Tuesday, September 29, 2009
By Neil Rudel
September 27, 2009
UNIVERSITY PARK - Want a good reason why Kirk Ferentz and Iowa have won seven of the last eight meetings with Penn State?
Pop in the tape of the latest edition of the series played Saturday night at Beaver Stadium and won by the Hawkeyes 21-10.
The Nittany Lions jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and could not have looked better.
They were innovative in their formations, with four- and five-receiver sets, and they turned Daryll Clark loose on a couple of options for the first time this year. They decisively moved up the field twice in racking up 147 yards and a two-score lead on 20 plays.
Then Iowa, as it has so many times in the series, adjusted, and Penn State mustered no other sustained drives on the rest of this long, rainy night.
In the process, the Lions absorbed a damaging Big Ten-opening loss, wasted a courageous effort from their defense, which was missing All-American linebacker and team leader Sean Lee, and were totally unmasked as a top-five team.
Joe Paterno arrived at the media room soaked and beaten.
Penn State's sudden turnaround after the first quarter was hard to fathom but easy to explain: Iowa took Penn State's shot, regrouped and won the last three quarters, 21-0.
Paterno often talks about how games are like chess matches, but the Lions couldn't follow their opening moves. Or counter Iowa's.
The Hawkeyes extended their pattern of beating Penn State at its own game - with a tough defense, a punishing running game and the kind of special teams the Lions used to field.
Asked why Ferentz's teams have become so difficult to beat, Paterno said, "he's a fine coach, and he's got a fine staff."
Leading 10-0, Penn State forced a punt at the outset of the second quarter, but Iowa's Ryan Donahue skied one almost straight up and pinned the Nits at their own 6. The play somehow turned the game and the momentum completely around.
Penn State looked uncomfortable and unprepared in the shadow of its own goal post, and its offensive-line problems quickly resurfaced.
First, the Lions false started, moving them back to their 3. Then Evan Royster was dumped for a 2-yard loss in which he was fortunate just to get to the 1. After a 1-yard gain by Joe Suhey, Daryll Clark was sacked for a safety in the end zone on a slow developing play that would have been better replaced by a quick kick.
"That changed the field position," JoePa said.
It also triggered the offensive unraveling that wound up coughing up four turnovers - three interceptions by Clark and a fate-sealing fourth-quarter fumble by Royster - and protection issues that culminated with a blocked punt that Iowa returned for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Paterno didn't think Iowa made noticeable adjustments.
"They played it pretty much the same as they played from the beginning," he said.
He did praise the Lions' defensive effort and deservedly so: The unit only gave up one late touchdown, and that was after it was on the field for pretty much the entire last three quarters.
"I thought we played a strong game defensively, as did they, obviously," he said.
When questioning shifted to Clark, who seemed to take three steps backwards, Paterno said, "it was a team loss. It wasn't one player or one play."
And so Ferentz's domination of the Lions' legend continues, and while no one seems to know how much longer Paterno wants to coach, and whether he'll fulfill his latest three-year commitment, one thing is clear:
The best coach Penn State can find to replace JoePa was shaking his hand at midfield, in victory again, Saturday night.