Penn State football forced to regroup, rally around Ta'Quan Roberson after loss to Iowa

JON SAUBER
Penn State quarterback Ta'Quan Roberson (2) looks to pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 23-20. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson walked toward the away tunnel on Duke Slater Field at Kinnick Stadium Saturday night.

He moved slowly through the crowd of fast-moving Iowa fans donning yellow and black jerseys that seemingly engulfed the 5-foot-11 wide receiver in his white uniform.

Tears streamed down his face as he took in the Nittany Lions' 23-20 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes. Then he put his head down, with Associate Director of Performance Enhancement Chuck Losey III's arm settled on his right shoulder, and walked into the tunnel.

Dotson wasn't the only Nittany Lion to feel the emotions of what took place on the field Saturday night.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Ta'Quan Roberson took a moment to ponder a question about whether he felt responsible for what unfolded on the field he stood upon.

"Yeah. Yeah I do," he said, his voice quivering as the emotion swelled inside him.

Good start, ugly finish: Roberson, Dotson and the rest of the Nittany Lions must now regroup following their first loss of the season in a game that began as well as it reasonably could have and ended just as badly.

Penn State got out to a 17-3 on the back of a dominant defense and an offense that was putting things together. The field goal that stretched that lead to 14 came with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.

That drive was the beginning of the end as redshirt senior quarterback Sean Clifford left the game and didn't return due to an injury. Roberson entered the game and was unable to sustain the momentum, completing only seven of his 20 passing attempts in the game and struggling to help the offense move the ball downfield.

Penn State head coach James Franklin said Roberson played well on the team's lone scoring drive while he was in the game, but wasn't ready to evaluate the rest of his performance.

"I thought that one drive where we went tempo, I thought he did a good job of making some plays with his legs and spreading the ball around," Franklin said. "But besides that I'm gonna have to watch the tape to kind of get into any more detail than that."

Stepping into a difficult situation: The redshirt sophomore stepped into a difficult situation. Saturday's game was his first meaningful action at Penn State and it came in a hostile environment against one of the best defenses in the country.

The gravity wasn't lost on the quarterback's teammates, who said they made sure to encourage him during the game and said their believe in him was still there following the game.

"He ain't gonna be walking with his head down," sophomore wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith said. "He knows we've got his back 100%."

Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich kept it simple when it was Roberson's time to enter the game. Roberson said his coordinator uttered a simple, "You good?" to which Roberson replied affirmatively.

That was all the assurance Yurcich needed before diving into the game plan on how the team was going to attack the Iowa defense that so few had cracked prior to Penn State's first quarter onslaught.

Crowd issues: Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, the offense was unable to find those same openings with Roberson in the game. He struggled to hit open targets and was seemingly affected by a crowd that several Nittany Lions said they were impressed with following the game.

The issues were at their most blatant when Roberson's offensive linemen committed three straight false starts on a drive in the second quarter, with the signal caller's cadence and claps for the ball going unheard by some.

Offensive tackle Rasheed Walker said those issues were due to the swath of fans that surrounded them in a packed Kinnick Stadium.

"The crowd was just crazy loud," Walker said. "It was just miscommunication between us and the quarterback. Like, it was kind of hard to hear. ... It was just loud. They had momentum. The crowd was getting louder every single down. It was just loud."

Time to regroup: The Nittany Lions now have a full week to regroup. They go on bye this week before hosting Illinois Oct. 23.

And in that time, regrouping and re-calibrating might be at the top of the to-do list for Penn State. Clifford's injury status is unknown, but his teammates showed confidence in Roberson following the loss. The young quarterback himself believed this wasn't going to be his last chapter.

"Next game," Roberson said about where his head is. "1-0 next week. I know my teammates got my back, I got their back, so I'm just focused on next week. ... We're a family. No matter what, everyone has each other's back."

That's good for the Nittany Lions because the next chapters will be important. Oct. 23 could be an excellent opportunity to get Roberson's feet wet.

But Oct. 30 is looming.

And Oct. 30 against the Ohio State Buckeyes is Penn State's best chance to prove its goals haven't washed out to sea and that Roberson, with a little more experience and a little more practice, can be the quarterback the team needs as long as Clifford is sidelined.