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Three takeaways from No. 10 Penn State’s 17-12 victory over No. 17 Iowa

The Nittany Lions faced a battle for the entire 60 minutes but pulled out the win with the help of freshman running back Noah Cain.

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson (right) runs the ball as he tries to fend off Penn State safety Garrett Taylor (left).
Iowa running back Tyler Goodson (right) runs the ball as he tries to fend off Penn State safety Garrett Taylor (left).Read moreMatthew Putney / AP

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Here are three takeaways from No. 10 Penn State’s 17-12 win over No. 17 Iowa.

Noah Cain could be the one

The Nittany Lions’ custom of rotating four running backs in every game to this point may be coming to an end if freshman Noah Cain has any say about it. Cain led the Lions in rushing for the second straight week, picking up 102 yards on 22 carries, and securing the win with strong running that helped his team run out the clock. Cain increased his season total to a team-high 310 yards. The 5-foot-10, 206-pound Cain runs with power and rarely goes down on the first hit, and head coach James Franklin notes he almost always falls ahead when he’s going down. Cain rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries on the first two drives of the fourth quarter, with his 5-yard touchdown run capping the second drive and providing valuable insurance. It will be interesting to see how Franklin and running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider handle the situation, as they have been trying to be fair as possible to each of the four backs.

A first -- three touchdowns on one drive wiped out

Penn State appeared to be in good shape to extend its lead in the third quarter after linebacker Jan Johnson recovered a fumble at the Iowa 16, and tight end Pat Freiermuth appeared to score when he lunged over the goal line to finish a 16-yard pass from Sean Clifford. But after a lengthy review, the referee ruled that Freiermuth’s knee touched down with the ball a foot short of the goal line, even though television commentators said the touchdown should have stood. The Nittany Lions crossed the goal line twice more in the drive – a four-yard run by Journey Brown before the Freiermuth “touchdown” and a six-yard run by Clifford after – but both were wiped out by holding penalties. Jake Pinegar kicked a 33-yard field goal to end one of the strangest drives seen in some time.

A serious upgrade in competition

Iowa was the first ranked opponent for Penn State this season, and the Hawkeyes showed their guests that they were a significant step up from the Nittany Lions’ first five opponents. The Hawkeyes did what they do – trying to establish the run, play-action passes, a strong defense – and the Lions did not appear as smooth on either side of the football as they had been. They managed one touchdown and four punts in a first half in which they accounted for just 117 yards, with Clifford going 5-of-15 for 60 yards. Clifford took a while to settle down amid the noisy, chaotic atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium but played more steadily in the second half, completing 12-of-24 for 117 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 52 yards on 16 carries.