IOWA CITY - With a sea of Iowa students celebrating on the Kinnick Stadium field behind them, one by one the Nittany Lions trudged into the visitors' tunnel, heads down, chants of ''over-rated, over-rated'' ringing in their ears.
It was a whole lot quieter in the Penn State locker room, where the Lions' bid for an undefeated season and shot at a national championship died hard.
''We had hopes, obviously,'' Joe Paterno said.
You can point to a late, borderline pass interference call against Penn State safety Anthony Scirrotto, which opened the door to a game-winning field goal and Iowa's stunning 24-23 victory Saturday that took a wrecking ball to the Lions' dreams, but the bottom line is this:
Penn State didn't deserve to win.
The blame for what is surely one of the most disappointing losses of the Paterno Era can be shared equally on both sides of the ball.
The defense lacked a knockout punch, twice failing to defend a two-score lead in the second half and allowing the Hawkeyes' last two possessions to last a total of 21 plays.
It blew a coverage that allowed a cheap touchdown in the third quarter and somehow managed to grow the confidence of an Iowa quarterback, Ricky Stanzi, who went the game's first 29 minutes without a completion.
''We should have made a few more stops that we didn't,'' defensive tackle Jared Odrick said.
The offense was just as responsible.
It settled for three Kevin Kelly field goals, the longest of which was 31 yards. Penn State had the ball at or inside the Iowa 20 for 20 plays and scored just two touchdowns.
''Missed chances,'' Paterno said. ''We didn't play well in the second half.''
That's true. The Lions gained just 86 total yards in the second half. But they didn't take charge in the first half, when they totally dominated time of possession but were clinging to a 13-7 lead.
''We came down in the first half and kicked one too many field goals,'' wide receiver Deon Butler said. ''We were driving. We just didn't score.''
Nor did they handle the 25-mile hour wind and chilly weather particularly well. The Lions dropped three passes on offense plus a third-quarter interception, up 16-7, that could have changed the game.
''It's the first time we've had any bad weather,'' Paterno, who again coached from the press box because of his hip injury and had to be spotted and helped off the post-game stage. ''We've had such a mild fall. But I don't want to make excuses because Iowa probably hasn't had any bad weather, either.''
Paterno has always said a great team must conquer not only the opponent but the elements, and this one didn't.
It also didn't perform terribly well in the clutch. In addition to starting slow with a tone-setting fumble by Daryll Clark and a 19-yard loss on the game's first series, and finishing soft, the Lions committed two costly late penalties.
They also were confused midway through the fourth quarter when they scrambled to change a third-and-1 run to Evan Royster, just barely got the snap off with a second left on the play clock and saw the sequence blown up for a 7-yard loss.
They were bailed out by a roughing-the-punter penalty but still couldn't take advantage and, nursing a 23-21 lead, encouraged Iowa with a decisive interception that sparked the drive that made the Hawkeyes' season.
And ruined Penn State's hopes for perfection.
JoePa admitted his team's psyche will be tested, and that he's ''worried our balloon isn't busted.''
Despite a season that to this point exceeded all expectations and one that still could result in a Big Ten championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl, he should be.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.