The final score spoke for itself: By any measure, Penn State’s 41-14 win over Iowa last weekend was a thorough, start-to-finish blowout, and the reality on the ground may have been worse than the margin. Offensively, the Nittany Lions racked up more total yards (599) than Penn State had gained in any game since 1995, the majority of it coming via a dominant, 359-yard performance on the ground; defensively, they held the Hawkeyes to 30 yards rushing, two third-down conversions, and a single touchdown prior to garbage time. The loss was Iowa’s worst in two years; the victory was a resounding one all on its own.
In context, though, inside Beaver Stadium, the mounting delirium as the Lions pulled away from an ostensible Big Ten equal felt like a catharsis years in the making. This was, after all, an intensely loyal crowd that has been gradually conditioned for mediocrity: Before this year, the past three seasons all topped out at seven wins, punctuated by a dismal 2-6 conference mark in 2014 and a four-game losing streak to close 2015. By contrast, in the ninth game of the 2016 campaign, it was clear by halftime that this edition was trending emphatically in the opposite direction.
On the same field two weeks earlier, the Nittany Lions had pulled off one of the instant classics of the season — and arguably Penn State’s first really big win in years — rallying from a 21-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to upset then-No. 2 Ohio State in dramatic fashion. Prior to that, the Lions hadn’t beaten a top-five opponent since 1999 (their most recent attempt, at then-No. 4 Michigan in September, saw them on the wrong side of a 49-10 debacle), and suddenly seemed hell-bent on ensuring that it was remembered as a turning point, a catalyst, rather than a passing blip on the national radar. Next came a 62-24 romp over Purdue, Penn State’s highest-scoring effort in a Big Ten game in 11 years. And now Iowa, the toughest remaining test on the November schedule, the last significant hurdle between a program mired in mediocrity and a 10-win regular season, turned out to be no challenge at all.