The statistics from Penn State’s offensive dominance of Iowa’s defense on Saturday jump off the page.
The Nittany Lions scored 38 points, racked up 504 yards and doubled up the Hawkeyes in first downs, 28-14. Those are all pretty independent metrics of success, though, and don’t really translate to the rest of the team’s fortunes.
That’s why Penn State’s 38:08 time of possession might be the most important statistic of the night.
“We complement each other, offense and defense,” center Matt Stankiewitch said. “So the thing is, if we have the ball longer, the other team can’t score. Plus, the defense is getting a rest. So if they get a three-and-out, we get back on the field, and their defense isn't getting a rest, so it all complements each other.”
The defense, which was on the field for just 21:52, manhandled Iowa’s offense in turn, allowing just 209 yards of offense and an eye-popping 20 rushing yards.
The unit sacked the Hawkeys’ James Vandenberg four times, forced three turnovers and didn’t give up a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, when the game was well in hand.
Defenders spent so much time on the sidelines that the elements were more of a concern than their own fatigue.
“With [the offense] taking long drives and definitely controlling the possession, it was definitely good,” cornerback Stephon Morris said. “But it was getting cold over there on the sideline. We had to warm up again.”
Penn State’s drives certainly didn’t take much time. Only two lasted 4:30 or longer. But even when the Lions didn’t score, they got at least a first down or two to keep the clock moving, an important reason nine drives lasted at least 2:00.
The Hawkeyes, bogged down by three-and-outs forced by Penn State’s fresh defense, had only three such drives.
Iowa’s lopsided run-pass ratio didn’t help its possession time, either. Once Penn State jumped out to an early lead, the Hawkeyes decided to throw more frequently. More often than not, those pass attempts fell to the turf for clock-stopping incompletions or drive-ending interceptions.
Vandenberg finished just 17-for-36 passing while the running game, which ran 34 times in Iowa’s win against Michigan State a week earlier, only got the call for 23 carries.
The struggles surprised Iowa’s coach, Kirk Ferentz, who said he even considered switching quarterbacks at one point and thought Penn State deserved “all the credit in the world, all phases,” for the victory.
“I thought this was going to be a really tight, competitive ballgame, was my anticipation,” Ferentz said.
“We didn’t block them well, execute well, run or pass. We couldn’t get anything going tonight, at all, period.”
Ultimately, it was perhaps the best example of what coach Bill O’Brien calls “complementary football” on display.
The coach still thinks the team can be better on both sides with a contest against undefeated Ohio State looming.
“We still can improve. We’ve got a long way to go,” O’Brien said. “We still can get better at many things.”