Hawkeyes snap losing streak against Nittany Lions, Ferentz hits milestone in the process

Iowa hadn’t beaten Penn State since 2010 or won in State College since 2009 prior to the team’s 41-21 victory on Saturday.


Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 21, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz reacts to a play against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the third quarter at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Iowa’s victories in Happy Valley under Kirk Ferentz tend to be memorable, and Saturday was no different.

Iowa hadn’t defeated Penn State since 2010, and hadn’t won in State College since 2009, coming into the Week 5 matchup between the teams. The Hawkeyes snapped a six-game losing streak against the Nittany Lions with a 41-21 triumph at Beaver Stadium, the 100th win against a Big Ten opponent in Ferentz’s tenure as Iowa’s head coach.

“It’s been a while since we won up here,” Ferentz said postgame. “I almost forgot how it feels to come out of here with a victory. It’s not easy, it never is. I’m really proud of our team. It was a hard-fought game and a really important win for us to keep moving forward.”

After starting 0-2, the Hawkeyes now stand at 3-2 on the 2020 season after another complete victory against a Big Ten foe.

Iowa’s running game was on point again. Running back Mekhi Sargent accumulated 101 yards and two touchdowns on the ground on only 15 carries. His teammate in the backfield, Tyler Goodson, added 78 more yards and a touchdown of his own.

Defensively, the Hawkeyes forced four turnovers, one of which was a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon. Linebacker Nick Niemann led Iowa with 17 tackles. Five different Hawkeyes sacked the opposing quarterback and 10 of them were in on a tackle for loss.

“All week we’ve been saying how much respect we have for this program,” quarterback Spencer Petras, who scored a touchdown of his own on a QB sneak, said. “Penn State, they’re a great program, a historic program. This was special. No player on this team had ever beaten Penn State. They’re a good football team. It was hard all game and it was a great team win.”

Ferentz’s first win against Penn State came in a double-overtime thriller in State College in 2000. In 2002, Iowa won its first of eight Big Ten games on the program’s way to a conference championship. The Hawkeyes’ 6-4 victory in a defensive battle in Happy Valley in 2004 came the same week Ferentz’s father died. Adrian Clayborn blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown in Beaver Stadium early in Iowa’s Orange Bowl-winning season in 2009.

It was only fitting that Ferentz, now 165-106 in his 22 years as Iowa head coach, became the fourth coach in Big Ten history to win 100 conference games, and did so against the Nittany Lions in his home state of Pennsylvania.

“Winning here, it is special,” Ferentz said. “To do it where you grew up. As a kid I grew up watching Penn State football and just had so much respect for it. The locker room was great. Happy the guys could be part of that.”

Penn State beat Iowa three times by a combined 13 points the past three seasons. The Hawkeyes made the decisive plays when they were needed this time around.

“I thought this felt just a little more sweet,” wide receiver Brandon Smith said. “Just because in my time here we haven’t beat these guys. It definitely made it a better moment after the win.”

Sean Clifford took over at quarterback late in the third quarter for Penn State and threw a touchdown pass on both of his first two attempts. At one point, Penn State turned a game that was once 31-7 into a 31-21 contest entering the fourth quarter.

But Iowa hung on and scored 10 points of its own in the final 15 minutes of game time to cement its victory.

“To experience the adversity a little bit and the bumps, everybody just kept playing and stuck together,” Ferentz said. “I’m really happy about that.”

After Hawkeye players had finished singing the University of Iowa fight song while huddled together at the railing near their parents in the visitor section of the stands, they made their way to the locker room to celebrate.

When they got there, Athletic Director Gary Barta presented Ferentz with the game ball to honor his milestone.

“There is no one we would rather play for,” Petras said. “Great coach, outstanding accomplishment, especially at a historic place like Penn State. What an accomplishment.”

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