Nittany Lions stun Iowa, 41-14

Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER SHANNON Penn State’s Saquon Barkley celebrates as he crosses the goal line in front of Iowa’s Bo Bower during the Nittany Lions’ 41-14 victory over the Hawkeyes Saturday night, at Beaver Stadium.

UNIVERSITY PARK — A lot of people were surprised when Penn State was ranked 12th in the initial College Football Playoff poll last week.

Overrated? How about, perhaps, underrated?

The Nittany Lions destroyed a decent Iowa team, 41-14, Saturday night at Beaver Stadium for their fifth consecutive victory.

The offense was terrific, finishing with 599 yards, 359 on the ground. The total actually got up to 601 yards before the Lions lost a couple on their final plays.

The defense was terrific, holding Iowa to just 30 yards rushing and 234 total yards. The Hawkeyes came in averaging 168 yards rushing.

The way Penn State (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten) is playing right now, the hope of a 10-2 regular season — which seemed like a pipe dream a few weeks ago,  is starting to look more and more realistic.

“There’s so many things that are going well right now,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We’ve got to just keep building on it.”

The building process has been remarkable since Penn State started the season 2-2.

“They’re a completely different team than they were in September,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Saquon Barkley carried 20 times for 167 yards and a score, plus he caught a 44-yard touchdown pass to finish with 211 all-purpose yards.

Trace McSorley was 11-of-18 for 240 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran 14 times for 40 yards.

Even backup quarterback Tommy Stevens put up some big numbers coming on in the fourth quarter, running five times for 70, including a 13-yard touchdown on a jet sweep.

Joe Moorhead’s offense keeps getting better each week as the Lions find more ways to give their talented skill position players chances to make plays.

“This is kind of how we envisioned it,” said Franklin, who fired John Donovan at the end of last season and brought in Moorhead from Fordham to run a very different kind of offense than Penn State has ever used.

The offense put up three touchdowns by mid-second quarter for a 21-0 lead. Miles Sanders got the night off to a good start as he took the opening kickoff back 48 yards, and McSorley later hit Saeed Blacknall for a 19-yard touchdown to cap the drive.

Penn State’s defense asserted itself and set the tone for the night a few minutes later.

Iowa (5-4, 3-3) put together a nice opening drive, with the help of a face-mask penalty against Penn State, to move inside the Lions’ 40. The Hawkeyes faced fourth-and-1 at the 34 when quarterback C.J. Beathard tried to jump over the top.

Linebacker Jason Cabinda leaped high and clobbered Beathard at the point of attack, actually knocking the quarterback backwards. Iowa came in with a strong running game, but that play epitomized PSU’s ability to get pressure from its front seven to stifle the Hawkeyes.

“Holding them to 30 yards rushing — big time, big time,” Franklin said.

The Lions failed to score after the fourth-down stop — Tyler Davis had a 30-yard field goal blocked — and again on their next series. Then Barkley broke loose for a 57-yard touchdown run, showing some fancy footwork deep downfield to elude tacklers, for a 14-0 lead with 10:28 left in the half.

The next drive belonged to tight end Mike Gesicki, who caught a 13-yard pass, then a five-yarder, then found himself wide open down the right sideline for a 43-yard gain down to the 1. McSorley scored on the next play to make it 21-0.

Iowa answered with a 75-yard scoring drive on its next possession. It was one of the few drives on the night where the Hawkeyes did much of anything, and Beathard found Akrum Wadley on a screen pass that turned into a 12-yard touchdown.

The Lions came right back with a long drive of their own and Davis kicked a 30-yard field goal as time expired in the half for a 24-7 lead. Penn State had 348 yards of offense in the first half alone.

The Lions’ defense continued to control the Hawkeyes in the third quarter, so the threat of a comeback was never really much of a possibility. Iowa relies so much on its running game that it’s simply not built to come back from a big deficit when getting stuffed on the ground.

Davis kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the third for a 27-7 lead.

Penn State safety Troy Apke picked off the first pass of his career on Iowa’s next possession, giving the Lions the ball at the Iowa 44. On the next play, Barkley got free down the right sideline as a receiver, and McSorley hit him for a 44-yard score.

Stevens saw extensive action in the fourth quarter, and the backup quarterback got the ball on a nifty play for the Lions’ final points.

With McSorley in the shotgun, Stevens lined up in the right slot, came in motion and took a jet sweep around the left side, breaking tackles and forcing his way into the end zone from 13 yards out with 9:28 remaining to make it 41-7.

Iowa made the final slightly more respectable as Beathard found Jerminic Smith on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 6:30 remaining.

“We will never be satisfied, ever,” Franklin said when asked about how well the team is playing. “That’s not just coach speak. I mean that.”