The final play perfectly encapsulated the weirdness of Penn State–Iowa. Trailing by six at the Penn State 44-yard line, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley tried one last act of desperation on fourth down. As he was being brought down for a potential game-ending sack, Stanley tossed the ball to 6'5", 320-pound offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs, who seized the opportunity and ran for 15 yards before getting tackled 29 yards short of the goal line.
It was a valiant effort that capped a cold, sloppy, back-and-forth afternoon, out of which Penn State emerged with a 30–24 win in Happy Valley that prevented a potential mini-spiral in State College and brought some clarity to the Big Ten West picture.
The Hawkeyes had plenty of chances to win Saturday at Beaver Stadium and keep pace atop their division. Down by six with 3:18 remaining, Stanley had his team at first-and-goal at the Penn State three-yard line on the verge of taking the lead. Then he made an ill-advised throw and safety Nick Scott took advantage by coming up with the interception. Penn State punted on its next possession, giving Iowa one more opportunity with 1:23 to go. Kirk Ferentz’s team needed to drive 77 yards with no timeouts left, and the comeback ended in Wirfs’s hands.
This game had everything. Penn State gave up two safeties on punts (one blocked, one snap botched) before halftime, Iowa scored on a trick play in the first quarter, PSU quarterback Trace McSorley was injured in the second quarter (only to return after missing two series), Iowa had a clutch pick-six in the fourth quarter, and neither team averaged more than 4.9 yards per play.
McSorley gave Penn State a scare when he went down in the second quarter with what appeared to be a right leg injury. The senior was replaced by redshirt junior Tommy Stevens, who came in and completed two of four passes for 27 yards and ran for a touchdown. McSorley returned before halftime, but it was his 51-yard touchdown run to kick off the third quarter and give his team a 24–17 lead that let Penn State fans know he was feeling like his old self. The Nittany Lions never trailed after that.
It was not a banner day for quarterback play. McSorley finished 11 of 25 for 167 yards with one touchdown and one interception, plus the rushing score. Stanley completed just 18 of 49 passes for 205 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Heading into this weekend, the Big Ten West was up for grabs. Four teams with one loss were vying for control of the division. After this weekend, however, Northwestern sits at the top at 5–1 following a convincing 31–17 win over Wisconsin. Purdue lost to Michigan State, dropping the Boilermakers into a tie with Wisconsin and Iowa at 3–2 in conference play.
All is not lost for the Hawkeyes, who host Northwestern on Nov. 10 and could jump back into the Big Ten title game race with a win. Iowa would also need to beat Purdue, Illinois and Nebraska and hope that Wisconsin, who beat them earlier this season, loses at least one more game.