In the aftermath, I saw satisfaction written all over James Franklin’s face. He built this thing brick by brick and on Saturday night, he watched his young squad gut one out despite a tough Hawkeye defense, an intimidating environment, and despite the refs best efforts to give the home team every opportunity they could to keep their upset bid alive.
The score doesn’t really dictate how thorough this win was for us. Our young quarterback shook off some massive jitters early on to lead his team like the warrior he is, and for the first time in ages, the Nittany Lions were able to close out an old school, smash-mouth football game on their own terms, without depending on the defense to finish the job. Credit the O-Line, who more than held their own all night long and the emergence of Noah Cain, who’s nearly unstoppable with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
For all the big plays Saquon, Trace and the rest of that bunch were able to churn out, the one thing they never seemed to master was ripping off those tough yards when they needed them most. More times than not it seemed, an easy third-and-one turned into a five-yard loss. On Saturday night in Iowa City, Sean Clifford, Mr. Cain, and the boys in the trenches shredded that deficiency for good and the trio earns this week’s Game Ball and a truckload of respect for their efforts.
Blake Gilliken was the unsung hero for his knack at pinning the sluggish Hawkeye offense inside their own 10, time-and-time again, and KJ added to his legendary lore with one monster leap of faith. Rob ‘the Wild Wildebeest from Wiscy' Windsor spent all night breathing fire in their backfield and safety Jaquon Brisker snatched up his first interception as a Nittany Lion. Pat Frieirmuth, that WAS a touchdown no matter what John O'Neill says. For that matter, Journey B’s was too.
And then there’s FrankLION. The architect. The salesman deluxe. This team bought into what he’s been selling and that was never more evident than it was on Saturday night. He’s constructed an offense that is just beginning to find its legs and a D that is as ferocious as any in the country. No one was quite sure what we had heading into the road trip to Iowa, but in its aftermath, I saw a twinkle in his eye. He knows, we know, and they know too. He’s building a contender, a team in the hunt that’s just getting started.
‘Chains, Dreads, Tattoos…and WE ARE…’ the t-shirts read before they slipped on those nameless jerseys, buckled those iconic white helmets with the single blue stripe, and laced up their black cleats. Some things change, and some things just get better with time. Don’t look now, but there’s a blizzard brewing in Happy Valley and it’s got redemption written all over it!