Penn State found a rhythm in the first half on the road against Iowa, but an injury to its quarterback doomed the offensive attack and its defense couldn’t hold the Hawkeyes for long enough.
The No. 4 Nittany Lions suffered their first loss of the season inside Kinnick Stadium, dropping a 23-20 decision to No. 3 Iowa.
Sean Clifford threw an interception on his first pass attempt of the game and the Hawkeyes turned it into a 3-0 lead via a 34-yard field goal.
But Penn State responded with two touchdowns, the first on a two-yard run from Noah Cain and the second courtesy of a four-yard quarterback keeper run, giving Penn State a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Jordan Stout continued the scoring for the blue and white, nailing a 32-yard field goal roughly three minutes into the second frame, but Iowa found the endzone on a nine-yard pass to cut its deficit to seven heading into the locker room.
The third quarter featured a field goal from each team, setting the score at 20-13 in favor of Penn State heading into the final frame.
The Hawkeyes tacked on another field goal with just over eight minutes remaining in the game and took a three-point lead on a 44-yard strike from Spencer Petras to Nico Ragaini, setting the final score.
Injury bug bites Penn State
For the first time in 2021, Penn State dealt with extensive injuries during a game as seven Nittany Lions were sidelined for a period of time against Iowa.
Veteran defensive tackle PJ Mustipher went down on the game’s first possession of the game and didn’t return, standing on the sidelines with crutches for the rest of the contest.
Mustipher’s replacement, Dvon Ellies, also left the game for a period of time but returned later on.
Clifford headed to the locker room midway through the second quarter with an injury, returning to the sideline after halftime in street clothes.
Safety Jonathan Sutherland also exited the game in the second quarter and didn’t return to the field.
Other players that needed timeouts for injuries but later returned were Jaquan Brisker, KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Arnold Ebiketie.
Ta’Quan Roberson sees 1st extensive playing time
James Franklin stressed the importance of solidifying the backup quarterback spot behind Clifford prior to the start of the season.
That preparation came in handy against Iowa when Sean Clifford suffered an injury in the second quarter, giving way to Ta’Quan Roberson.
The redshirt sophomore struggled to find rhythm upon his entrance, bobbling his first snap of the game and throwing an interception on his second series and never truly settled into the game.
Roberson completed seven of his attempted 17 passes for 34 yards and one interception.
The offense committed eight false start penalties, including three consecutive at the end of the second quarter.
Following Clifford’s second-quarter exit, the Nittany Lions didn’t find the endzone for the rest of the game and couldn’t establish any offensive attack.
Linebackers lead defensive attack
In a game expected to be dominated by defense, Penn State adjusted to adversity when its top defensive tackle, PJ Mustipher, went down with an injury on the first drive of the game.
Linebackers combined for 24 tackles against Iowa, along with five from defensive end-linebacker combo Jesse Luketa.
Ellis Brooks led the Nittany Lions with 14 tackles, including eight solo, followed by Jaquan Brisker and Arnold Ebiketie each with nine tackles.
In light of the injury to Sean Clifford, the defense was called upon once again to bail out the offense’s short possessions.
Brent Pry’s group battled injuries of its own, playing possessions without Brisker and Ebiketie, but it persevered and gave the team a chance to win.