No. 3 Iowa has lived much of the season with its defense carrying the offense. The Hawkeyes flipped the script Saturday as they rallied to a 23-20 defeat of No. 4 Penn State.
Things looked bleak in the first half as Penn State led by 14. An injury to Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford drastically changed the outlook. Ta’Quan Roberson, a sophomore with just seven passes this season, was forced into action and could only muster three points in the second half.
Iowa slowly worked its way back into the game after trailing 20-10 in the third quarter. The success was led by maligned quarterback Spencer Petras, who completed just one of his first nine passes.
His 42-yard pass to Keagan Johnson in the fourth quarter set up a field goal that trimmed the deficit to 20-16. After another defensive stop, Petras, who finished 17-for-31 for 195 yards and two touchdowns, found Nico Ragaini for a 44-yard touchdown on the first play of a drive to give Iowa the lead for the first time.
The Iowa defense that leads the nation in turnover margin clinched the win with an interception of Roberson on fourth down with 2:10 left. It was the team’s fourth interception of the game.
The win keeps the Hawkeyes unbeaten and leaves them with six games remaining against teams outside the Top 25. They appear to have a clear path toward the Big Ten championship game, where a win likely would send them to the College Football Playoff.
The tough loss for Penn State ends its run of five wins to start the season. The Nittany Lions could still get a rematch with Iowa should they navigate a tough schedule in the Big Ten East that includes Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Much of that possibility depends on the health of Clifford, who spent the second half on the sideline in street clothes.
The day started great for Penn State. Only two things went wrong in the first quarter. Clifford was intercepted on the team’s first offensive snap by Jestin Jacobs. That set up Iowa on the Nittany Lions 8, but their defense held and Caleb Shudak kicked a 34-yard field goal for the game’s first points.
Clifford responded by leading a touchdown drive, capped by a 2-yard run by Noah Cain.
Clifford was intercepted again on the next possession after forcing a deep pass, but two plays later the Penn State defense picked off Petras. Clifford would score on a 4-yard run to give the Nittany Lions a 14-3 advantage.
Petras would hit Charlie Jones for a 7-yard score midway through the second quarter, and Penn State led 17-10 at halftime.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football: No. 3 Iowa beats No. 4 Penn State, which loses QB