Where Penn State Football Stands Following Close Loss In Iowa

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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor

That was a frustrating, tough loss.

There isn’t much of another way to describe it for Penn State fans. After leading nearly the entire game, the win was just not in the cards for Penn State Saturday afternoon.

For this season, there remains a lot in the balance, but the team has a foundation for the future in the works.

Injuries

The Iowa faithful complained that, after each good Iowa run, a Penn State player would be injured. Sure there were a couple instances of cramping, but I find it hard to believe that they just faked losing their top DT and putting him on crutches along with their second DT sitting out part of the first half
and their starting QB and top RB leaving the game entirely by halftime. Just seems a little over the top to get a timeout, in my opinion.

Of course those same fans also stormed the field because they won a home game they were favored in against a backup QB with no experience by the slightest margin, so logic clearly isn’t the primary thought process being used here.

Penn State almost never releases injury information, but what is happening with the injuries to Clifford and Mustipher will have a significant impact on what can be expected of the team.

Other players that left the game include RB Devyn Ford, RB John Lovett and S Johnathan Sutherland. Ford and Lovett are two of the Lions’ top four options and Lovett has arguably been the most effective when he’s actually available. Sutherland operates as the team’s third safety and is fairly regularly rotated in.

Players with cramps or other minor injuries that had to leave the game but were able to return without missing too much time included WR Keandre Lambert-Smith, S Jaquan Brisker, DE Arnold Ebiketie and DT Dvon Ellies.

QB Play

While the Penn State defense was able to fill in, the offense was unable to replace Clifford and that was the downfall of the Nittany Lions Saturday night.

With Will Levis having transferred to Kentucky and because the team refused to play Ta’Quan Roberson in that downward spiral last season and only allowed him to attempt seven throws in garbage time this season, the Lions were left with no experience behind Clifford. This forced a guy who’s basically never played before to come into one of the most hostile environments in the B1G to pull off an upset.

The coaching staff seemingly made very few adjustments (though they did appear to put Cam Sullivan-Brown out more at WR as he’s a guy that Roberson should have more experience working with) and stuck to largely the same game plan, which did not work for the redshirt sophomore.

The run game was more effective than previously this season, but the loss of John Lovett in the first half and Devyn Ford later must have given the PSU coaches pause as the run game did not become much more prevalent even after Roberson struggled throwing and was able to make some plays with his legs.

For his own part, Roberson was sloppy taking sacks he shouldn’t, missing targets by a significant margin, missing wide-open targets in his reads and throwing behind players (the fourth down play to Lee that would have converted with a decent pass comes to mind). Sure, Roberson wasn’t put in a position to succeed, but he also showed very little reason to believe that he could succeed outside a few runs.

The Nittany Lions have an off week next week and then play Illinois. It may be a good idea to have Roberson take first team reps and start at that point, even if Clifford is healthy, just to get him some real experience and see what he can do when put in a position to succeed. Try and give Clifford as much time to recover as you can before having to face Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State.

Getting John Lovett and Devyn Ford healthy over the bye and potentially using them to help create an effective running game could also help either QB in a big way.

The Rankings

In=t will be interesting to see how the polls handle ranking Penn State.

Again, PSU does not share injury info but Clifford’s status is critical. Based on Roberson’s performance Saturday, Penn State will drop heavily if Clifford is out for the season. If not, they may not drop much at all – if you take Clifford’s production and stretch it over the whole game, Penn State likely scores 40 points on the number two defense to win the game. It will certainly be something voters consider.

Without Clifford, Penn State had no offense for 60% of the game and it still took the Hawkeyes until late into the fourth quarter to take their first lead and squeak by with it.

If Clifford can come back, they just need to handle business. They play all the B1G East rivals and, if they win out now, they will be in the B1G Championship game. At that point, they would meet Iowa and it would be hard to believe that Iowa would do better in a neutral site against Penn State’s true QB for four quarters.

For now, losing to the number three team at home should not drop the Lions too far.

Arkansas, Oregon and BYU all appear likely to drop due to their own struggles against much more inferior opponents and all are in the Top 15, so it isn’t even out of the question they remain within that group.

What really matters, however, is that Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State all appear poised to be Top 10 teams in the next round of rankings and that provides a good strength of schedule Penn State could use to get back in the mix.

The Recruits

Penn State ultimately lost because they had no backup plan at QB ready to be effective after no transfer option was brought in to replace Levis. That should change in the near future, however, as PSU has two quarterbacks on the horizon in Drew Allar and Beau Pribula, both of whom appear set to enroll early and be available for the 2022 season.

The pair of QBs are leaders in a strong class that was just bumped down to the second-rated class nationally earlier this week.

The 2022 class picked up a commitment from Omari Evans. Reports are that he might play wide receiver, which makes six potential receivers in the class (Christian Driver and Mekhi Flowers also play DB).

Evans picked Penn State over existing favorites Rutgers and could become the final commitment to the class. There may be room for one more player, but the class now has 26 players committed and many of them are locked in and have shut down their recruiting.

That brings the focus to 2023, where the class has begun to resemble the early makings of the 2022 class. For the 2022, WR Kaden Saunders committed in summer 2020 to start off the class and provided vocal recruitment along with players like TE Jerry Cross and DE Ken Talley. The 2023 class has already begun to build this kind of steam with five-star OL Alex Birchmeier getting DB Lamont Payne (the first player in PA to commit in the 2023 class) and TE Mathias Barnwell to join him over the past few weeks.

The 2023 class now has a strong basis to recruit with just as the 2022 class and they’ve started already.