IOWA CITY - The Iowa football team cobbled together a pair of Big Ten wins by playing strong enough defense to hide a below-average offense.
The Hawkeyes couldn't stop Penn State - and they couldn't score much on the Nittany Lions either.
The 38-14 result was one of the worst losses of coach Kirk Ferentz's 14-year tenure - and a harsh reminder of how far the program is from truly competing for the Big Ten title.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Penn State’s DaQuan Jones (91) prepares to recover Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg’s fumble during the first half of Saturday night’s Big Ten Conference football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Penn State pulled ahead 24-0 at the half and won 38-14.
Bill Belton ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns and surging Penn State throttled Iowa on Saturday night for its fifth consecutive win.
Matt McGloin threw for 289 yards and a pair of TDs for the Nittany Lions, who beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City for the first time in 13 years.
"Needless to say we're disappointed with our performance. Give Penn State all the credit in the world, all phases," Ferentz said.
Penn State (5-2, 3-0) took the suspense of this matchup between previously-unbeaten Big Ten teams by storming out to a 24-0 lead at halftime. The Nittany Lions scored again just 27 seconds into the second half to go ahead 31-0.
James Vandenberg threw for 189 yards and two picks for Iowa (4-3, 2-1). The Hawkeyes were held to just 209 yards of offense and tacked on a pair of late touchdowns that made the final score seem much closer than the game ever really was.
Iowa rushed for just 20 yards on 23 carries. Running back Mark Weisman, whose status had been uncertain because of a sprained ankle, finished with just nine yards on five carries.
"We didn't block them well, execute well, run or pass. We couldn't get anything going tonight, at all, period," Ferentz said.
Penn State has been a notoriously strong starter under first-year coach Bill O'Brien, outscoring opponents 66-0 in the first quarter.
The Nittany Lions needed just 24 minutes to jump ahead 24-0 and silence what had been a raucous Iowa crowd.
McGloin and hit Jesse James open in the middle of the field for a 31-yard TD pass that put the Nittany Lions up 7-0. McGloin then found Kyle Carter for a reception over Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde's head on fourth down and Allen Robinson for an 8-yard TD grab to give Penn State a 14-0 lead.
"He's a very bright guy, competitive guy," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "Through seven games, you can't say enough about Matt McGloin. The guy's worked at it, prepared, and he's a fun guy to coach."
Vandenberg's fumble deep in Iowa territory set up an 11-yard TD run by Belton with 5:53 left before halftime.
Given how incompetent the Hawkeyes were on offense, that 24-point deficit was essentially insurmountable.
After holding Minnesota and Michigan State to 29 total points, the Hawkeyes defense took a big step backward.
"We just couldn't get anything going offensively, defensively or on special teams," Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes lost starting offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal to apparent leg injuries in the opening quarter - in a span of just three plays, no less - and Mike Meyer's streak of 13 consecutive field goals ended with a pair of misses.
Scherff is likely out for the season, according to Ferentz, and Donnal will be evaluated soon and his status will be known in a few days.
It was about the worst start the Hawkeyes could have imagined. It was so bad that Iowa's fans got rowdy again - but this time to boo the Hawkeyes.
The second half was hardly any better.
Jesse Della Valle nearly took the second-half kickoff back for a touchdown, but Meyer's shoestring tackle got him near midfield. Penn State was in the end zone just two plays later anyway, as Belton ran it in from three yards out.
About the only break Iowa could get came when Zach Zwinak fumbled the ball in the end zone and the Hawkeyes recovered. But they couldn't capitalize on their rare good fortune, and Belton's third TD run of the night made it 38-0 with 14:25 left.
Jordan Cotton's 92-yard kickoff return after that score saved Iowa the indignity of their first shutout loss in 12 years.
Vandenberg threw just his third TD of the year with 4:11 left, an 18-yarder to Keenan Davis.
"Right now, James is our quarterback," Ferentz said.