Despite loss to Penn State, Iowa’s defense remains strong

The Hawkeye defense did its best to help the offense in Iowa’s 30-24 loss to Penn State.


Nick Rohlman

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley rolls out of the pocket during Iowa’s game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Iowa’s defense wasn’t happy after the 30-24 loss to Penn State on Oct. 27.

“We got to put our foot down,” defensive lineman Parker Hesse said about Iowa’s 12-0 start, which eventually turned into a 10-point Penn State lead.

Realistically, the Iowa defense allowed two big plays: Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley’s 51-yard touchdown run and his pass to receiver K.J. Hamler for 39 yards.

Aside from those two plays, the Hawkeyes kept McSorley contained — for the most part. What it did perfectly, though, is set Iowa up with two chances to win the ballgame.

Geno Stone’s pick-6 sparked Penn State’s offensive near-meltdown in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to just 3 points. The Nittany Lions drove down into Hawkeye territory following the interception, but the defense stayed resilient, forcing a field goal.

Then, after Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley threw his second interception of the game, one that at the time appeared to hammer the final nail into the Hawkeye coffin, the defense forced a Nittany Lion three-and-out, giving the offense one final shot.

Stanley and the rest of the offense could not deliver, but the defense played well for the majority of the contest.

“Overall, from my vantage point, [it was] two pretty good defensive teams playing,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “… I thought it was pretty tough for both teams to move the ball.”

Penn State went into the game averaging more than 46 points per game. Iowa held it to well under that mark. The Hawkeye defense gave up just 180 yards through the air and allowed the Nittany Lions possession for only 18:20.

“We had a great defensive plan,” Stone said. “Coach [Phil] Parker does the best he can to put us in the best situations.”

Iowa got to McSorley three times, with sacks coming from Anthony Nelson, Chauncey Golston, and Parker Hesse. As a team, the Hawkeyes had 5 tackles for a loss and forced Penn State to punt six times.

After the game against Penn State, the Hawkeye defense remains holding opponents to 16.1 points per game.

One of the questions going into Beaver Stadium was how the Hawkeyes would deal with Nittany Lion tailback Miles Sanders, who had put up 884 yards of total offense. Iowa held him to just 45 yards on the ground (less than half of his usual rushing total).

Iowa held Penn State to just 78 rushing yards, marking the sixth time this season that the Hawkeyes held an opponent to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.

Iowa’s defense has yet to be exposed this year in any major way, and that has kept Iowa in some of the games in which its offense hasn’t been up to speed. The Hawkeye defense is the strongest staple on the team, and through eight games, it’s been the one constant factor.

Ferentz chalked up his team’s success to how the team has grown together over the course of the season, especially when it comes to leadership.

“I know our fan base is hurting, but nobody is hurting more than the players. They’re the ones who do the work,” he said. “When I step back — I just look at this team since January. They’ve been putting good days on top of each other. We’ve had our leadership base really grow.”

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