Losing Streak Hits Five, Penn State Breaks Record for Worst Start to Season In Loss to Iowa
Despite a switch at the quarterback position, the result remained constant.
By failing to take care of the football (four turnovers), not protecting the quarterback (five sacks surrendered) and struggling to put points on the board early (scored seven or fewer points for the fifth straight week), Penn State followed its season-long formula of how to lose a football game.
The Nittany Lions fell to 0-5 for the first time in the program’s 127-year history, losing to the Iowa Hawkeyes 41-21.
Wide receiver Jahan Dotson, who finished the day with eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown, said the team must do more to get its first win of the season.
“Our backs are against the wall, and it’s just how you respond to adversity,” Dotson said. “You can pack it up and quit, or you can put your head down and work and fight through the adversity and come out on top. That’s all we need to do.”
After nearly leading a second half comeback against Nebraska, quarterback Will Levis earned the start over incumbent Sean Clifford. Levis was 13-16 through the air but for just 106 yards and no touchdowns.
The Nittany Lions trailed 24-7 at halftime, although it could have been 17-7 had head coach James Franklin not elected to go for it on fourth down at the Penn State 49-yard line. On fourth and two, Levis misfired on a back-shoulder throw to Dotson, a play call which Franklin said was in line with his strategy.
“I’m doing everything I possibly can to inject some momentum in the offense to get us going,” Franklin said after failing to convert on fourth down the previous series. “We didn’t execute and ended up giving up a big touchdown right before the half.”
With 11 seconds remaining in the second half, Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent plunged into the endzone from one yard out, his second score of the quarter. Iowa’s offense scored four touchdowns on the day, all on the ground against a Penn State defense that gave up its largest point total of the season.
After the Hawkeyes’ offense went three-and-out to begin the second half, Iowa’s Dane Belton sacked Levis and forced a fumble which was recovered at its own 46-yard line. From there, Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras orchestrated a 12 play, 54-yard drive capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Petras.
Levis got one more chance on the next series, but after a Penn State three-and-out, Sean Clifford got his chance at the quarterback position. Franklin said the Nittany Lions plan to use both quarterbacks in some capacity moving forward, which doesn’t necessarily put the head coach at ease.
“It is a concern,” Franklin said. “There’s no doubt about it, so we’ll continue to work with those guys each week.”
Given the keys to the offense once again, Clifford threw two touchdown passes on his first pair of attempts of the game. The first went to tight end Brenton Strange from 28 yards out and later to Dotson from 68 yards away.
Strange started in place of Pat Freiermuth, who will miss the remainder of the season due to surgery for an undisclosed injury.
Trying to fill Freiermuth’s shoes, Strange said he received advice from the preseason All-American throughout the week about how to prepare for his first start.
“It’s difficult to replace a guy who’s had that kind of a career,” Strange said. “He just told me to go out there and play like myself. It’s something that I’ve been working for.”
Despite Clifford’s third quarter success, the final 15 minutes were not as kind. Clifford threw two costly interceptions, including one with under two minutes left which Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon returned 71 yards for a Hawkeye touchdown that put the game on ice at 41-21.
“The turnovers, they kill you,” Dotson said. “At that point, you’re just beating yourself. We’ve got to take care of the ball moving forward and just worry about sustaining drives.”
Whether it’s putting an end to the rotating carousel at quarterback, maintaining possession or keeping the opposition out of the end zone, safety Jaquan Brisker said Penn State needs to come out as a “different team” with a “different fight” moving forward if it wants to earn a victory before the end of the year.
“It’s very hard being 0-5, but we just can’t quit,” Brisker said. “To turn it around, we just got to execute and come out with energy and make more plays.”
Andrew Destin is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.