IOWA CITY, Iowa - Almost no one expected the Nittany Lions to come here and beat a very good Iowa team Saturday night.
But was it too much to ask for Penn State to be ready to play?
In one of the more disorganized exhibitions in memory, Penn State fell behind 17-0 early en route to a 24-3 loss at Kinnick Stadium.
"We're not a very poised team, offensively or defensively," Joe Paterno said afterward.
That's for sure.
The most glaring examples came after the Lions moved to the Iowa 1 on consecutive series, sandwiched around halftime.
Those efforts produced a mere field goal and some sideline chaos.
Losing 17-0, Penn State's Rob Bolden hit Brett Brackett for 49 yards. Brackett was tripped up at the Hawkeye 3 with 6 seconds left in the first half. The Lion offensive coaches screamed for a spike - instead of using their last timeout - and got it.
The problem was it took 3 seconds. Assistant coach Mike McQueary protested vehemently, to no avail. Then as Penn State scrambled to beat the play clock, it was hit with a delay-of-game penalty, costing a second-down pass into the end zone and resulting in a letdown field goal that cut Iowa's lead to 17-3.
Paterno thought the officials botched the time on the spike, saying, "we should have had 5 seconds."
There were communications issues, too, as JoePa appeared to want a timeout, at least initially, and McQueary, closer to the action, was signaling for the spike.
That, however, was just a prelude to coming attractions of short-yardage failures.
Penn State took the second half kickoff and mounted an impressive drive to the Iowa 1 before fullback Michael Zordich was stopped for no gain. Facing fourth down, with the Lions again scurrying around and that darned play clock at 1, McQueary this time smartly called for timeout.
That set the stage for a fourth-down play to possibly get the Lions back in the game. PSU ordered, out of the shotgun, an option for Bolden, who was slammed just short of the end zone.
"I think we may be asking too much of the freshman [Bolden]," Paterno said.
That sequence was repeated on another fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter when the staff decided to go for it at the Iowa 42. This time, backup tight end Kevin Haplea started too soon, cueing the sixth of Anthony Fera's nine punts.
"We made too many major mistakes, but that [Haplea] is a true freshman," Paterno said. "We may have been a little late with the substitutions, and some of the kids were late making adjustments, and it shows."
In 18 trips to the red zone this year, Penn State has scored just six touchdowns.
"We've got to close the deal," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. "When you get in the red zone, you have to be able to run the ball."
"We didn't get it done," offensive tackle Quinn Barham said. "We just couldn't finish."
This kind of offensive inefficiency requires a defense of, say, the units of 1968-69, '78 or '86, and that is definitely missing.
Penn State's defense started slow once again and allowed eight first downs and 148 yards in the first quarter alone,
It's clear Tom Bradley and the defensive staff remain in the midst of what has been a season-long personnel experiment, and it's obvious changes will have to continue as some of the most effective players are not in the starting lineup.
"That's two times on the road now that we haven't had a good start," Bradley said. "And we haven't caused a fumble in five games."
Like the offense, the defense wasn't just overpowered, it was outschemed. On Iowa's second touchdown, Devon Still was racing off the field as James Terry hurried in just in time for the snap in which Iowa scored from a yard out to increase its lead to 17-0.
"We have to figure it out," Bradley said.
Sitting at 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten with no sure wins left on the schedule, there's one thing left to say about Penn State right now.
And that's, "Timeout!"
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.