With a palpable buzz surrounding Penn State’s national ranking and relativity, Saturday night at Beaver Stadium was an opportunity for the Nittany Lions to exorcise some long overdue demons.
In the past 10 years, Iowa has had their number, especially when it meant the most.
Remember 2008, when a 24-23 loss dashed the No. 3 Nittany Lions’ hopes at a national championship appearance?
Then there was 2009, when No. 4 Penn State fell to the Hawkeyes 21-10. That night, a rainy Sept. 26 evening, in Beaver Stadium was the last time Penn State hosted a primetime game as a ranked team.
Penn State head coach James Franklin said on Wednesday that rankings wouldn’t gift his team a point against the Hawkeyes; the ranking didn’t matter, only beating Iowa.
Regardless, Penn State exacted belated vengeance.
The No. 12 Nittany Lions, led by Saquon Barkley’s electricity, ousted Iowa 41-14 in front of 106,194 fans on Saturday night. Barkley’s 167 rushing yards gashed the Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten), while quarterback Trace McSorley’s 240 yards on 11 completions (21.8 yards per hookup) directed the Nittany Lions (7-2, 5-1).
Barkley eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season with the stellar performance, and became the first Nittany Lion running back to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since Evan Royster. With 211 all-purpose yards, Barkley added to his ridiculous recent form; he has totaled 786 all-purpose yards the past four weeks.
Meanwhile, Iowa managed only 234 yards, while Penn State as a team had 599.
It was a blowout in every sense of the word, a demolition of a supposed challenge.
It was the type of game Penn State hasn’t had in quite some time — as a ranked team, taking on the national stage.
But on Saturday, the Nittany Lions handled themselves like a potential top-10 team in the College Football Playoff rankings: with aplomb, perfectly meshing style and purpose.
“We’ve got a good thing going right now, and we have a great opportunity,” Barkley said. “You can’t look too far ahead, and you can’t get caught up in what this team is doing and what that team is doing. Only thing you can do is control what you’re doing yourself. You control your own destiny.
“We talk about writing your own story, and the pencil in our hands.”
While the No. 4, 10 and 11 teams lost on Saturday, Barkley was taking care of his own business. He ravaged an Iowa defense that allowed only 18.9 points per game; Barkley scored 12 himself, and set up another two touchdowns.
His shifty running served up Penn State’s first touchdown, a 19-yard pass from McSorley to Saeed Blacknall, and the starlet scored the Nittany Lions’ second. Taking a read-option handoff to the left, Barkley cut upfield, broke a tackle, turned on the jets, and housed it, a 57-yard scintillating score.
Later in the second quarter, Barkley’s backfield companion, McSorley, kept a 1-yard run for Penn State’s third touchdown. The Nittany Lions led 21-0 with 7:58 left in the first half.
With a 30-yard Tyler Davis field goal as time expired, Penn State went to the half leading the Hawkeyes 24-7, a first-half thrashing few saw coming.
Franklin wouldn’t say if he was surprised how one-sided the affair was. But he did point to Penn State’s progress.
“We’re getting better, I know that,” Franklin said. “What does getting better equate to on Saturdays? I can’t predict that. But we are getting better every single day.”
Franklin also said a major part of that is holding his players to a “championship standard” each and every play.
The Nittany Lions were somewhat flat to start the third quarter, only a Davis field goal to show for the scoring. But when the Penn State offense needed life, Barkley was there.
First, the defense, which limited the Hawkeyes to 30 rushing yards and recorded four sacks, made a mood-altering play. Relinquishing any hope of a comeback, Penn State safety Troy Apke picked off Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard 11 seconds into the fourth quarter.
What at the time seemed like an iffy 27-7 advantage became a nearly insurmountable lead. Barkley helped push it over the top.
The running back said when the Nittany Lion offense took the field, he sensed something was different about the Hawkeyes. He read the body language and saw the faces. He could tell they were close to despair.
“You can see it in their demeanor when they don’t want to be there anymore,” Barkley said. “When you see that, you can’t let them hang. You have to take advantage of it.”
That’s what he did.
On Penn State’s first play of the series, Barkley delayed out of the backfield, then shot toward the Iowa sideline on a looping wheel route, beating his defender. He turned around at the Hawkeye 20-yard line, caught McSorley’s pass, and glided into the end zone with a stutter-step.
On his last play of the game before safely taking a seat for the rest of the evening, Barkley put the Hawkeyes to rest.
In a game in which Penn State was favored by a touchdown, it was never even close.
To Franklin, credit goes to the rhythm his players are in. The coach said the Nittany Lions are “singing the same song, singing in the same tune”.
“Everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction,” Franklin continued.
Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer agreed.
The redshirt junior said it’s “incredible” when the Nittany Lions are on the same page.
When asked how much better the Nittany Lions are since losing to Michigan 49-10 and starting the season 2-2, Farmer was blunt.
“We’re frigging good, man,” the linebacker said.
But how much better?
“I’m talking about national championship, better,” Farmer said emphatically. “I’m saying, we can go as far as we can go. You guys are getting a taste of it. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to bring something special to Penn State.”