the defensive line stepped up. Defensive linemen Derrick Tangelo anchored one spot well, while backups Dvon Ellies, who was banged up for a little, and Coziah Izzard showed encouraging snaps.

Special teams was also a bright spot for Penn State on Saturday. Iowa’s punter, Tory Taylor had a remarkable day pinning the Nittany Lions deep in their own territory and will probably earn B1G Special Teams Player of the Week. But Penn State’s K/P Jordan Stout had an unsung performance. All of his kickoffs were unreturnable–he hasn’t allowed a return yet this season. Stout also had five punts for an average of 50.4 yards with a long of 58. Imagine if Iowa’s uninspiring offense setup 15-20 yards closer per possession–I doubt it’s a three score game.

Finally, Stout connected on two field goals with a long of 44 yards. In a way, he salvaged the only Penn State, second half, scoring drive, by nailing the 44 yard field after Roberson took a sack on 3rd & 6.

Offensively, it was quite a performance before Clifford’s injury. Clifford had 146 yards passing and another 36 on the ground with a touchdown and the Nittany Lions had scored on their last 3 of 4 possessions. Obviously, the quarterback play once Clifford departed with what is rumored to be a non-throwing shoulder injury, was abysmal.

However, before the injury, the receiver play was exceptional. KeAndre Lambert-Smith had 5 receptions for 61 yards. Jahan Dotson had 8 receptions for 48 yards, and Parker Washington had 3 receptions for 26 yards. The only disappointing performance was tight end Brenton Strange’s: two third down drops that would have really helped give Roberson some confidence.

Last, but not least, let’s discuss Ta’Quan Roberson. It’s obviously very easy to be negative about his performance because it may have been one of the worse halves of quarterback play in school history. The false starts weren’t entirely his fault, but it was clear the offensive linemen weren’t comfortable with his cadence. What was more worrisome was Roberson’s inability to throw the ball down the field. It takes quite a throw to overthrow Dotson, but Roberson was able to do it.

So how do I turn this into a positive? Well there isn’t a worst place to be thrown into the fire than Kinnick Stadium in a Top 5 matchup. Roberson then proceeded to fumble the first snap, compounding the pressure. With a BYE week to observe film and as Franklin says, “scout themselves”, Roberson can learn from his mistakes.

Furthermore, offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich has almost two full weeks to put a plan together for Roberson if he starts against Illinois. It’s also a huge benefit for the Nittany Lions to have an easy opponent in Illinois coming off the BYE. There is no way he can play worse than he did on Saturday. If Roberson can’t get on track against Illinois there will be no hope for him in Columbus at the end of the month.

Penn State now has almost three weeks to refresh and get healthy before a must-win matchup with the Buckeyes. I don’t know if they have the ability to win on the road, but optimistically, the next two weeks sets up as nicely as it could for the Nittany Lions.

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