IOWA CITY, Iowa — Penn State stormed through eastern Iowa on Saturday night and thoroughly whipped a pestering nemesis.
In a stunning reversal of their fortunes at Kinnick Stadium, the Nittany Lions quickly silenced a capacity crowd of 70,585 on their way to a convincing 38-14 victory over Iowa on Saturday night.
The victory snapped a four-game skid here that started in 2001 and included some of the program’s most frustrating Big Ten losses.
“This was real big,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “We haven’t won here since I was in second grade. The way we won it, it was huge for us.”
Penn State’s performance, which included 24 first-half points and a furious offensive pace, sets up a showdown with undefeated Ohio State next weekend at Beaver Stadium. The Buckeyes improved to 8-0 by defeating Purdue 29-22 in overtime.
Like Saturday’s game, the Ohio State matchup is scheduled for prime time. The Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) could be in good shape if they duplicate Saturday’s performance.
The Nittany Lions, who own five straight victories after opening with losses to Ohio University and Virginia, outgained the Hawkeyes 504-209. Penn State ran 90 offensive plays, the second straight game they hit a mark that seemingly drains defenses.
Penn State held Iowa scoreless for the first three quarters. The Hawkeyes scored their first points on Jordan Cotton’s 92-yard kickoff return with 14:14 remaining. Iowa finished with just 20 rushing yards.
Nothing about Saturday’s scene, which included booming top-40 and rock music and staggered sections of black- and yellow-clad fans, fazed the Nittany Lions.
“This is what you constantly dream about doing,” said quarterback Matt McGloin, who completed 26 of 38 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns. “You dream about playing in a game like this, a night game against a good football team on the road. It really shows you what type of team you have and what type of person you are.”
Penn State’s first series in its accelerated “NASCAR” offense started silencing the crowd. The nine-play, 84-yard drive ended with McGloin rolling right and unleashing a 31-yard touchdown strike to true freshman tight end Jesse James. McGloin squeezed the ball between Iowa defensive backs Greg Castillo and Tom Donatell.
The drive included sophomore tailback Bill Belton’s longest run, a 23-yard burst around the right side of the line. It took Penn State just 2:49 to score.
“It definitely changed the tempo of the game,” center Matt Stankiewitch said. “Changing the tempo of the game is big stuff. When we try to hurry up, it’s definitely an advantage to us.”
The Nittany Lions maintained the pace for the rest of the half, outgaining the Hawkeyes 304-99 and running 50 offensive plays. Allen Robinson ended a nine-play, 69-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown reception with 2:43 left in the first quarter. The drive used just 2:53.
Penn State added 10 more points in the second quarter, with six coming on Belton’s 11-yard touchdown run after DaQuan Jones recovered Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg’s fumble.
Jesse Della Valle opened the second half by returning a kickoff 46 yards. Penn State’s first drive of the half was ruthless, as McGloin completed a 42-yard pass to Brandon Moseby-Felder and Belton scored on a 3-yard run. The two-play drive took 27 seconds.
“Continuing the momentum was a big focal point at halftime,” Della Valle said. “We wanted to keep the foot on the pedal, keep going, keep that lead and not let up on them.”
In addition to scoring three times, Belton, who suffered an ankle injury in the season-opener against Ohio University, gained a career-high 103 yards on 16 carries.
“I thought he played well,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “He took care of the football, he saw some things and made the right cut. I think he’s feeling better. He did some nice things.”
McGloin completed passes to nine different receivers, including redshirt frehsman tight end Kyle Carter, who caught six passes for 85 yards. Carter extended a first-quarter scoring drive with an athletic 34-yard reception over ace Iowa corner Micah Hyde on a fourth-and-3 play.
O’Brien-coached teams are demonstrating a penchant for dismantling conference opponents on the road. Penn State blasted Illinois 35-7 in Champaign last month.
After playing Ohio State, the Nittany Lions visit Purdue and Nebraska.
Penn State can only hope those games are played under lights, too.
“To come on the road and beat a good team, gives us confidence in what we are doing,” linebacker Michael Mauti said. “To win like that, gives us a lot of confidence. We knew what we had to do. We had to stop the run as a defense, and I think we did our job. We just have to move on to our next challenge.”
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.