Penn State Football

Penn State football survives defensive slugfest against Iowa 17-12 Saturday night

Penn State overcame an inconsistent offense and a controversial officiating call Saturday night to slip past Iowa 17-12 in a night game at Kinnick Stadium.

Both defenses shined during the low-scoring affair, but the Nittany Lions found cracks in the Hawkeyes’ defense when it needed. In the second quarter, wideout KJ Hamler scored a 22-yard touchdown to give Penn State a 7-3 advantage. And, in the final quarter, running back Noah Cain pounded in a 5-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 17-6.

Cain finished with 22 carries for 102 yards. Hamler had 7 catches for 61 yards.

Penn State survived a bit of controversy in the third quarter — more on that below — after a Pat Freiermuth touchdown was overturned, when the replay didn’t appear to show convincing evidence the tight end was short of the end zone. Regardless, James Franklin will take the hard-earned win.

The Nittany Lions remain undefeated at 6-0, setting up a big game next week against No. 16 Michigan.

Players of the game

DT Robert Windsor and S Jaquan Brisker: Our apologies to wideout KJ Hamler and RB Noah Cain, who also played well for the offense. But the defense again dominated, and there’s no getting around just how important their key fourth-quarter play was.

Windsor paced the defense with a game-high 2.5 tackles for loss. But, more importantly, he pressured Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley on his critical fourth-quarter interception. And who was the defensive back who came away with it? You got it — Brisker.

Penn State led 10-6 at that point, with 9:22 left in the game, and Brisker returned the pick 4 yards for the Iowa 35-yard line. Penn State scored a few plays later to increase the lead to 17-6 and put the game out of reach. That play was key, the defense’s performance carried the team, and both Windsor and Brisker stepped up when PSU needed it most. If that doesn’t merit a weekly award here, we’re not sure what does.

Play of the game

Hamler’s leaping first-half TD: Penn State wideout KJ Hamler hates being compared to Saquon Barkley — so, in that regard, he didn’t do himself any favors with an incredibly athletic leap Saturday night.

Let’s rewind that play. On third-and-7 on the Iowa 22, with a little under 5 minutes to play in the first half, Hamler caught the ball short of the first-down marker. The defender dove to make the deflection or interception and missed, so that gave Hamler room to run. (Mistake No. 1.) With three Hawkeyes waiting for him near the goalline, Hamler then leaped from the 4-yard line — and, despite nearly landing on his head, scored the touchdown. And was unhurt.

That score put Penn State up 7-3 and gave the Nittany Lions’ offense some life. It was an important play — and fun to watch. It doesn’t get much better than that for PSU fans.

Controversial call

Officiating blunder? Late in the third quarter, Penn State literally crossed the goal line three times — and still came away with a field goal. Confused? Well, so was everyone else ... but allow us to explain.

Running back Journey Brown scored a 6-yard touchdown, but it was called back because of holding. Then TE Pat Freiermuth appeared to catch a 16-yard touchdown but the touchdown was then overturned, despite video evidence appearing to confirm the TD. And Penn State was given the ball at the 1.

And then? After another holding call, Sean Clifford sprinted in for an 11-yard score, which was also called back for holding. So Penn State settled for a field goal.

The Big Ten declined the media’s request for a pool interview with the officiating crew on the overturned Freiermuth TD.

Up next

vs. No. 16 Michigan: No. 10 Penn State (6-0) will take on the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines (5-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at Beaver Stadium for the annual White Out.

Michigan — whose offensive coordinator is former Penn State assistant Josh Gattis — beat up Illinois 42-25 Saturday after nearly letting a four-TD lead slip away. Michigan led early 28-0 but, by the final quarter, Illinois trailed 28-25.

Penn State-Michigan again has the potential to be a low-scoring affair. The Wolverines’ offense has struggled this year, while the defense has continued to impress.