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Like & Don’t Like: Freiermuth done for season; turnovers and QB play hurt Lions

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Brenton Strange

There’s always a lot to like and not like during a football game. This is my comprehensive list of things I liked and did not like, starting with the most important plays of the game, then going through the contest from the beginning.

Don’t like: Not only did Penn State lose, but James Franklin delivered the news after the game that All-American tight end Pat Freiermuth is done for the season and will have surgery next week. Franklin said Freiermuth suffered an injury against Ohio State in week two and hasn’t been fully healthy since. Freiermuth had continued to play for two more games, but he did not dress Saturday. There were no further details about the extent of Freiermuth’s injury. He is projected to be a first-round draft pick and said a couple of weeks ago that he remained committed to playing this season instead of opting out. Now, unfortunately, he won’t be able to even finish his final season with the Lions because of the injury.

Here is what Freiermuth said a couple weeks ago about playing the rest of this season:

“I’m committed to Penn State till I decide my time’s up here,” the All-American said Tuesday morning. “Like I said before, I love this university, I love this this this program, I love the coaches, I love the players in it. And I’m with them in the good times and the bad times.

“I just can’t, that’s not my personality to just walk away when we’re down and the program’s down. I’m gonna get up and fight back and try and get out get us our first win this season and do anything I can to make this program go in the next step. So, yeah, I haven’t even thought that, it never crossed my mind to opt out after our slow start.”

Don’t like: Penn State is 0-5. There is no hope left for this season. It’s been an unmitigated disaster.

Don’t like: The Nittany Lions allowed 30 points for the sixth straight game, going back to last season. That extends the longest streak in program history. It wasn’t all the defense’s fault, though, because …

Don’t like: Penn State is a turnover machine. Just ridiculous. The Nittany Lions scored 21 points. They gave up 24 points on four turnovers, and you just cannot win like that against any decent team. Sean Clifford threw two more interceptions in the second half, and the Lions also lost two fumbles. Iowa is not the kind of team that beats itself, and it certainly didn’t here. Instead, the Hawkeyes made plays and let Penn State beat itself with all the turnovers.

Don’t like: Penn State has major, major problems at quarterback. It’s always one step forward, two steps back, and that certainly was the case once again Saturday night.

Like: James Franklin made the right decision starting Will Levis, giving the backup QB a shot. But after one good drive in which he carried seven times for 44 yards, Levis just couldn’t move the offense enough. So, Franklin made the right decision in putting Sean Clifford in the game down 31-7. Clifford responded in a huge way, throwing a 28-yard TD on his first pass and a 68-yard bomb for a score to Jahan Dotson to pull the Lions within 31-21.

Like: Clifford came into the game ready to play. No doubt about it. Certainly he was humbled by getting benched, and he’s such a competitor that it had to be driving him nuts sitting on the bench as his team fell behind, 31-7. So, when his number was called, Clifford came in and delivered. That’s all you can ask from any athlete.

Don’t like: Just when you thought new Sean Clifford had arrived, old Sean Clifford returned on the next series. He threw a low pass that was tipped at the line and picked off by Chauncey Goltson at the PSU 23. It was yet another bad turnover by Clifford deep in his own territory, the kind of thing that got him benched in the first place.

Like: PSU’s defense kept Iowa out of the end zone after the interception, keeping the game still somewhat within reach down two scores, 34-21.

Don’t like: Clifford resorted to being terrible once again after his hot start, throwing two interceptions, giving him 10 turnovers on the season. His INT in the closing minutes and subsequent terrible tackle attempt were comically bad.

Don’t like: Iowa controlled both lines of scrimmage, which was to be expected, really. This PSU team has all kinds of problems in all facets of the game, and the one thing the Hawkeyes do well is they get good play in the trenches on both sides.

Don’t like: You can’t drop interceptions. You just can’t. It almost always leads to something bad. Safety Jaquan Brisker dropped one in Iowa territory early in the second half, on a ball that went right through his hands near midfield. Iowa had to punt, and on PSU’s next series, it fumbled, with the Hawkeyes recovering at the PSU 41. That sequence led to some big changes in would-be field position and cost the Lions dearly when Iowa wound up scoring a TD for a 17-7 lead.

Like: One controversial play came when PSU decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from its 49 in the closing minutes of the first half. The Lions had just gotten stuffed on fourth-and-1 their last possession, so sure, I can see how people might feel like they should have punted this time around. But I don’t mind the decision to go for it again on fourth-and-2. As I’ve said and written many times over the years, I’ll generally side with being aggressive on fourth down, especially on short-yardage situations anywhere near midfield. There are exceptions, but for the most part, I like going for it because the math says you have a good chance to get it. The problem is, PSU’s offensive line is not very good, and Iowa knew the Lions wouldn’t try to run it up the middle again, as they did unsuccessfully on third down.

Don’t like: The playcall on fourth-and-2 was a bad one, with Levis trying to hit Jahan Dotson on a tough pass up the left sideline. The third- and fourth-down plays and the previous fourth-and-1 call were examples that PSU’s offense and Kirk Ciarrocca really don’t have the weapons or the personnel to convert those kinds of plays against quality defenses. Especially when PSU’s offensive line keeps getting beaten.

Don’t like: Franklin’s decision to punt on fourth-and-17 down 34-21 with 3:19 left. Getting 17 yards was gonna be tough, but given the time remaining, going for it probably would have been the better option.

Like: Alright, I’m gonna on my fullback rant here. Iowa used one at times Saturday, including on this 1-yard touchdown run late in the first half by Mekhi Sargent.

Rather than retyping something, I’ll let my tweets tell the story of what irks me about James Franklin’s refusal to ever use a fullback or go under center.

FIRST QUARTER

Like: Levis made a nice throw to Parker Washington for 13 yards to convert a third-and-12 on PSU’s first series. That was a good sign from Levis to make a solid throw under pressure.

Don’t like: On third-and-5 from the 41, Michal Menet was flagged for a false start, and PSU couldn’t convert third-and-10.

Don’t like: The Lions gave QB Spencer Petras too much time to throw on a third-and-8 on Iowa’s first series, and he moved the chains with a good throw to Sam LaPorta for 16 yards. Petras hit an 11-yard pass on the next play, then Tyler Goodson broke free on the right side for a 25-yard gain to the PSU 24.

Don’t like: That just was not the start the PSU defense was looking for as it allowed the Hawkeyes to move into scoring position. The Lions got lucky as Petras overthrew a wide open receiver on first down at the 24.

Like: PSU’s defense stopped the Hawkeyes after that to force a 40-yard field goal by Keith Duncan. After allowing TDs to fall behind early all season, it was at least a small victory for the defense to hold Iowa to 3 points.

Like: Will Levis showed off his running skills with seven carries for 44 yards on PSU’s second series of the game, moving the offense right down the field. Levis owned the middle of the field, as Iowa didn’t have anyone there to stop him when he took off.

Like: Levis got fourth-string TE Theo Johnson involved with a couple of passes for a couple of passes for 10 and 4 yards.

Like: Keyvone Lee busted through the middle for a 6-yard TD to finish off the drive, giving Penn State its first lead since scoring a TD in overtime at Indiana in the opener.

SECOND QUARTER

Don’t like: LB Jesse Luketa got embarrassed on a tackle attempt on the first play of the quarter, as Tyler Goodson ran right by him for a 10-yard TD that put the Hawkeyes up 10-7.

Don’t like: Penn State had a quick three-and-out after Iowa’s touchdown, failing to capitalize on the momentum it had built on the previous TD drive. Iowa made an adjustment by keeping defenders in the middle of the field to take away Levis’ running lane.

Don’t like: On punt coverage return, LB Brandon Smith went down with an injury and had to be helped off the field. He didn’t put any weight on his left leg going off the field.

Don’t like: S Jaquan Brisker let a sure INT fall right through his fingers, which would have given PSU the ball in Iowa territory. That’s the kind of play that has to be made in a close game.

Don’t like: On PSU’s next series, Levis tried pitching to his left to Keyvone Lee, but the pitch was behind the running back for a fumble. Zach VanValkenburg recovered for Iowa at the PSU 41.

Don’t like: Penn State’s pass defense just continues to be bad when it matters. Iowa had second-and-20 at the 41 after a holding penalty, but the Lions allowed receiver Nico Ragaini to get open, and Petras it him for a huge 26-yard gain. Two plays later, Petras found Sam LaPorta over the middle to the 1 to set up a touchdown.

Like: Levis hit Jahan Dotson for a 22-yard gain.

Don’t like: The Lions made a good decision going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Iowa 39, but the O-line was blown up by Iowa’s defense as Levis was stopped up the middle for a loss. The playcall was bad there, too, because the one thing that had been working well earlier was Levis running up the middle, but Iowa had already made the adjustment by this point and clearly was ready for it.

Like: As I wrote above, I didn’t mind going for it on fourth-and-2 on the next series. I just didn’t like the playcall, a pass up the sideline.

Like: Iowa used a fullback — which I know is a forbidden word at Penn State — as the lead blocker on Mekhi Sargent’s 1-yard TD run with 11 seconds left in the half.

THIRD QUARTER

Like: The Lions opened the second half with back-to-back sacks by Shaka Tony and Adisa Isaac. The defense made a quick stop to give the ball right back to the offense to see if it could do something, but …

Don’t like: On the very next play, Levis tried stepping up in the pocket under pressure and fumbled, with Iowa recovering at the 46.

Don’t like: Penn State’s defense made a nice play here or there, but the lack of consistency and lack of push up front was noticeable as Iowa continued to do pretty much anything it wanted in driving for a TD and 31-7 lead.

Like: Lamont Wade recovered a fumble and showed a lot of excitement, something you don’t always see down 31-7.

Don’t like: Jake Pinegar’s PAT was blocked after Clifford’s TD pass to TE Brenton Strange.

Like: Clifford threw a gorgeous deep ball to Jahan Dotson on the 68-yard TD. Thing of beauty, right on the money.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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