No. 4 Penn State wins thriller at Iowa
IOWA CITY, Iowa — If you thought Penn State used up all of its magic last season, think again.
Down by four with 4 seconds left at the Iowa 7-yard line, Trace McSorley and the PSU offense came out of a timeout ready to run a play. McSorley looked over the Hawkeyes’ defense, saw something he liked, ran up to the line and appeared to call an audible.
McSorley then threw a bullet to Juwan Johnson in the middle of the end zone, giving the No. 4 Nittany Lions a thrilling 21-19 victory on the final play of the game late Saturday night in their Big Ten opener at Kinnick Stadium.
“The most important thing is that our guys believed,” PSU coach James Franklin said.
Iowa had taken a 19-15 lead with 1:42 left, but Penn State drove 80 yards over the final 96 seconds to steal the victory and prevent another huge upset loss at Iowa, like the one it had in 2008.
Saquon Barkley set a PSU record with 358 all-purpose yards, including a career-high 211 rushing, but the Lions missed one opportunity after another to seize control of the game. Their usually potent offense, which had scored at least 30 points in 10 straight games, was stuck on 15 points in the closing minutes.
Iowa didn’t do much offensively most of the night, but it took advantage of Penn State mistakes and caught the Lions’ defense in a couple of blitzes in the fourth quarter.
The Hawkeyes turned a short pass to running back Akrum Wadley into a 70-yard score with 10:02 left to close within 15-13. The two-point conversion failed when safety Troy Apke broke up the pass.
Penn State (4-0) ate up a lot of clock and drove to the Iowa 13 on its next possession, but Tyler Davis’ 31-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Iowa (3-1) took over at its 20 with 2:42 remaining and scored quickly. From the PSU 35, the Lions tried to blitz, and Wadley broke free around the left side for a TD run and 19-15 lead. Iowa tried for two again and failed to connect on the pass.
Penn State won the Big Ten championship last year in large part because of its quick-strike scoring offense. With their backs against the wall and only 96 seconds left, the Lions knew they still had plenty of time left, plus two timeouts.
McSorley hit Johnson for 12 yards on the first play to the 32. But PSU faced fourth-and-2 from the 40 with 58 seconds left and took a timeout to set up a play. McSorley connected with Saeed Blacknall on a quick slant to the left for 6 yards and a first down.
McSorley scrambled for 12 yards on the next play, then hit Johnson for an 18-yard gain down the right sideline to the Iowa 24.
Barkley had an incredible night making Hawkeye tacklers miss with his sensational footwork. He made a great move after catching a dumpoff screen pass from McSorley when, with a defender in front of him, Barkley paused for a brief moment to make the defender’s feet stop, then raced by him for 14 yards to the 10.
McSorley hit tight end Mike Gesicki for 3 yards to the 7, then the quarterback misfired on back-to-back passes to set up fourth-and-goal with 4 seconds left.
Whatever play was called, McSorley appeared to change it once he got the offense set up. He raced up to the line to let everyone know the audible, then went back in shotgun and took the snap.
McSorley stood strong in the pocket, looked over the middle and tossed a laser between a pair of Iowa defenders. Johnson split the two, McSorley’s throw was perfect and Johnson made the grab for the winning touchdown.
“People that appreciate football, (that last drive) was a clinic,” Barkley told reporters after the game, per The Daily Collegian.
All spring and summer, Penn State coaches and players talked up Johnson as a guy who would take a huge step forward in his production this season. He had a big game Saturday with seven catches for 92 yards, and his final grab will have its own place in PSU history.
“A night like tonight’s can really improve Juwan’s confidence,” Franklin said.
Barkley greatly helped his Heisman Trophy hopes, carrying 28 times for 211 yards. His previous career best was 207. He also caught a career-high 12 passes for 94 yards and had 53 yards in kickoff returns.
“I cannot imagine that there’s a better player in all of college football,” Franklin said of Barkley.
“That was a Heisman-like performance. He reminds of a guy I played with in Detroit — Barry Sanders,” former Iowa quarterback Chuck Long said on BTN.
McSorley finished 31-of-48 for 284 yards, one touchdown and one interception. That pick, which came late in the first half, led to a touchdown that gave Iowa a 7-5 lead at the half. The Hawkeyes hadn’t even crossed midfield in the half until that interception and 33-yard return by linebacker Josey Jewell.
Penn State moved the ball effectively in the first half, but it stalled at the 1-yard line on one drive and had to settle for a field goal, while Davis later missed a 41-yard try.
The Lions had first-and-goal at the 2 early in the third quarter but once again failed to find the end zone. Davis kicked a 21-yard field goal for an 8-7 lead.
Barkley had another highlight-reel run, this one for 44 yards, on the next drive as he sidestepped defenders on the sideline and picked up a big gain to the Iowa 31. Penn State finally scored a touchdown on the drive as Barkley took it in from 8 yards for a 15-7 lead with 5:16 to go in the third quarter.
It appeared the Lions were about to start pulling away, as they have in so many similar situations over the past year, but this time their offense just never clicked for most of the fourth quarter.
Until the final 96 seconds, when McSorley, Barkley and Johnson saved the day with a memorable scoring drive.
“We found a way to get a win tonight,” Franklin said.