Iowa Defense was Huge Even as the Hawks Fell Short

Story by Levi Thompson

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) huddles with his team during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Penn State Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. Penn State won 21-19. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Iowa City – Under the lights at Kinnick Stadium the true skill of Iowa football is displayed. The best they have to offer manifests itself beneath a passionate, hopeful crowd of Hawkeye fans.

At night, Iowa believes they can win against any opponent. The enemy feels it too. It could be anything from the recent reputation to the infamous pink visitors locker room. The black and gold has an extra edge on its home turf.

\Last night, on an uncomfortably warm September night, Penn State defied perception and conquered Kinnick. It was far from easy though. Iowa gave the #4 ranked Nittany Lions all they could handle up until the gut wrenching final four seconds. As the clock struck zero, Penn State’s elusive quarterback Trace McSorley connected with wide receiver Juwan Johnson for the game-ending, seven yard touchdown. Kinnick fell silent and remained as such even as senior Josey Jewell was announced as the Hawkeye player of the game.

“We had been putting a lot of pressure on them during the course of the game and done a good job with it, so you roll the dice, but we didn’t lose the game on that play,” Kirk Ferentz said about the game winning pass. “That was an excellent drive on their part.”

Penn State ended a three game streak of home wins over top-five opponents. They won the game with a final score of 21-19.

In a losing effort, Iowa’s defensive unit shined. Despite the 80 yard, game-winning drive captained by McSorley, the Hawkeye defense played well. It was as good, or better, than most imagined. The Lions stat line would have suggested otherwise.

When highlighting their effort, there isn’t just one that fits the bill. Across the board, the Hawkeyes defense gave Penn State a battle they won’t soon forget.

Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell warms up before the start of an NCAA college football game against Penn State Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Hawks defensive leader, Josey Jewell, tied his career high with 16 total tackles. In addition, he recorded three tackles for loss, two pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. Most notably from Jewell was an interception as the first-half wound down. Junior Sam Brincks interrupted a McSorley pass leading to Jewell’s fifth career interception. After a half of great defense, that momentum changing play sparked a fire for the second half. Otherwise Iowa would’ve trailed heading to halftime.

Sophomore safety Amani Hooker, in his first career start, recorded 13 tackles and played superb in coverage despite little previous experience. On the game’s final play, Hooker was inches from deflecting McSorley’s pass.

Hooker is part of a secondary that continues to make an impact. The four starters totaled 28 solo tackles.

Senior LB Bo Bower played as well as ever and the defensive line accounted for seven tackles for loss. Anthony Nelson also added a blocked field goal. AJ Epenesa was disruptive every time he was on the field.

“We had a lot of guys do little things that would have contributed to the win had we come out on top,” Ferentz said. “We didn’t get the win, but those little things will add up to be really helpful for us down the road.”

After performing like the Hawkeyes did on Saturday night against what appears to be the best team in the Big Ten, a loss like this one is extremely difficult to handle. The defense did everything they could. Unfortunately that was one play short of what it would take to earn the victory.

The Hawkeyes held Penn State twice deep in the red-zone. They also forced three three-and-outs. They held Heisman candidate, Saquon Barkley to a single touchdown, although he tore up to the defense with 358 all-purpose yards. That was the only downside to Iowa’s performance, but Barkley is that kind of player. He won’t be stopped by any team on Penn State’s schedule this season.

“The guys spent a lot of energy out there. They left it out there,” Ferentz said. “The emotional trauma, damage, whatever you want to call it after a ballgame. It’s hard to lose.”

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