Through a quarter and change of football, Penn State looked in control against Iowa and executed at all levels in a hostile road environment.
That was until an unfortunate sequence of events occurred that saw a number of key players leave the game with injuries, the most notable being third-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford.
From then on, the game felt very different.
Missed throws, false starts and general confusion plagued the offense the rest of the evening, and the Nittany Lions paid the price.
Sure, Ta'Quan Roberson looked hesitant and unsure of himself on multiple reads that should’ve likely been converted for big plays, but how much blame can you put on someone getting their first significant time in a game of that magnitude?
While he deserves his fair share of criticism and did not aid the offense whatsoever while in there, blame should surely be spread across multiple individuals on the offense and the staff, as there were many things within others’ control that were not executed properly.
First, the preparation of Roberson was clearly not there.
It’s hard to prepare a backup for an atmosphere of that level, but there were no adjustments made to what suited Roberson rather than Clifford.
This was clear with the snap count, as there were 8 false start penalties that followed the redshirt sophomore taking over at quarterback.
The count appeared to be thrown off completely with Roberson in the shotgun despite doing the same cadence that Clifford uses on a consistent basis.
James Franklin mentioned postgame that Roberson is a bit more quiet than Clifford at the line of scrimmage, but it had never been a problem before Saturday’s game. That should also make sense considering he’s never been in an atmosphere like Kinnick Stadium.
“We didn't have an issue with crowd noise until we lost Sean,” Franklin said following the loss. “We're responsible for all of it, we use the same system with Sean as we did with Ta’Quan. It didn’t work. It obviously became a significant issue in the game.”
This is something that can’t be found out while in a top 5 matchup and adjustments with the snap count needed to be made by Franklin, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and the rest of the offensive staff.
But the finger can be pointed elsewhere, to.
Penn State’s offensive line didn’t execute the aspects of the game that were in their control — being disciplined and remaining on the same page as the rest of the group.
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Eght false starts is completely unacceptable and won’t put any offense in a position to win games, let alone one with a backup quarterback.
And with a heavy veteran presence on that line, it should be expected that they’re able to help ease their backup quarterback into the game. It was the opposite Saturday night.
Left tackle Rasheed Walker blamed the noise for the struggles, but the self-accountability for this line will surely need to kick in over the bye week, as they look to improve upon Saturday’s performance.
“They were just loud. They had the momentum, and the crowd was getting louder every single down,” Walker said. “It was just loud.”
There’s more to blame in this game, as some of the other offensive personnel did not play to their standards.
The running back struggles continued, as the leading rusher out of the backfield was Sean Clifford, who didn’t play for over half the game.
Keyvone Lee led all Penn State running backs with 30 rushing yards, when the Nittany Lions could have really used a boost from its backfield like in years past.
It was Noah Cain in 2019 who had the big performance at Kinnick Stadium and Saquon Barkley in 2017.
This was the time for one of the backs to figure it out, but with John Lovett suffering an injury himself and Cain’s ineffectiveness, it was clear that wasn’t going to be the case early on in this game.
Two critical third down drops from tight end Brenton Strange didn’t allow Roberson to gain the confidence he needed to get through this one, either. They were massive momentum killers and plays that the offense just couldn’t get back.
Yes, Ta’Quan Roberson was ineffective and he needed to be better for Penn State to win on Saturday, but his performance was not aided by those in the program who surrounded him at all.
However, he has to use this as a learning experience, as the unknown status of Clifford could lead to him starting long term following the bye week.
“[My head is on] the next game, 1-0 next week,” Roberson said. “I know my teammates got my back, I got their back so I just have to focus on next week.”
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