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Miller: Penn State a different team

[ 0 ] October 20, 2012 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Remember the Penn State football team that started the season 0-for-2 with a stained reputation, staggered locker room and stunned fan base?

Well, that Penn State team belonged to September.

That’s one short month ago on the calendar — but felt much more distant under the character-revealing lights Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium.

Penn State uncorks an up-tempo, nothing-to-lose offense with a cool “NASCAR” nickname. The defense continues to grow into the Nittany Lions of Old a bit more, play by play. And now, after a 38-14 dismantling of Iowa, the most unlikely five-game winning streak in college football has its sights on an unlikelier six.

Has a team ever started a season with darker clouds and gloomier expectations than the bunch from State College, steam-rolled by horrific revelations of sexual abuse involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky?

This Penn State team resembled ones so many of us remember from the glory years: no splash — on the uniforms, or in the execution.

The pre-sanctions Nittany Lions would grind you up and spit you out, bruising you from ears to elbows. Who thought, though, that Penn State could reach back and find a piece of its shoulder pad soul so quickly, after all it had to face off the field?

If the Nittany Lions converted any of four field-goal miscues against Virginia in Week 2, they might be strolling into next week’s matchup with Ohio State with a glistening 6-1 record.

Lessons were being delivered on the other side of the field, too.

Iowa came into the game with a 2-0 Big Ten record after an admirable, rain-soaked win at Michigan State. Then, with momentum and opportunity galore, blew up — in almost every way imaginable.

Boos from a crowd of more than 70,000 rained down after a James Vandenberg incompletion, the result of mounting fan discontent at quarterback. Iowa lost two linemen — Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal — in span of three plays. Mike Meyer, who had made 13 field-goal attempts in a row, missed not once, but twice.

Penn State, meanwhile, raced to a 24-0 lead and piled up 304 yards.

And, oh yeah — that was before halftime.

Iowa’s egg-laying reached its most yolk-splattered before some fans had returned from the concession stand for the start of the third quarter.

If not for Meyer’s fingertip trip-up of Jesse Della Valle on the second-half kickoff, Penn State would have scored without the burden of running an offensive play. Undeterred and essentially un-defended, the NASCAR crew barely tapped the brakes to cover the next 45 yards in two plays — the first a 42-yarder from Matt McGloin to Brandon Moseby-Felder.

Then, after a short run made it 31-0, Vandenberg threw an interception on Iowa’s first play from scrimmage.

Game, set, mismatch.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Ferentz, offering a thought anyone with a ticket or TV already knew. “… (Regrouping is) going to be a challenge, certainly.”

In the Iowa radio booth, analyst Ed Podolak lamented to booth-mate Gary Dolphin: “When it goes bad, it goes all the way bad.” Dolphin responded: “It’s been an early Halloween horror movie tonight, Ed.”

Ex-Iowa stars patrolled Kinnick, but Casey Wiegmann and Robert Gallery quickly shifted from watching the landslide to chatting with fans. Brad Banks, who quarterbacked Iowa to the 2003 Orange Bowl, ambled to the elevator before a single tick from the fourth-quarter clock.

Consider this: If Iowa ended up on the wrong side of two plays against Northern Illinois and Michigan State, a 4-3 record would be 2-5.

No grumbling has reached higher volume than debate about Iowa’s quarterback, as Vandenberg continued to struggle.

Vandenberg is, by all accounts a great guy, great student and great leader — but anything but a great quarterback. The senior has been too inconsistent for far too long to allow an offense to consistently compete.

How ancient does Vandenberg’s near-win at Ohio State feel these days?

Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis seemingly lack another viable option underneath center — whether the name is Rudock or not. Otherwise, someone else would have been given a shot at some point, right?

When asked for the third time after the game whether he considered changing quarterbacks, Ferentz conceded the fact but offered resolutely: “James is our quarterback.”

Give Penn State credit, however — and then heap on some more.

It’s no fluke that the Nittany Lions now have outscored teams 66-0 in the first-quarter. And winning on the road in the finicky Big Ten while facing an amped-up crowd the size of Waterloo — no matter the resume flaws across the field — is another reason Penn State’s Bill O’Brien has to be the front-runner for conference coach of the year.

“I think we can play better,” O’Brien said. “I think there were some things where we got sloppy at the end.”

O’Brien has inspired impressive confidence in a season that began in pure survival mode.

“Our guys understand that it’s bigger than us, at this point,” Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti said. “We’ve carried that on our shoulders with pride.”

Iowa, though, is suddenly and painfully adrift.

The bright lights of Kinnick Stadium illuminated plenty on Saturday night. For Penn State, the country learned how much one program could overcome, and how far it might go

For Iowa, it revealed far more than the Hawkeyes wanted.

Bryce Miller can be reached at (515) 284-8288 or brmiller@dmreg.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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