Two ways to view Lions’ win
How on earth did Penn State only win 21-19 Saturday at Iowa after dominating statistically? And did we see some things to be concerned about for the long haul in the game?
Let’s play the glass is half full/half empty game.
Half full: A win is a win is a win, especially on the road in conference. Iowa had won its last three home games against top five teams, so obviously Kinnick Stadium is a tough place to play. Michigan didn’t survive there last year, and that shocking loss knocked the Wolverines out of the conference and national title pictures. Penn State survived, end of story. Still unbeaten. Still ranked No. 4. Still in the hunt for a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff berth.
Half empty: The Nittany Lions should have won by three touchdowns or more. They were sloppy. They made a bunch of mistakes. They missed golden opportunities. They gave up big plays in crunch time. They let an inferior team hang around. There’s no disputing any of that, it’s just how much people want to harp on those things as opposed to the simple fact that PSU won.
Half full: Penn State’s offense put up huge numbers: 579 total yards, remarkably balanced (295 rushing, 284 passing), 29 first downs, 99 plays (to Iowa’s 45), owned time of possession (39:39 to 20:21 for Iowa). There’s nothing wrong with the offense that a few tweaks in certain situations won’t fix.
Half empty: It’s almost inconceivable given those numbers above that PSU scored only 21 points, and was stuck on 15 until the last play of the game. As great of a playcaller as Joe Moorhead is, he made a number of head-scratching calls in crucial spots, particularly inside the 10-yard line, when at times it seemed he was being too cute with the call.
Half full: Saquon Barkley is incredible. He is the frontrunner right now for the Heisman Trophy, and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is really the only other candidate who’s close. Barkley is getting his numbers — school-record 358 all-purpose Saturday — which is vital because the Heisman voters care greatly about those. But he also is turning in at least one Heisman highlight-reel play each week, and the visuals of his remarkable runs, insane footwork and leaps over defenders will earn him tons of votes.
Half empty: Barkley is a human being — we think — and he’s susceptible to overwork, fatigue or dare we say injury if he is going to be relied upon as much as he was Saturday (28 runs, 12 catches, three kickoff returns). He gets hit very hard at least a few times per game. He’s one tough dude, without question, but football is a vicious game. Penn State’s offense must find ways to spread the wealth, which it usually does.
Half full: Trace McSorley is a winner, clutch and a great leader. His game-winning 7-yard TD pass to Juwan Johnson on the final play is already the stuff of PSU legend. It was the first winning touchdown scored on the final play by the Lions since a 6-3 victory over Lafayette in 1929, according to PSU historian Lou Prato. On a side note, though, McSorley punting the ball after taking a knee to end the game was uncalled for. James Franklin agrees. “That’s not who we are, and that’s not who he is. He got caught up in the moment,” the coach said afterward.
Half empty: OK, let’s dive into the numbers and see if there’s a bit of a growing concern with the overall offense and passing attack. It can be viewed as the Chris Godwin effect. McSorley led the country in yards per completion last year at 16.13. This season, he’s 55th at 12.65. That’s a significant drop that has lots of implications. Barkley took a screen pass and went 85 yards for a score last week. But no one else on the team has caught a pass longer than 35 yards. Last year, McSorley had four completions of at least 70 yards, six of at least 50 and nine of at least 40. Now, the season is only four games old, so we won’t get carried away with these numbers. Yet. The issue, however, is one that many people were worried about before the season as it pertained to replacing Godwin, a terrific talent who could spread defenses and catch the vast majority of 50-50 balls. All those long pass plays helped PSU score very quickly a year ago. If you’re not getting anywhere near as many of them, drives take longer, there’s a chance for more mistakes and defenses can game plan for one less threat. This issue is something to keep a close eye on once the Lions enter the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
Half full: Penn State’s defense has allowed 33 points. All season. That’s phenomenal. Iowa only had 19 points, just 11 first downs and 273 total yards.
Half empty: The Hawkeyes burned the Lions on two big plays in the fourth quarter to take the lead — a short pass over the middle that turned into a 70-yard score and a 35-yard TD run, both by running back Akrum Wadley. PSU was caught in a blitz on both plays, and what had been an incredible defensive night up to that point turned into a “what the heck just happened” kind of evening.
OK, now it’s conclusion time.
Draw your own.
There was plenty of good Saturday night. But there was a good bit of bad/questionable stuff, too.
From my view, Penn State is fine.
It may shock some of you who think I’m always looking for the negative stuff when it comes to the Lions. But truth be told, I’m such a big believer in the offense, in Barkley and in Moorhead to conclude that the impressive numbers we saw Saturday will lead to a lot of huge point totals and easy wins from here on out.
Starting this week against Indiana, in a game PSU is favored by 18.
Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.