This is not the blog I wanted to write. The one I wanted to write was about how despite the rankings and predictions, despite a hostile Hawkeye crowd, despite that snafu of a first play, we still believed. I wanted to write that against all odds we won.
Were you as hopeful as I was? Did you marvel at how well we clicked on all sides of the ball? Our defense prevented points on the opening drive and held Iowa to three after the dangerous initial interception so close to the goal line. Our offense maintained the confidence to march down the field for a touchdown and the lead. Jordan Stout and special teams consistently kicked it out of the park. What a joyous surprise to discover we had this game under control even as underdogs in Iowa! Did you think to yourself, we are actually Very Good? Did you allow yourself just a teeny fantasy of a national championship?
Clifford emerged for the third quarter in street clothes and we pinned our hopes first to our backup man and then to our defense and finally to a miracle that wouldn’t materialize. What a heartbreaker.
Part of the problem was the plague of injuries. And not just Clifford but PJ Mustipher, John Lovett, Devyn Ford, and Jonathan Sutherland were all among the injured. To literally add insult to injury, our banged up players were booed off the field. If we hadn’t already suspected Iowa's lack of class in thefting our stripe out, we saw it clearly in their assumption we had injuries as part of our game plan. After the game Ellis Brooks commented that injuries are the worst part of the game; about those who had to step up to fill spots in a tough environment he said, “I’m very proud of the way they battled and played, so honestly, I think it just shows resilience from my team.”
Injuries as you know, weren’t the whole story of our eventual demise. With woefully inexperienced Ta’Quan Roberson at the helm, our offensive ship sank. No one can deny that he came into a nerve-rattling situation with consistently terrible field position, against a top tier defense, and in an inhospitable crowd. I had hoped the defense would be enough to keep us afloat, but one fatal error on their part put the game back in the hands of the faltering offense.
When asked post-game if he felt responsible Ta’Quan responded with emotion, “Yeah. Yeah I do. But it’s a team game and coming back tomorrow, let’s work.” From his first frustrating play through post game interviews, he conducted himself with the caliber of character we expect of a Penn State student. We the fans would do well to keep in mind that a loss never falls squarely on the shoulders of one player.
Of his teammates, Roberson said, “We’re a family. No matter what, everyone has each other’s backs.” The entire Penn State family has YOUR back Ta’Quan, and the backs of all Nittany Lions stinging from that hard-fought, heartbreaking loss. If there’s one thing I know about Nittany Lions, it’s that we’ve been through challenging times before. We know how to pick each other up, dust ourselves off, and come back even stronger. Against all odds, I do believe this team will surprise us yet.