No. 17 Penn State hangs on late to edge No. 18 Iowa
Penn State started its season-defining stretch with something to build on
The No. 17 Nittany Lions held on to handle No. 18 Iowa, 30-24, on Saturday night at Beaver Stadium. Penn State (6-2) commanded the second half, one week away from a trip to No. 5 Michigan with a home game against Wisconsin on the horizon.
Trace McSorley, who returned to the game after sustaining a right leg injury, completed 11 of 25 passes for 167 yards and added 63 yards on the ground, including a 51-yard scoring run. Miles Sanders contributed 62 rushing yards, freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth scored his fourth touchdown in five games, and KJ Hamler electrified yet again with 96 receiving yards and a 67-yard return.
Iowa didn’t do much offensively. Quarterback Nate Stanley underwhelmed for much of the afternoon, completing 18 of 49 attempts for 205 yards and two interceptions. He found projected first-round pick and star tight end Noah Fant 5 times for 56 yards.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Trace McSorley: What a gutty performance by Penn State’s lynchpin.
McSorley went down with an apparent right leg injury in the second quarter. He missed two series, and at one point, it didn’t look like he’d return.
But boy did he. On the Nittany Lions’ first drive of the third quarter, McSorley scampered for a 51-yard touchdown run, one that set off the student section and stunned even media members.
McSorley’s leg looked fine. And if it wasn’t, he didn’t seem to care.
STAT THAT MATTERED
17: That’s how many points Iowa scored on special teams in the first half.
Two safeties, two field goals and a touchdown pass from a punter to a defensive end. Yes, you read that correctly.
Blake Gillikin had a punt blocked out of Penn State’s end zone, a snap sailed over his head later in the half, and Iowa placekicker Miguel Recinos drilled field goals of 27 and 49 yards. But what was crazier was a fake field goal in which punter Colten Rastetter lobbed a 10-yard pass to backup pass-rusher Sam Brincks, who pulled a Willie Mays and caught it over-the-shoulder.
It wasn’t the best showing for Penn State special teams coordinator Phil Galiano, who has had a shaky inaugural season at best.
Yetur Gross-Matos: The sophomore defensive end is blossoming into a star, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. Gross-Matos — after leading the Nittany Lions with 10 tackles at Indiana — dominated yet again against the Hawkeyes with nine tackles and four tackles-for-loss.
Gross-Matos was one of three true freshmen to see time last year due to his freakish athleticism and favorable 6-foot-5 frame. He made a few plays, but there was serious buzz surrounding him in fall camp because he was, in Shareef Miller’s words, “playing faster.” The sophomore wasn’t overthinking things anymore; he knew the playbook and his role inside and out.
That showed last weekend in Bloomington and on Saturday against Iowa.
The Big House: The Nittany Lions now face their toughest test of 2018: A meeting on the road with No. 5 Michigan. The Wolverines — who had a bye this weekend — have won seven straight after a season-opening 24-17 loss to Notre Dame, which now sits No. 3 in the AP Poll. Most notably, Michigan recently steamrolled Wisconsin and shut down Michigan State.
Penn State and Michigan’s last two meetings have been blowouts. Jim Harbaugh’s squad dominated in a 49-10 win in 2016, while James Franklin’s crew wrecked the Wolverines 42-13 last year. Earlier this week, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said, “I wake up every morning and I think about it,” talking about that 29-point defeat.
Brown, Harbaugh and the Wolverines will have revenge on their minds next Saturday as they push toward a College Football Playoff berth.
Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos reaches to pull down Iowa’s Mekhi Sargent during Saturday’s game. A week after getting 10 tackles at Indiana, Gross-Matos dominated the Hawkeyes.
Penn State’s KJ Hamler makes a catch as he gets knocked down by Iowa’s Geno Stone during Saturday’s game. Hamler finished with 96 receiving yards and a 67-yard return.