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How Penn State Won Saturday’s Game Against Iowa on Wednesday

by on October 27, 2018 10:05 PM

Penn State won Saturday’s game against Iowa on Wednesday.

Let me explain:

In the days after the Nittany Lions lost in the final seconds against Ohio State, James Franklin boasted his team had its best practice in several years.

That Tuesday practice which James praised before his team hosted Sparty didn’t translate to the next Saturday, when the Nittany Lions lost to Michigan State. In the final seconds. Again.

Practice may have been perfect. But things weren’t perfect during the game on the ensuing Saturday.

“There are things that are showing up on Saturday that we do not do during the week,” Franklin said after Penn State lost 21-17 to MSU on a late fourth-quarter drive for the second game in a row.

“We need to make sure that we are approaching Sunday through Friday game-like,” the head coach admitted. “If we do something all week long and then on Saturday we do it different, then we’ve got to get those things corrected.”

This Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium, things were different.

What Penn State freshman place-kicker Jake Pinegar and the Nittany Lion defense practiced this past Wednesday showed up against the No. 18 Hawkeyes.

And the result was a 30-24 victory that vaulted No. 17 Penn State to a 6-2 record (3-2 in the Big Ten) and dropped Iowa to 6-2 (3-2).

PERFECT PINEGAR

Here's where Pinegar comes in.

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He's from Centennial High School in Ankeny, Iowa — a 114-mile straight shot along Interstate 80 to the Hawkeyes’ Kinnick Stadium. And through the first six games of the 2018 season, he looked every bit a freshman.

And Franklin treated him as such, often eschewing a kick from 45 yards and shorter in favor of a fourth-down try by the offense or a Blake Gillikin punt.

Pinegar missed three of his first four college field goal attempts, then rallied to enter the Iowa game with a 6-of-10 line on his midseason resume. He had made field goals from 20, 27, 32, 32, 34 and 39 yards. He missed field goal attempts from 37, 44, 45 and 46 yards. The good news: Pinegar entered Saturday having had made his last three attempts — one against Michigan State and two last week in windy conditions at Indiana.

Still, 60% was a far cry from the 90% conversation rate Franklin said Pinegar was making in practice — often on the team’s practice fields next to the Lasch Building.

This past Wednesday, Pinegar & Co. headed north across University Drive and past the Bryce Jordan Center to Beaver Stadium, to get some practice kicking in more game-like conditions. It worked.

Pinegar made all three of field goal attempts against Iowa, all from over 40 yards on the soggy Beaver Stadium turf. He made a 45-yarder with three seconds left in the first half that tied the game 17-17. Then he made a 49-yarder in the third quarter that gave Penn State a 27-17 lead. And he capped it off with a 44-yarder midway through the fourth quarter to extend Penn State’s lead to 30-24. (He also added two PATs for a perfect 11-point night.)

“For a young man from Iowa in Jake Pinegar to come up as big as he came up today was huge,” Franklin said after the game, the 100th of his head coaching career (42-19 at PSU, 24-15 at Vanderbilt). “It was huge for us. I think Jake has made six out of last second field goal attempts, which is great.”

The first field goal at the close of the second quarter was actually the second time Pinger put it through the uprights from 45 yards out. With seven seconds left in the half, Franklin called a timeout, despite the efforts of assistants Phil Galiano and Terry Smith, who rushed over to the head coach to stop him — unsuccessfully — as he signaled for a time out.

Some folks thought he was icing his own kicker. Franklin said otherwise.

“If I didn’t call a time out, it would have been a delay of game,” Franklin explained. “I called a time out with one second left on the shot clock. That’s why I called it.”

The he made a joke.

“The other reason is that Jake needed a warm-up kick,” said Franklin, tongue-in-cheek. “So he made the first one and it got his confidence way up. I called a timeout and said, ‘Great job.’ Just like practice, you got warm and you made it. Build up the muscle memory of making that exact field goal. He went back and knocked it right through.”

THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTED

The late-game, night-biting heroics of the Penn State defense was anything but funny.

On its final two drives in the game, Iowa twice marched down the field. And twice the Nittany Lions severely bent but didn’t break.

Down 30-24 after Pinegar’s 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, Iowa’s offense started a drive on its own 25, and made it all the way to the Penn State 3-yard line, where it had a first-and-1. Then, almost inexplicitly and ala the Seattle Seahawks’ game-losing goal line pass and Patriots’ interception in a recent Super Bowl, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley threw a pass right into the hands of Penn State safety Nick Scott, who made the touchdown- and likely game-saving interception. That drive took 5 minutes and 6 seconds, and covered 72 yards and 12 plays. It yielded zero points.

On the game’s final drive and with Penn State still ahead 30-24, the Hawkeyes got the ball at their own 23 with 1:23 remaining. They quickly ran off 11 plays and covered 48 yards, but the game ended on the Penn State 44 as time — and the Hawkeyes — expired.

Those drives were exactly as the Nittany Lions had practiced three days before. On Wednesday.

Swear to God, cornerback John Reid said after the game.

“We do two-minute situations every week in practice, so it’s literally the same feeling, the some vibe” Penn State’s defense had at the end of the game, said Reid. “We’re used to being in those two-minute situations. Literally, every Wednesday we start out with the two-minute drill.”

And this past Wednesday’s drill?

Well, it made the end of Penn State’s win over Iowa seem like déjà vu all over again.

“I’m pretty sure we started off this week almost identical to the one at the end of the game,” Reid said. “It was with the same amount of time and things like that.”



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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