Photo credit: Mark Selders/Penn State athletics
For highly-ranked Penn State teams, Iowa has never been an easy opponent to play. Iowa handed the Nittany Lions their only regular-season loss in 2008 and defeated a top-5 Penn State team again in 2009.
On this day five years ago, Iowa State was one play away from doing it again. That, however, would not be the case. On the final snap, Trace McSorley found Juwan Johnson for the game-winning touchdown as No. 4 Penn State survived in Iowa City, 21-19.
Setting the Stage
Fresh off a Big Ten championship, big things were expected of Penn State in 2017. The Nittany Lions were 3-0 with two shutouts as they arrived at Kinnick Stadium ranked fourth in the country on Sept. 23, 2017.
Despite being 3-0, Iowa was unranked. Late in the contest, however, the Hawkeyes rallied to take the lead.
Penn State Finds a Way
Trailing at halftime, Penn State used a short field goal and a Saquon Barkley touchdown to take a 15-7 lead into the final quarter. With 10 minutes to go, Iowa found the end zone on Nathan Stanley’s second touchdown pass of the day.
A 70-yard hook-up with Akrum Wadley cut the lead to two, but the tying conversion try was no good. Wadley, however, wasn’t finished.
After Iowa blocked a Penn State field goal, Wadley capped an 80-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown run. With just 1:35 left, the Hawkeyes led 19-15.
Needing a touchdown to win, Penn State needed five McSorley completions, including one on fourth down, to reach the Iowa 10-yard-line. After a short completion and two misfires, the contest came down to one play.
Facing 4th-and-goal from the Iowa 7 with four seconds to play, McSorley delivered a perfect strike in between three Iowa defenders. Johnson made the catch in stride in the back of the end zone to end the contest and give Penn State the win.
Penn State dominated statistically with 579 yards to just 273 for Iowa, but two turnovers and two missed field goals allowed Iowa to hang around. Barkley finished with more than 300 yards of total offense, including 211 yards on the ground in the win.
Wadley finished with 155 yards of total offense and two touchdowns to lead the Hawkeyes. Anthony Nelson tallied 2.5 sacks for the Iowa defense in the loss. Josey Jewell added 16 tackles, three for loss and an interception.
Recap and box score:
Penn State would start 7-0 and ascend to No. 2 in the country before losing to Ohio State and Michigan State in consecutive weeks. The Nittany Lions bounced back to close the year on a 4-game winning streak. With a Fiesta Bowl win over Washington, Penn State finished 11-2 and No. 8 in the polls.
Iowa couldn’t top Penn State, but did beat a top-5 team in 2017. Late in the season, the Hawkeyes thrashed No. 3 Ohio State, 55-24. With consecutive wins over Nebraska and then Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl, Iowa finished 8-5.
Three of those five losses for Iowa in 2017 came by seven points or less. Perhaps the most heartbreaking came to No. 4 Penn State on the final play. It came on this day five years ago.