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Highs and Lows of Penn State’s close 17-12 win against Iowa

By NEIL RUDEL

For The Express

Following are the highlights and lowlights from Penn State’s 17-12 victory over Iowa on Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium:

Play of the game: Noah Cain’s 5-yard touchdown run around the left edge with 5:17 remaining, off a pitch from Sean Clifford, gave the Nittany Lions a 17-6 lead. Considering Iowa had gone 25-straight possessions against Power-5 competition without a touchdown, finally snapping that streak later in the game, the double-digit lead was comfortable, and the Lions made it stand up.

Offensive player of the game: Cain rushed for 102 yards on 22 carries, including the aforementioned touchdown. It was his second straight 100-yard game for the true freshman.

Defensive player of the game: Lion defensive tackle Robert Windsor played like a man possessed, making six tackles, including 2.5 for loss, to go with two quarterback hurries.

Special teams player of the game: PSU punter Blake Gillikin had an outstanding night, averaging 42.5 on seven punts and put five inside the Iowa 20.

Most telling statistic: Penn State rolled up 177 yards on the ground – 100 more than Iowa was yielding.

Most deceiving statistic: PSU was penalized eight times for 80 yards. Iowa was flagged just once for five yards.

Hidden statistic(s): The Lions converted 10 of 19 on third down, after going 0-for its first three. On 11 possessions, Iowa’s average field position was its own 18 (PSU’s was its 34).

Best run: On third-and-10 from the Iowa 35 in the fourth quarter, Clifford made a nifty fake and then ran 11 yards up the middle to sustain what would be the game-clinching touchdown drive.

Best pass: Nate Stanley feathered a 36-yarder to Ihmir Smith-Marsette to the Penn State 4 late in the second quarter.

Worst pass: Clifford had KJ Hamler open for a first down in the fourth quarter, but threw wide, forcing a punt from the Hawkeyes’ 37 with the Lions nursing a 10-6 lead.

Best catch: Brandon Smith literally jumped over John Reid for a 33-yard touchdown to pull Iowa within 17-12 with 2:31 remaining. It was one of the best catches of the college football season.

Catch it, will ya: Hamler dropped a first-quarter pass. Normally sure-handed Jahan Dotson also missed a big open opportunity over the middle with two minutes to go in the first half, ending a Nits’ drive at midfield and costing a chance to build on a 7-3 lead. Daniel George dropped one in the third quarter. Tariq Castro-Fields also missed a late interception.

Hold it, won’t ya: Clifford, who was shaky on the Nits’ first two series, bobbled a good snap on the Lions’ second possession, leading to an incompletion.

Best tackle: Late in the third quarter, P.J. Mustipher stripped Iowa’s Tyler Goodson, who fumbled. Jan Johnson recovered at the Hawkeyes’ 16, but the Lions, after a series of penalties, could manage only a field goal and a 10-6 lead.

Worst tackle: Micah Parsons whiffed on Goodson in the second quarter, turning a potential stop at the line of scrimmage into a 29-yard gain.

Best block: Jahan Dotson and Pat Freiermuth did nice work sealing the left edge on Cain’s touchdown run.

Best hit: Lamont Wade laid a big hit on Smith-Marsette in the fourth quarter, so much so that Wade appeared to knock himself woozy.

Best kick: Gillikin lofted a 43-yard punt that checked up at the Hawkeyes’ 3 in the third quarter.

Worst kick: Iowa’s Keith Duncan followed his 47-yard field goal in the first quarter with a 44-yard miss in the second quarter, keeping the Lions’ lead at 7-3.

Worst penalty: There were some questionable calls but two that weren’t were holds against Will Fries and Steven Gonzalez. Both wiped out touchdown runs and forced the Nits to settle for a field goal to go up 10-6 (rather than 14-6).

Best call: It was going to be the 16-yard touchdown slant to Freiermuth, which was still a good call but didn’t produce a 14-6 lead when Freiermuth was ruled down at the 1. So let’s go with the TD to Cain, which came off an audible at the line of scrimmage.

Worst call: On third-and-18 from its own 21, down 7-6 midway through the third quarter, Iowa handed off the ball to Goodson for a short gain … and a punt. Maybe Kirk Ferentz didn’t realize the Hawkeyes were losing.

Best effort: Hamler went airborne to extend over the pylon on his 22-yard touchdown that gave the Lions a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.

Unsung hero(es): Penn State’s offensive line, which escorted the run game, and its defensive line, which pressured Stanley all night.

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