It Happened One Night...

Ben SmithContributor IApril 6, 2009

It happened one night, in the hostile confines of one Kinnick Stadium at a supposed "Green" Out, when the Penn State Nittany Lions' season was dashed by the pesky Iowa Hawkeyes.

Daryll Clark and Penn State's vaunted Spread HD offense was suffocated, not only by a stingy opposing defense, but the swirling winds that swept into Iowa City that fateful November afternoon.

Indeed, Penn State's elusive and seemingly attainable dreams of a national championship were swept right out from under them and vanished into thin air.

They had it all, with a nine point advantage entering the fourth quarter, but poor field position, turnovers, questionable playcalling, and penalties cost the Nittany Lions control of their destiny, which unquestionably appeared to be the national championship in Miami.

Penn State could not throw, and Clark did not appear to play up to his usual capability either as a runner or passer. Their season is not over and the Rose Bowl still appears in the sight of the Lions, but for the second time in four years, a potential national championship invite is dashed due to a last second heroic play from their opponent (Henne to Manningham for Michigan and Murray's FG for Iowa).

The Nittany Lions had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, and Galen Hall/ Jay Paterno did not call for any quarterback sneaks on their goalline attempts or short third down conversions, which makes me debate whether Clark was completely ready for this game.

If not, Penn State erred severely in judgment because Devlin has proven himself as a worthy backup to Clark's starring role in the Spread HD offense.

In addition, the Penn State defensive line suffered from Gaines's rolled ankle injury and could not get to Stanzi frequently enough, whether it be through sackmasters, Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans, or linebacker blitzes from Josh Hull or Navorro Bowman.

The team seemed flat most of the game, but the game appeared in doubt when the dubious pass interference penalty was called against Anthony Scirrotto. He went to fight for the ball, and he got completely hosed by the Big Ten officiating crew.

However, the Penn State loss is decimating to many, including myself, because this team played a forgotten and cherished style of football. They had a balanced offense and an aggressive, disciplined defense as well as an impactful special teams unit.

They played to win, not for style points and the attention of the media.

The Penn State loss ultimately knocks them out of the national championship race, and is surely met with nationwide acclaim, as no one wanted to see a Big Ten team get shellacked in the title game.

The window is closing for Big Ten teams before Michigan becomes an unstoppable power under Rich Rodriguez. While Penn State football will finish with a better than expected season, it is so disappointing to see the team fall so close to returning to the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium and Happy Valley.

They will roll over foes, Indiana and Michigan State, but look back with fond remembrance and pangs of remorse for what occurred in the late stages of the forth quarter gridiron battle between them and the Hawkeyes.

Next year, Penn State is likely to return Clark and Royster to the backfield and Sean Lee to the middle linebacker spot, but A.Q. Shipley and Rich Ornberger as well as the receiving trio of Butler, Norwood, and Derrick Williams will have departed, including other valuable contributors on both sides of the ball.

It will be a favorite for the Big Ten title, but a national championship is probably beyond its reach.

To be frank, everyone including most fans of the Penn State Nittany Lions thought the same of this year's squad. They seemed like they got all the breaks and luck that national title teams need like the Pryor fumble in Columbus, but the road warriors could not endure a trip to Iowa, a team that was 12 points away from being undefeated like Penn State.