IOWA CITY, Iowa —
Iowa City has been the scene of some terrible losses for Penn State over the past decade.
The Nittany Lions turned that all around with a cathartic thumping of the shell-shocked Hawkeyes.
Bill Belton ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns and surging Penn State throttled Iowa 38-14 on Saturday night for its fifth consecutive win.
Matt McGloin threw for 289 yards and a pair of TDs for the Nittany Lions, who beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City for the first time in 13 years.
“We haven’t won here since I was in like, second grade. That’s big, real big for us. And the way we won it, it was real huge for us,” Penn State defensive lineman Jordan Hill said.
Penn State (5-2, 3-0) took the suspense of this matchup between previously-unbeaten Big Ten teams by storming out to a 24-0 lead at halftime. The Nittany Lions scored again just 27 seconds into the second half to go ahead 31-0.
James Vandenberg threw for 189 yards for Iowa (4-3, 2-1). The Hawkeyes were held to just 209 yards of offense and tacked on a pair of late touchdowns that made the final score seem much closer than the game ever really was.
“They play very hard. They play good within the scheme. They communicate,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said of his defense. “To this point in the season, it’s been fun to watch them every week. They continue to get better.”
But it was the Nittany Lions no-huddle offense that put this one out of reach in a hurry.
Penn State has been a notoriously strong starter under first-year coach Bill O’Brien, outscoring opponents 66-0 in the first quarter.
The Nittany Lions needed just 24 minutes to jump ahead 24-0 and silence what had been a raucous Iowa crowd.
McGloin avoided an oncoming Riley McMinn, scrambled to his right and hit Jesse James open in the middle of the field for a 31-yard TD pass that put the Nittany Lions up 7-0.
McGloin then found Kyle Carter for a key reception over Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde’s head on fourth down and Allen Robinson for an 8-yard TD grab to give Penn State a 14-0 lead.
Vandenberg’s fumble deep in Iowa territory set up an 11-yard TD run by Belton with 5:53 left before halftime.
Given how incompetent the Hawkeyes were on offense, that 24-point deficit was essentially insurmountable.
“We definitely struggled. We didn’t block them well. We didn’t execute well, run or pass. We couldn’t get anything going at all. Period,” Ferentz said.
Penn State had 504 yards of offense, and O’Brien joined George Hoskins (1892) and Dick Harlow (1915) as the only first-year coaches in school history with five consecutive wins.
The Hawkeyes lost starting offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal to apparent leg injuries in the opening quarter – in a span of just three plays, no less – and Mike Meyer’s streak of 13 consecutive field goals ended with a pair of misses.
It was about the worst start the Hawkeyes could have imagined. It was so bad that Iowa’s fans got rowdy again – but this time to boo the Hawkeyes.
The second half was hardly any better.
Jesse Della Valle nearly took the second-half kickoff back for a touchdown, but Meyer’s shoestring tackle got him near midfield. Penn State was in the end zone just two plays later anyway, as Belton ran it in from three yards out.
Vandenberg’s problems continued the next time he dropped back to pass, as he threw it right to Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti.
About the only break Iowa could get came when Zach Zwinak fumbled the ball in the end zone and the Hawkeyes recovered. But they couldn’t capitalize on their rare good fortune, and Belton’s third TD run of the night made it 38-0 with 14:25 left.
Iowa knocked Penn State out of the national title race in 2008 with a come-from-behind victory in Iowa City and it pounded the Nittany Lions 24-3 here two years ago.
Penn State never gave Iowa a chance this time around.
“We needed to (make a statement). Iowa’s had our number in the past,” Hill said. “We had to come out here and prove that it’s over.”
Jordan Cotton’s 92-yard kickoff return after that score saved Iowa the indignity of their first shutout loss in 12 years. Vandenberg threw just his third TD of the year with 4:11 left, an 18-yarder to Keenan Davis.
Running back Mark Weisman, whose status had been uncertain because of a sprained ankle, finished with just nine yards on five carries.
“Tough ballgame for us, and give them all the credit,” Ferentz said. “They had it going (Saturday night) and their quarterback really had a tremendous game.”