UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — They didn’t see this coming.
Offense, defense, special teams, the Iowa football team got broadsided by 20th-rated Penn State on Saturday night by a 41-14 count.
The surging Nittany Lions picked apart the Hawkeyes nearly every way imaginable, piling up 599 yards of offense and limiting the Iowa rushing attack to 30 yards to the delight of a crowd of 106,194 at Beaver Stadium.
“We thought we were ready, thought we were prepared,’’ quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “It didn’t look like that at all.’’
From the moment Miles Sanders took the game’s opening kickoff in the end zone and returned it 48 yards to the ease the quarterback Trace McSorley marched Penn State downfield for a game-opening score, the Hawkeyes were left with more questions than answers.
Things weren’t going much better when Iowa had the ball. Struggles to move the chains in third-and-short situations repeatedly added the frustrations which led to a 27-point loss, a margin on the road that has been topped only six times in Kirk Ferentz’s 18 seasons at Iowa and only once since 2000.
“You don’t expect something like this, ever,’’ tight end George Kittle said. “We came here ready to compete, ready to win a football game.’’
Instead, the Hawkeyes will be looking to pick up the pieces as they prepare for a home game next Saturday against second-ranked Michigan, a team which manhandled the Nittany Lions by 39 points earlier this season.
“Penn State played a tremendous game and we weren’t capable of responding,’’ Ferentz said. “We came here prepared to play a tough, competitive game. It turned out to be anything but that.’’
Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten’s rushing leader, toyed with the Hawkeyes.
He rushed for 167 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown early in the second quarter which extended the 7-0 lead Penn State took when it opened the game with a six-play, 52-yard drive that ended with a 19-yard pass from McSorley to Saeed Blacknall.
Iowa’s was in its defensive back-heavy “raider’’ package when Barkley busted free on a third-and-five play and raced untouched into the end zone.
“He showed us what he’s made of,’’ linebacker Bo Bower said. “We knew what we were up against, good running back, good mobile quarterback. It was a game where we couldn’t make mistakes and we made way too many of them.’’
By the time Barkley finished his work for the night, grabbing a 44-yard touchdown pass from McSorley in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter one snap after Troy Apke intercepted a Beathard pass, the Nittany Lions were well on their way to their fifth straight win.
McSorley had plenty to do with that, orchestrating an offensive effort which collected 348 of its yards in a first half which ended with Tyler Davis knocking through the first of his two field goals, a 30-yard kick that sent Penn State (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten) into the locker room with a 24-7 lead at the break.
The sophomore beat Iowa with his arm and with his feet, pairing an 11-of-18 passing performance that covered 240 yards with a 40-yard rushing effort.
“The way McSorley has come on in the last month and the way he is able to run as well as throw, it really puts a lot of pressure on the defense,’’ Ferentz said.
Penn State moved the chains with ease early, converting on five of its first seven third-down opportunities while limiting Iowa to a one successful conversion in its first eight tries.
“They had really struggled on third down and we felt like third and short, we’ve been pretty solid, but we couldn’t get it done tonight,’’ Ferentz said.
Most of the damage came long before the Nittany Lions cleared their bench early in the fourth quarter, opening a 41-7 lead when back-up quarterback Tommy Stevens scored on a 13-yard carry with 9 minutes, 28 seconds left in the game.
“That’s the frustrating thing. We felt like we were really ready, but it didn’t look or feel like that at all,’’ King said. “We got what we deserved. All we can do now is go back and get ready for Michigan.’’
The Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3) struggled to get any traction going on the ground, held to a season-low rushing total led by Akrum Wadley’s 28 yards.
Wadley scored the Hawkeyes’ only points of the first half, taking a screen pass 12 yards for a touchdown with 4:18 left in the second quarter to cut into a 21-0 deficit.
Beathard hit Jerminic Smith for Iowa’s second score, connecting on a 36-yard pass with 6:30 remaining in a long night for the Hawkeyes.
“We’ve got to go back home and get back to work,’’ offensive lineman ike Boettger said.