Junior Nico Ragaini’s 44-yard touchdown reception with 6:26 remaining propelled the third-ranked University of Iowa football team to a 23-20 victory over No. 4 Penn State in front of a sold out, Black and Gold striped Kinnick Stadium.
In the most anticipated game in Iowa City in 36 years, the opportunistic Hawkeyes made a statement to move to 6-0 with three victories over nationally ranked foes. Iowa trailed 17-3 early in the second quarter and 17-10 at the half; Iowa outscored the Nittany Lions, 13-3, in the second half and 10-0 in the fourth quarter.
“The biggest games in Iowa history, the crowds rush the field,” said junior quarterback Spencer Petras. “It was awesome they were down there with us. It was a lot of fun.”
On the go-ahead score, Iowa took over in Nittany Lion territory with 6:35 to play. On the first play, Petras rolled out to his right and found Ragaini wide open along the Iowa sideline for the score to put the Hawkeyes on top.
“That was a heck of a route by Nico,” said Petras. “It was important they didn’t blitz. When he was wide open, I just had to make the throw.”
Iowa’s defense was nails, forcing Penn State into four interceptions in the game, but the biggest play was a hit by linebacker Jack Campbell that showed up as a quarterback hurry in the box score. The hit knocked Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford out of the game.
Penn State had 221 yard and scored 17 points with Clifford under center in the first quarter and a half; the Nittany Lions had 66 yards the rest of the way. Iowa’s defense limited Penn State to 287 total yards.
“Jack hitting the quarterback was a big, big play, kind of like the bowl game two years ago,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz. “It was a good, clean hit, a good aggressive play. That’s what happens when you let a guy come running in there like that.”
Campbell finished with nine tackles (seven solo) and the aforementioned quarterback hurry, while Jack Koerner and Logan Lee had seven tackles apiece. Sophomore Jestin Jacobs, senior Matt Hankins, senior Riley Moss and Koerner each had interceptions, giving the Hawkeyes 10 in the last two games.
Offensively, Iowa gained 305 yards of total offense. Petras finished 17-of-31 for 195 yards and two touchdowns, including the 44-yarder to Ragaini that gave Iowa the lead. Ragaini had four catches for a team-high 73 yards in the game.
Junior Tyler Goodson finished with 88 yards on 25 attempts to lead a rushing attack that had 110 tough yards.
If Campbell was the game’s MVP for his bone-crushing hit, sophomore Tory Taylor shared the honor. The Hawkeye punter was crucial in the field position game, punting nine times for a 44.2 average with six of his nine kicks pinning the Nittany Lions inside the 20.
QUOTING COACH FERENTZ
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) October 9, 2021
“First and foremost, I am pleased for our team and it was a good win for us. Certainly the guys had to work hard for it, but I am proud of our team.
“It was a tough game. We knew that coming in, we knew it would be. Penn State has got great talent, great athleticism and they’ve been playing really good football. I am proud. We got off to a tough start, slow start, but our guys just kept working, kept pushing through it.
“I talk to our guys all the time. That’s why they play 60 minutes. There’s a clock out there. It’s all about trying to finish the game and do what we can the best we can.
We got off to a slow start, pretty much on all phases. We weren’t sharp defensively and weren’t sharp offensively. I they were making it hard on us, reactive defensive. I think everybody kept working and pushing.
“To be behind like that and keep our foot on the gas I thought was really impressive. They’re a good team. We’ve had tremendous respect for them and continue to. They’re a team that can make things happen pretty quickly if you’re not careful. So, again, really happy about that.
“Every week, the goals are simple, to try to come out ahead on the score at the end of the week and then also to improve. Paying a game like that where it was tough, it was really gritty, that’s going to be a good thing for us. I think that will serve us well down the road.
“We’ll look at the film tomorrow and see what it looks like, where the improvement is. But I felt like our tempo parts of the game was good, really encouraging. I thought our offensive line grew a week ago and they did some things today that were impressive. So, hopefully, we’ll see continued growth there and the tape will tell us where else we need to go to work as well.
“There were some big plays in the game. I thought our defense — I think we only got one sack, but we got good pressure. Same thing last week. We had no sacks, but the guys up front were affecting their play. The rush and obviously, Jack hitting the quarterback was a big, big play, kind of like the bowl game two years ago. It was a good, clean hit, good aggressive play. That’s what happens when you let a guy come running in there like that.
“Offensively, Chuck, Charlie Jones’ play on that touchdown was a really smart play. It was a great effort play, a smart play not putting the ball at risk. Keagan Johnson, young guy giving us a spark there and Petras and Ragaini on that touchdown was really huge.
“There were a lot of good efforts defensively up and down the board. Hankins making that stop on fourth down right in front of our bench. Just teasing, we may move him to linebacker. That was a good tackle where he just basically stopped the guy. That’s really hard to do. Just emblematic and got a pick on top of it. And then Shudak did a great job with the field goals and then finish up with Tory.
“It’s ironic, Jason Baker was in the already locker room. When we beat these guys in 2000, Jason was the MVP in my opinion. Just changing field position and what Tory did today with an assist to Terry Roberts and Ivory down there. I can’t say enough about that. That impacted the game.
“Then tying that in, the ball is down in there tight, and our fans did a great job. They were into the game. We knew they’d ready to go at the start. They were more ready than we were. Just wanted to make sure our team understood that they can’t play the game for us. They did a great job all the way through. What a great scene at the end. That’s really special. That’s what makes being in Kinnick special.
“The only thing I’ll top it off with. Think about this. Just step back for one second. You have the Slater family being honored, you’ve got Bob Stoops, Marshal Yanda out there. I’m not sure it can get any better. So it was just a really good day and I want our team to enjoy this smartly but enjoy this tonight. They deserve that. Then we’ll turn our attention to the next one tomorrow.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Hawkeyes forced the game’s first turnover on Penn State’s opening possession. After 47-yard Taylor punt was downed at the 2, Seth Benson pressured Clifford in the end zone, forcing an errant throw from Clifford. Jacobs notched the interception at the Nittany Lion 8.
Iowa went backwards, losing eight yards in its three plays before Caleb Shudak kicked a 34-yard field goal to give the Hawkeyes a 3-0 lead.
On its second possession, Penn State answered, driving 75 yards over nine plays to take a 7-3 lead. Clifford completed three 15+ passes on the drive including a 15-yarder to Brenton Strange to the Iowa 17. On second-and-10, a Hawkeye pass interference call moved the ball to the 2 and Cain scored on a rush on the next play.
After trading interceptions – Koerner picked off Clifford in the end zone and Jaquan Brisker intercepted Petras off a tipped ball off the hands of Ragaini – the Nittany Lions pushed their lead to 14-3 with a four play scoring drive. After taking over at the Iowa 37, Clifford connected with KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 30-yard gain to the 7 and two plays later, Clifford found the end zone on a keeper from four yards out.
Penn State grinded out a 14-play, 66-yard scoring drive to push its lead to 17-3. The Nittany Lions converted three third downs on the series, including a 22-yard Clifford scramble to the Iowa 17. Iowa’s defense held after a delayed Campbell blitz forced an errant throw (and knocked Clifford out of the game), forcing Penn State to settle on Jordan Stout’s 32-yard field goal that extended the lead to 14 with 12:31 left in the second quarter.
Iowa’s offense sustained its first drive of the day midway through the second quarter, going 75 yards over nine plays. A pass interference penalty jumpstarted the drive, moving the ball to the Iowa 44 and the big play came when Petras stood in the pocket, took a hit and delivered a 22-yard strike to Ragaini on a cross pattern to the 16 despite taking a lick from the blitzing linebacker. The Hawkeyes found the end zone on a 9-yard touchdown pass with Charlie Jones diving to hit the pylon to cut the deficit to 17-10.
With Ta’Quan Roberson under center, the Nittany Lions put together an 11 play, 46-yard scoring drive on their second possession of the second half. Roberson rushed for 26 yards on the drive, but the offense stalled in the red zone. Roberson was sacked for an 11-yard loss on third-and-6, but Stout connected on a 44-yard field goal to push the Penn State lead to 20-10 with 6:40 remaining.
The Hawkeyes got the three points back using a 10 play, 45-yard scoring drive. Goodson keyed the series with runs of 8, 3 and 18 yards into Penn State territory. Iowa methodically moved to the PSU 30 before Shudak booted a 48-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 20-13.
Taylor’s right leg and 53-yard punt flipped field position when Ivory Kelly-Martin downed the ball at the 1. After the Nittany Lions went three-and-out, Iowa got the ball back at midfield following Stout’s 46-yard punt. On second-and-10 from the 50, Petras connected with Keagan Johnson for 42 yards to the 8, but the Hawkeyes went backwards from there. After Petras was sacked for an 8-yard loss on third down, Shudak kicked a 36-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 20-16 with 8:08 left.
Iowa has won 12 consecutive games. The Hawkeyes have outscored their last 12 opponents, 403-161, averaging 33.6 points per game offensively and allowing 13.4 ppg during the winning streak. Iowa has won 12 straight for the first time since opening the 2015 season with 12 straight wins. Iowa reached the Big Ten Championship game and accepted an invitation to the 2016 Rose Bowl game.
Iowa has won nine straight games against Big Ten opponents (2020-21) for the second time in program history (2001-02 (10).
The Hawkeyes are bowl eligible for the 20th time in the last 20 seasons.
Petras improved to 12-2 as Iowa’s starting quarterback. He has the best winning percentage by a starting quarterback in program history (.857).
Petras has led Iowa to 12 consecutive wins. He was 17-of-31 for 195 yards passing Saturday. Petras is 194-of-324 with 2,226 passing yards during Iowa’s 12-game winning streak. He has thrown 17 touchdowns and four interceptions over the last 12 games.
Jacobs’s first-quarter interception was the first of his career. He is the ninth Hawkeye this season to record an interception.
Koerner’s first-quarter interception was his second in as many weeks, the sixth of his career.
Moss had an interception in the second quarter, his fourth of the season. Moss has 10 career interceptions for 239 yards, including three touchdown returns. The 10 thefts tie for 11th in program history.
Hankins fourth-quarter interception was his third of the season, sixth of his career.
Ragaini’s fourth-quarter touchdown (44 yards) was his first of the season and third of his career. Ragaini’s team-high 73 yards receiving are a career best.
Lee had a career-high seven tackles.
Iowa leads the country and 15 interceptions. The Hawkeyes have 79 interception since 2017, more than any team in the country.
The Hawkeyes have scored 78 points on 20 takeaways this season.
Iowa has won six straight games against ranked opponents dating back to 2019. The last time Iowa won six straight against ranked opponents was a six-game stretch in 1960.
Iowa had four interceptions Saturday, extending its streak of consecutive games with an interception to six. Iowa has had at least three interceptions in a game four times this season. The last season Iowa had four games with three or more interceptions was 2017.
TOP FIVE MATCHUP
The win was Iowa’s first over a top five opponent since defeating No.3 Ohio State, 55-24, at Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 4, 2017.
No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State met for the sixth time as ranked opponents, the third time in the last four years. The top five matchup is the sixth top-five matchup in Iowa football history, and the first at Kinnick Stadium since No. 1 Iowa defeated No. 2 Michigan, 12-10, in 1985.
Iowa has played 28 straight games without surrendering 25 points, the longest streak in the nation among Power 5 teams.
The Hawkeyes have opened the season with six straight wins for the third time in the Ferentz era — 2009 (9-0) and 2015 (12-0).
The Hawkeyes host Purdue on Saturday, Oct. 16 at a sold-out Kinnick Stadium. Iowa’s Homecoming contest begins at 2:30 p.m. Coverage starts at 12:30 p.m. on 93.1 The Buzz. The game will also be televised on ABC.