UNIVERSITY PARK - Nothing Penn State does is pretty, but so far it hasn't mattered.
It will matter at some point against better competition.
The red zone ineptitude will matter.
The lack of creativity on offense will matter.
The musical chairs at quarterback will matter.
But right now, the Nittany Lions are 5-1 and 2-0 in the Big Ten. They are exactly where everyone thought they'd be at this point in the season.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State linebacker Khairi Fortt celebrates a tackle of Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg during the Nittany Lions’ 13-3 win over the Hawkeyes on Saturday.
All because of the defense.
The group's stellar play through five games is what matters most for this team, and it's really all that mattered Saturday against Iowa.
"The defense is just phenomenal," quarterback Matt McGloin said. "It's one of the best defenses in the nation so far."
The Nittany Lions' offense has been one of the worst in the country, particularly in the red zone, but even that didn't matter in a 13-3 victory before 103,497 fans at Beaver Stadium.
"I'm glad we got the win today, but it's going to hurt us eventually not being able to score in the red zone," said McGloin, who played all but two series despite Rob Bolden getting the start once again.
The Lions finally figured out how to beat Iowa after dropping three in a row and eight of the past nine meetings.
"I would be lying to you if I said it doesn't feel better to beat them than the other wins we had this season," receiver Derek Moye said. "The locker room, you could just tell it was a lot more exciting."
All it took to end the Iowa jinx was defensive coordinator Tom Bradley bucking the norm in one key area.
"I think that Coach Bradley really wanted it this week, and he just went full tilt today, just sent as many blitzes as he could," PSU defensive tackle Devon Still said.
Bradley has been criticized for years for not blitzing enough, but no one could accuse him of that Saturday. Still estimated the defense blitzed on 30 to 40 percent of the plays, and the scheme helped make a pretty good Iowa offense looked pretty bad.
The Hawkeyes (3-2, 0-1) managed only 253 yards of total offense, right on PSU's season average of giving up 250 per game, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Lions also forced three turnovers and had five sacks.
"The defense has kept us in every ballgame but one [versus Alabama], and that was a pretty good football team that beat us," Joe Paterno said.
"We've been going out there every week to try to prove that we're not only one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, but one of the best defenses in the country," said Still, who continues to play like an All-American as he had six tackles, one sack and 1 1/2 tackles for loss.
The Lions picked off two passes from Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg and recovered one fumble. The Hawkeyes came in averaging 38 points per game but could not sustain drives against the aggressive Lion defense.
"It was a lot of zone blitzing today," Bradley said. "With us, one of the things we've had is we've been able to get pressure with four people, and you hate to give up those areas. But today we did. We took some chances and took some brave pills and went after them."
With D'Anton Lynn (concussion) and Stephon Morris (ankle) both out, true freshman Adrian Amos got a start at cornerback and had to cover Iowa's top receiver, Marvin McNutt. Amos held his own as McNutt wasn't a big factor despite catching four passes for 73 yards.
"Amos was ready for the task, and he definitely proved it today," linebacker Nate Stupar said.
Silas Redd carried 28 times for 142 yards to help the PSU offense sustain a lot of drives. The Lions only scored 13 points, but the offense was able to help keep the defense fresh by moving the chains.
"They didn't put a lot of points on the board, but they put enough," Still said. "They kept us off the field."
The defense did miss a big opportunity midway through the third quarter when safety Drew Astorino dropped an interception that looked like it would be a pick-6.
"That was probably Drew's fourth drop against Iowa in the last three years," Bradley said before joking, "I said, 'Are you throwing the game here?'"
Penn State's defense was dominating through three quarters, but there still had to be a sinking feeling in many fans' stomachs for a couple of reasons. First, it was Iowa, which has always found a way to beat the Lions. Second, the PSU offense gave away so many points through red zone failures and allowed the Hawkeyes to stick around.
It was just 6-3 early in the fourth quarter, and one big play could have changed everything. The Hawkeyes have had a knack for making those plays against PSU, but this time the Lions' defense came up with the big one.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges forced a fumble by Vandenberg, and it was recovered by Stupar at the Iowa 49 with 14:12 to play.
"Scrap let the dogs out," Hodges said of his defensive coordinator. "Coach Bradley was blitzing us like crazy today. Every play was a blitz, and we were loving it."
The players clearly love playing that type of scheme.
"Every time we go to blitz we were smiling because it was another chance for us to make a good play," Hodges said.
Penn State's running game had started establishing control, and the coaches stuck with it on the game-clinching series. The Lions ran it on 10 consecutive plays, then finally got into the end zone as McGloin hit Kevin Haplea for a 2-yard TD with 8:08 to play.
The Hawkeyes showed great ability to rally late in a 31-27 win over Pitt in week two, but they stood no chance against Penn State's defense.
"They sensed it, they smelled it, they wanted to finish it," Bradley said of his unit. "That's what I said to them, I said, 'The last two drives, we're going to finish this off the right way. We're not going to have a lapse.' For the first time in a long time I thought we played a complete game defensively. We didn't have that lapse, we didn't have that lull."