Penn State football vs. Iowa, Scruggs (70)

Offensive lineman Juice Scruggs (70) looks off to the sidelines during warmups before Penn State football’s game against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. The Hawkeyes beat the Nittany Lions 23-20.

After Sean Clifford’s second-quarter injury kept him sidelined for the rest of Penn State's matchup with Iowa, all eyes were drawn to backup Ta’Quan Roberson to lead the offensive charge at quarterback.

On his first snap, Roberson fumbled to lose four yards.

As if Roberson’s first drive couldn’t get any worse, the blue and white found itself at third-and-29 after three straight false starts.

While Roberson said he and his offensive line took a “next-play” mentality after their three straight penalties, the rest of the game suggested otherwise.

Roberson’s next drive? Interception. One after that? Another false start.

In just half a quarter, Penn State racked up four false starts. By the end of regulation, its total doubled.

After eight false starts in a single game, it’s challenging not to point fingers. But where exactly does the problem begin?

According to starting offensive tackle Rasheed Walker, the increasing noise in Kinnick Stadium following Clifford’s injury made it difficult to hear Roberson.

“It was just loud,” Walker said. “They had momentum, the crowd was just getting louder on every down.”

Despite the noise in Kinnick on Saturday, it’s not like Roberson and the rest of Penn State’s offense is unfamiliar with loud noises, practicing through booming speakers every day and playing home games in arguably the loudest stadium in the country.

Prior to Saturday, Franklin said he never noticed an issue with Roberson when it came to stadium noise.

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“He’s not as loud as Sean [Clifford], but not to the point where it was a problem,” Franklin said. “If it had been an issue in practice, it would have corrected itself.”

However, Franklin said his offense “didn’t have a problem with crowd noise” until losing Clifford, implying that Roberson’s vocals prior to the snap could’ve played a role in the false starts.

If lack of vocals from Roberson were one issue, it likely didn’t help that Iowa continuously gave Penn State uncomfortable field position at the start of every drive.

Iowa’s punter Tory Taylor averaged 44.2 yards per punt and landed six of his nine attempts within the 20-yard line — a performance worthy of Franklin’s praise to call him the “MVP of the game”.

For wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith, the ugly field position gave the Nittany Lions no help on the offensive end.

“It would be pretty tough for any team, especially considering the environment,” Lambert-Smith said. “Congrats to their punter… he did his job.”

According to Walker, though, you have to always be ready.

“I can only imagine how tough the situation was for [Roberson],” Walker said. “But at the end of the day, you have to be ready when your number’s called.”

On the basis of Walker’s statement, Roberson understands he’s a part of a “next-man-up” mentality, so he is forced to stay ready at all times.

While it’s a difficult experience to have your name called against the No. 2 defense in the country, Roberson said his own defense had prepared him for the moment.

“I know I haven’t had any experience, but I think I go against, in my opinion, the best defense in the country every day in camp,” Roberson said. “I think those guys prepared me very well.”

With Clifford’s injury status still up in the air for Penn State’s next matchup against Illinois, it’s possible Roberson will get his first opportunity to start in a couple of weeks.

Moving forward, Roberson said he feels “really comfortable.”

Although Roberson admits the Nittany Lions “need better execution on offense”, the team’s problems will be taken care of day by day.

“I do [take responsibility], but then again it’s a team game,” Roberson said.

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