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Ludwig: Penn State’s Loss to Iowa Goes Beyond a Hurt Quarterback

Once again, a James Franklin team comes up short in a big game.

Yes, Sean Clifford left early. Yes, Penn State likely would’ve beaten Iowa if he’d not have left early with an injury. However, what top program doesn’t have a backup quarterback that can go into a game and throw a pass beyond the line of scrimmage?

This isn’t a slam piece against Ta’Quan Roberson, but he clearly was not well prepared or equipped to come into the game and lead the Nittany Lions anywhere. He completed 7-of-21 passing attempts for 34 yards and two interceptions. His 1.6 yards per attempt showed the coaching staffs’ complete lack of faith in his passing abilities which, again, raises the question of why he was put in the situation.

Roberson will face the ire of an upset fanbase, but it’s Franklin and co. who did not develop a young quarterback for the situation he entered. And even if he was simply not good enough, which he wasn’t, why didn’t PSU have a better option waiting in the wings?

However, the Iowa loss isn’t solely on a hurt quarterback giving way to an incompetent quarterback. Iowa capitalized on quite a bit in knocking off the Nittany Lions Saturday afternoon.

The Kinnick Stadium crowd helped force EIGHT false starts from Penn State Saturday, with all eight fouls coming inside the Lions’ territory. 10 total penalties, eight false starts, even in a hostile environment, is unacceptable. Especially when the coaching staff doesn’t adjust to the ‘clap snaps’ that left the Lions with three consecutive false starts on Roberson’s first drive of the game. Talk about a warm welcome.

It was clear Roberson couldn’t push the ball down the field, underthrowing and overthrowing balls throughout the contest, but with a 4th-and-3 just across midfield, with the clock bleeding away, it was the same old Franklin play calls. With the fate of the game hanging in the balance, the Lions dialed up a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage that was quickly snuffed out by the Hawkeyes’ defense.

The game continued after the drive, but that particular was one of the few in which Roberson actually appeared to be dialed into the game plan. Who knows what happens if the Lions convert and continue the drive.

Not to pile on the poor play calling, buuuut, the play calling throughout the contest was shaky at best. It’s understandable that Penn State wanted to get the ball in senior wide receiver Jahan Dotson’s hands, but when the offense attempted to force the ball into his hands, it ended in disappointment more often than not.

Both Clifford and Roberson threw bad interceptions in trying to force the ball to Dotson, two of four interceptions on the day, and it’s questionable why either throw was called. Facing the best secondary in the country, Clifford’s deep shot to Dotson was questionable. Roberson’s deep shot was downright reckless.

Clifford’s first interception came on a play attempting to avoid a safety, with the defense bailing him out, and Roberson’s second pick came courtesy of the fourth quarter back-breaker, and four interceptions against Iowa — while a status quo for the Hawkeyes defense — were unable to be overcome by the Lions’ defense — no matter how unnecessary the picks were.

This game isn’t on any one individual, but a collection of ill-prepared individuals lost the game for Penn State Saturday. And that’s a shame with the Lions’ defense playing so well, limiting the Iowa offense to just 305 yards. Unfortunately, most of that came in the second half, with Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras heating up in the second half.

The loss to Iowa has just continued a stretch of Penn State losing big games under Franklin.

Since Franklin took over in 2014, he’s 9-16 against ranked opponents. And he’s 1-6 against opponents ranked the Top 5, the lone winning coming against No. 2 Ohio State in 2016 — perhaps his strongest squad yet.

Regardless of the result, no matter how deflating, Clifford’s health is the main priority. If he’s unable to go for the Lions against Illinois on Oct. 23, they’ll be in trouble. However, with a week off this week, if his injury is minor, he should be good to go for a stretch run against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the weeks to come.

The Lions will have the week off before hosting Illinois at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 23 at noon. A win is likely expected against the Illini, but the Lions will travel to Columbus for a crucial contest against Ohio State in two weeks that could decide PSU’s season.

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