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Nittany Lion Offense Surging

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football put on a show Saturday night, utilizing a balanced attack to take down a physical Iowa team in front of more than 106,000 fans at Beaver Stadium.

Scoring 41 points, the Nittany Lions racked up 599 yards of total offense, the most since logging 661 yards against Rutgers in 1995 and the highest total in a Big Ten outing since a 653-yard performance against Michigan State in 1994. It is also the third-highest total in a Big Ten game in program history. 

The Nittany Lions have now won their last five games, in addition to moving to 6-0 at home in Beaver Stadium this year. During the five-game wining streak, Penn State is averaging 476.2 yards per game in the same span and has totaled at least 500 yards of total offensive yards on three occasions.

In last two games, Penn State has scored 103 points, marking the first time Penn State has combined for 100 points across two games since 2008. 

Postgame, the Nittany Lions were quick to give credit to the offensive line, as head coach James Franklin noted all week that the improving offensive line needed to continue their rise, especially against a disruptive Iowa defense. 

"We're really meshing," running back Saquon Barkley said. "As an offense as a whole, we're really meshing. It starts up front, and guys are doing a tremendous job of leading those guys and making the right calls to put us in position to be successful."

Along with the surging Penn State offense, here are a few more takeaways from Penn State's fifth straight victory.

Another Fast Start
Penn State made the most of its opening drive once again, as quarterback Trace McSorley found wide receiver Saeed Blacknall deep in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown pass to start the game. The Nittany Lions have now scored a touchdown on their opening drive in three of the last four games and in each of the last two outings. The last time that Penn State scored on its opening drive in back-to-back games was in 2012 at Virginia and vs. Navy.

"Scoring on the opening drive, that's something that we emphasized earlier in the year and we're starting to show improvement there," head coach James Franklin said.

Take a closer look at McSorley's first of two touchdown passes on the night.

Winning Battles in Explosive Plays & Turnover Margin
The Nittany Lions checked both boxes following a week where Franklin noted that the ability to execute long yardage plays and win the turnover battle would only continue to lead to more success.

The Nittany Lions logged six plays of 20 yards or more against the Hawkeyes, limiting Iowa to just three. Barkley scored twice on a pair of long yardage plays, rushing for his longest career touchdown in Beaver Stadium with a 57-yard haul in the second quarter. He added a career-long 44-yard touchdown grab in the the fourth quarter following a Troy Apke interception.

Barkley was outstanding for the Nittany Lions in the win, totaling 211 all purpose yards, including 167 on the ground to eclipse the 2,000 career rushing yard mark with his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season.

Apke's interception marked the first of his career, as he picked off Hawkeye quarterback C.J. Beathard before adding a 10-yard return.

Conversely, the Nittany Lions played their second consecutive turnover-free game. Penn State has committed just one offensive turnover in its last five games, while McSorley has played a perfect 20 consecutive quarters without an interception, in addition to an overtime period against Minnesota. 

Halting the Hawkeye Run Game
When asked what he likes most about the defensive line earlier this week, linebacker Jason Cabinda said it was their pursuit. The Nittany Lions were certainly relentless in their pursuit Saturday, combining for three of Penn State's four sacks against Iowa and four of the six team tackles for loss.

Cabinda ignited an early spark for the Penn State defense, stopping Beathard and the Hawkeyes on fourth-and-1 on Iowa's first possession of the game. 

The Penn State defense as an entire unit limited the Hawkeyes to just 30 yards on the ground. The Nittany Lions have limited their opponent to less than 50 yards in each of the last two games, something Penn State has never done in a pair of consecutive conference outings since joining the Big Ten in 1993. Iowa entered the matchup Saturday averaging 167.9 rushing yards per game.   

The Nittany Lions also held Iowa to 14 points, with the Hawkeyes entering the outing averaging 28.1 points per game on the year.

More from Cabinda below.

Improvements on Third Down
It's been a point of emphasis for the Nittany Lions all season, but Saturday Penn State finally saw some improvement in third down conversion, converting 7-of-14 attempts against Iowa.
 

Penn State also did not have a single three-and-out in the entire game, with McSorley able to bring up a new set of downs on five of the seven successful conversions, targeting wide receiver Chris Godwin twice for a pair of completions for at least 11 yards in a pair of third down situations.

 "We knew we needed to get into manageable third downs or cut to the chains in half," McSorley said. "I think we did a really good job with that - utilizing those with our RPO's and our play action pass game, everything really complimented each other tonight."

VIDEO: Postgame Players - Iowa

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's Mike Gesicki, Trace McSorley, Chris Godwin, Jason Cabinda and Saquon Barkley recap the 41-14 win over Iowa.

Check in with the Nittany Lions below. 

VIDEO: Postgame James Franklin - Iowa

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin took time to recap the 41-14 win over Iowa Saturday at Beaver Stadium. 

Hear what he had to say following the win below. 

Beaver Stadium Extra - Penn State vs. Iowa

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Go behind the scenes with Penn State Athletics on football gameday for exclusive interviews and a closer look at team arrival, Nittany Lion honorary captains, special recognitions and more. 

Military Appreciation Tailgate
Honoring the 7,500 active duty military, veterans, military families and fallen families during Penn State University's Military Appreciation Week, Penn State hosted a Military Appreciation Day Tailgate for all Seats for Servicemembers attendees.


Team Arrival

Head into Beaver Stadium with Penn State football. Greeted by a cheering crowd and members of Nittanyville, the Nittany Lions arrived just after 5 p.m. this evening.

Honorary Captain Imannuel Iyke
 
Penn State defensive tackle and US Marine veteran Imannuel Iyke led the team out of the tunnel with an American flag prior to kickoff against the Hawkeyes. Iyke also served as the team's honorary captain at the coin toss. More on Iyke's incredible story here.

USO Troupe Performance
 
An American tradition that goes back nearly 75 years, the USO Show Troupe has performance for 600,000 service members and their families worldwide. With more than 350 live performances annually, the USO Troupe has also performed for nationally televised audiences. Check out highlights from their halftime performance.

Penn State Women's Lacrosse 
Last year, Penn State women's lacrosse capped off an unbelievable season competing in the NCAA Tournament national semifinals. The Nittany Lions were honored for their outstanding achievement on the field. Check it out.

2016 Gameday Live - No. 20/23 Penn State vs. Iowa

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 20/23 Penn State Football has returned from the road, set to host Iowa in a 7:30 p.m. kick off Saturday at Beaver Stadium on Military Appreciation Day, live on BTN. The Nittany Lions (6-2, 4-1) and the Hawkeyes (5-3, 3-2) will meet for the first time since 2012 and for the first time in Beaver Stadium since Penn State claimed a 13-3 win in 2011.

Follow along with our live blog for updates and exclusive content. 



Live Blog No. 20/23 Penn State vs. Iowa
 

2016 Gameday - Penn State, Iowa Set for Prime Time

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Gameday Central | Gameday Live Blog | Game Notes Press Conference Roundup Wednesday Practice UpdateImannuel Iyke, Penn State's US Marine Coach Moorhead Q&A | Monday Notebook | Nittany Lions in the NFL

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 20/23 Penn State Football has returned from the road, set to host Iowa in a 7:30 p.m. kick off Saturday at Beaver Stadium on Military Appreciation Day. 

The Nittany Lions (6-2, 4-1) and the Hawkeyes (5-3, 3-2) will meet for the first time since 2012 and for the first time in Beaver Stadium since Penn State claimed a 13-3 win in 2011. The matchup will broadcast live on BTN.

Penn State will also look to extend its four-game winning streak, as well as a 5-0 mark in home outings this year. The Nittany Lions have won 11 of its last 12 in Beaver Stadium. Iowa enters Saturday's matchup fresh off a bye week, putting its school-record streak of nine consecutive road wins on the line, which stands as the second-longest stretch nationally. 

"We need a home-field advantage," head coach James Franklin said. "This is a very good football team. They played in the conference championship game last year. They returned almost everybody from that team. They've been successful."

Last week, Penn State powered past Purdue on the road on the way to bowl eligibility, scoring the most points for the Nittany Lions in a Big Ten game since 2005.

Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley is coming off his fifth career 200-yard passing performance, having thrown a career-high three touchdown passes in the win at Purdue.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley continues to shine for the Nittany Lions, having tallied 277 all-purpose yards at Purdue, on the way to his second Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor this year. Barkley was also tabbed as a finalist for the Maxwell Award, entering the week ranked first in the conference in rushing yards (888), rushing yards per game (111.0) and touchdowns (11). 

Led by head coach Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes have claimed wins in each of the last four meetings when Penn State enters the game ranked (2010, 2009, 2008, 2002). In his 18th year at the helm of the program, Ferentz has guided Iowa to wins in each of its three road games this year (Rutgers, 14-7; Minnesota, 14-7; Purdue, 49-35), in addition to all five in 2015 and the final road game of the season in 2014.

Penn State owns a slim 13-12 advantage in the all-time series against the Hawkeyes, with wins in each of the last two consecutive meetings. Iowa however, owns a 9-7 mark in outings since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten Conference in 1993, with Ferentz also holding an 8-4 career record against the Nittany Lions.

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What To Watch For - Penn State

1. Both Franklin and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead stressed that keys to success this week and into the future are focused on Penn State's ability to execute explosive plays and win the turnover battle. The Nittany Lions did both against Purdue, registering a season-high 12 plays of 20-yards or more against the Boilermakers without a single turnover. On the year, the Nittany Lions have recorded 51 long yardage plays, rushing for 17 and totaling 34 through the air. 

3. Speaking of turnovers, Penn State has committed just two turnovers in the last four games and scored 28 points after forcing four Purdue turnovers on the road last week. Franklin once again credited the recent success in the turnover margin to an emphasis on ball security work in practice.

"We do it every single day in a drill and that's the entire focus," Franklin said. "A lot of people make it a priority all practice and we do that as well, but every single day we do a ball security drill."

The turnover battle will likely be an interesting matchup for the Nittany Lions, as Iowa enters the week at plus-seven in the turnover margin, having turned eight of 12 opponent miscues into touchdowns for the Hawkeyes.

2. Penn State's offensive line has also continued to make positive strides in recent games this season, especially following an unexpected readjustment on the offensive line. Moorhead was particularly pleased with the progress made by tackle Brendan Mahon, noting he has seen an increased emphasis on fundamentals and technique from junior in the absence of Andrew Nelson.

What To Watch For - Iowa

1. Iowa brings physicality in its front seven with all four defensive linemen having registered at least 22 tackles on the year, led by defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson's 32 tackles and team-high 6.5 tackles for loss. The Hawkeyes also have strength at the offensive line, as Franklin noted earlier this week that Ferentz is one of the most respective offensive line coaches in the country, who has built the program around a stout offensive line.

"That's kind of their model," Franklin said. "It's going to be our defensive line against their offensive line. I think it's going to be our offensive line against their front seven."

2. The Hawkeyes also have the ability to make explosive plays on special teams, with Iowa leading the Big Ten and ranked sixth nationally averaging 27.8 yards per kickoff return. A large part of the Hawkeye kickoff return includes dynamic defensive back Desmond King, who highlighted the season with a career-long 77-yard kick return against then-No. 10 Wisconsin earlier this year. 

3. King is not only a physical threat in the return game for the Hawkeyes, as the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner and 2016 semifinalist is the only Big Ten student-athlete in the last 20 years with 12 or more interceptions (12) and 1,500 or more combined kickoff or punt return yards (1,580) in their career.

The Final Word -
In its fifth season, the Nittany Lions will honor those who have proudly served on Military Appreciation Day. Through the annual Seats for Servicemembers program, Penn State will provide tickets at no cost to active duty, guard and reserve military veterans and fallen Gold Star families, made possible by the generous support of the Penn State community. Penn State freshman defensive tackle and US Marine Corps veteran Imannuel Iyke will lead the team out on to the field with an American flag Saturday.

"I pretty excited that we get to honor the people who do so much for our country so that we can have the freedom and liberty that we do," running back Andre Robinson said. "We're obviously so thankful for them and this is just a small token that we can recognize them with."

Coach Moorhead Q&A - Iowa Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead took time to talk with members of the media Thursday afternoon during Iowa week. The Nittany Lions and the Hawkeyes are set to meet Saturday at 7:30 p.m. under the lights at Beaver Stadium on Military Appreciation Day.

Check out updates from the Q&A session below.

I'm curious if you could evaluate the offense so far and how things have gone for you during your first season at Penn State.

Moorhead: Through our first eight games I'd say I'm pleased but not satisfied. I think we've certainly come close to meeting our expectations in some categories and fell short a little bit in others. Ultimately, we kind of identified the spots we need to be successful to give ourselves a chance to win - scoring offense, explosive plays, turnover margin, and I think we've been pretty good there and obviously some others that we need to improve on too. 

Can you take us through your process at halftime, how you go about getting guys in different position groups and making the changes you need to make?

Moorhead: When the half ends we go in as an entire coaching staff and Coach Franklin sits in with us. We go over each formation and diagnosis the information, see what coverages they're playing, the fronts, the pressures, and we match that up with what our game plan is, and kind of see what we have that was working, what we have that fits, what we have in the game plan that maybe we haven't called and would work better in the second half. Then we keep a menu of kind of our entire system in there and say, 'alright, we didn't have this during the week, we're seeing this look, this may work' and we break off and the coaches get with their players individually and then I kind of bring everybody up at the end and talk to them one last time before we head out.

You had mentioned that there are some areas that you could improve, could you put a percentage on kind of where you are in this process and is that kind of part of the process when you're installing a new offense at a place like this?

Moorhead: I think the areas that I mentioned earlier are the ones that I really addressed with the offense and the team. I didn't give them a goal on points per game, but did a little bit of research and saw that Penn State offenses who averaged at least 30 points a game, have had a pretty successful record. So we kind of talked about that as a general number that we wanted to approach, so certainly scoring offense, explosive plays and I think we've done a very good job with that. The run game and the pass game, being able to push the ball down the field particularly with teams crowding the box and attempting to stop Saquon [Barkley] and the skill we have on the edge. Then turnover margin obviously, we didn't do a great job with that at the beginning of the year, but I think we've got that under control and have done a good job protecting the football and playing a great complimentary game with the defense and special teams getting us field position and things like that.

Certainly on the other end, some of the ancillary categories that we're not so proficient at right now, obviously third down conversion percentage, which is not good at all and quarterback completion percentage and like I said, those are things that we need to improve on and certainly can help the bigger picture in terms of scoring offense, explosive plays and things like that. Those are ones we need to improve on to help the more major categories get better.  

You mentioned completion percentage, so I'll ask about Trace [McSorley]. Where is he, eight games into his first year in your new system in regards to decision making, ball security and then of course, accuracy?

Moorhead: I think the decision making has been pretty good. There are rarely times when times when we come in and look at the film and say he misdiagnosed the coverage or misread a read and threw it to the wrong person. So from that standpoint, he understands where he is going with the ball and why. From that, you talk about completion percentage. The goal or stand that I've kind of had over the years and what reached at Fordham was 65 percent as the number we're looking for. A lot things go into that, certainly its not an excuse, it's a reality, where we are, the number of balls that we throw down the field, the number of times we see tightly contested man coverage on third and medium-plus. The protection, running the routes and separating and him throwing accurate balls and a lot of that, I think part of avoiding the sacks is Trace making great decisions when nothing's there to throw the ball away. So I don't want to penalize him for that. Certainly 50-55 percent is not where we'd like him to be at, he'd like to be at 65 percent or higher, but I think he is trending in the right direction. I know not the past four games in terms of what the percentage is, but overall throughout the season, I think he's getting toward what we want him to be.

If I can follow up about ball security and why is he able to protect the ball so well the last four games?

Moorhead: I think a few things. I think Coach Franklin does an awesome job - we work on ball security here more than any place I've ever been, including my time as a head coach. Coach Franklin's emphasis on it, working on it on a daily basis - ball high and tight, all the things we do in our ball security circuit and then really emphasizing the quarterback's decision making as part of the ball security process. Not just fumbling the ball and putting it on the ground, but not turning it over through the air. I think Coach Franklin's emphasis on it, how much we drill it in practice and then really from that point, after the first few games where a greater enhancement on two hands on the ball in the pocket and stepping up when you're not throwing it off your first hitch and taking off and running when things aren't there and not just hanging out in the pocket and waiting for things to open up.   

Going back to being an offensive coordinator, what do you miss about that about having that as strictly the sole focus of what's on your plate and maybe now what are some of the things you look back and think, I kind of miss that about being a head coach?

Moorhead: I never really got to step away from the OC part because I did call all the plays at Fordham, so I think it's probably more in line with the second part of your question. Coming back to being an offensive coordinator and not having to worry about the head coaching responsibilities has really allowed me to narrow my focus and concentrate specifically on, with the other assistant coaches, designing a game plan that's going to put our kids in the positon to be successful. Creating a culture on the offensive side of the ball, discipline, work ethic, accountability, attention to detail, because I think those things are just as important as the x's and o's part. As it pertains to recruiting, concentrating on a specific area in a specific position with offensive guys. So not as much of a global approach like when you're a head coach you have to worry about everything, but a more specific, detailed approach. I think that's been a very interesting re-transition.

After the Purdue game when Saquon Barkley was jogging off the field there were a few fans chanting 'Barkley for Heisman,' do you think Saquon has the talent to be in that conversation, whether it's by the end of the season or next season?

Moorhead: Absolutely. You look at some of the things he does on the field, either running the ball or catching it. He does things that are special. Obviously the past few game his production has ramped up and hopefully he continues on that trend. Saquon is a unique talent, a special football player who has those kind of tools. His ceiling is extremely high. The best thing about that is his work ethic and his character match his playing ability so when you combine all of those things, tremendous athlete, great football player, great person, great work ethic, I think the sky's the limit for him. 

In your list four games, the offensive is averaging more than 100 yards and nine points better than in the first four games. Why the big jump in those numbers and what do you think has been the biggest factor?

Moorhead: I think it's the kids settling in and understanding what we're doing and why it pertains to doing it in a game. Toward game four we made a little bit more of a conscious decision, where Coach Franklin and I had this discussion of getting Trace more involved in the run game. There are sometimes when you go through spring ball and through fall camp and you've been in another place and things have worked there and you have an idea that it might fit and work in your system. There were some things we were doing in the run game in the first four games that we we were getting production out of but not necessarily what we had anticipated. There are things within our offensive system that we didn't quit doing, but we emphasized other things. Once we made Trace more of a threat in the run game I think that opened things up for Saquon and I don't think we really made many changes in the pass game and taking quick game of play action shots down the field.  The biggest transition to me was getting Trace more involved in the run game and I think that has helped open things up for everybody.

Your relationship with Coach Limegrover, both of you went to the same high school. How much of that familiarity with each other and trust has paid off with the line do you think?

Moorhead: It was actually the same grammar school too, we both went to St. Bart's in Penn Hills and grew up, really, five or 10 minutes from each other. Matt was not a lot older than me, but a few years older than me so we were never really on the same teams and we weren't in the same grade. My dad coached him, I knew he was a St. Bart's kid, a central kid and through my older brother and sister who had known the Limegrover family and that they're just tremendous people and had respected Matt. Before he got into coaching I knew him as a person and as a football player and obviously what he has done throughout his career with Coach [Jerry] Kill, at Northern, and Minnesota and Southern Illinois, I think we just have a good working relationship, a good personal relationship because we know a lot about each other and kind of grew up in the same mold, so to speak.

What kind of development have you seen from Jake Zembiec and Tommy Stevens?
Moorhead:
Both of those guys are coming along nicely. Tommy has had an opportunity to get in a couple of games and he has definitely a very good athlete with a strong arm, great skill set and he gets all the reps with the two's and does a good job staying locked in mentally and prepared. As you can tell all of the guys on offense, you're one play away and it's the next man in philosophy so I have the utmost confidence in Tommy to go in the game and perform well. Jake works mostly down with the scout team. I get him mostly during the individual periods. I've had him up a little bit. One week he got a few reps with the non-scout team and both of those guys bring a lot to the table. I've worked a lot more with Tommy because he's up with the ones and the two's, but both of those guys have done a good job this season, especially with the mental part of it.

VIDEO: Practice Updates - Iowa

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin and wide receiver Chris Godwin met with members of the media following practice Wednesday at the Lasch Football facility to preview Iowa week. No. 20/23 Penn State is back in Beaver Stadium this week, set to host Iowa primetime matchup under the lights. 

Check out updates from the Q&A session below.

James Franklin

Chris Godwin

Penn State Football's US Marine, Imannuel Iyke

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a few days shy of Penn State Football's Military Appreciation Day, when servicemembers from 27 different states will join the anticipated 107,000 strong in Beaver Stadium Saturday, there will already be one servicemember suited up on the sidelines.

That servicemember is United States Marine Corporal Imannuel Iyke, who now suits up much differently than he did five years ago.

No. 96 on the roster, the Nittany Lion defensive tackle enrolled at Penn State last year at the age of 23.

 "It's kind of a long story," Iyke said with a smile, agreeing to share his unique journey to Penn State on a sun-spotted morning at the Lasch Football Building.

Born in Benin City, Edo, Nigeria, 13-year-old Iyke and his sister, Glory, moved to the United States shortly after their parents, Bennita and Timmi, had already made the move to the U.S. to get settled. 

Growing up in Hackettstown, New Jersey, Iyke played football at Parsippany Hills High School, earning all-district first team accolades in his senior season, as well as All-Northwest Jersey National Division Football second team honors as a linebacker in 2010.

"In my senior year I didn't really know what I was going to do and I didn't have many football offers from colleges or anything," Iyke said. "Only Division III schools were really looking at me."

Unsure of his next step beyond high school, Iyke decided to join one of his best friends on a trip to meet with a US Marine Corps recruiter.

"I ended up sitting there and listening to the recruiter and he was talking about how you travel the world, see all of these cool places and that they would pay for your schooling, so as soon as he said that, I thought cool, sign me up."

Iyke made the decision to enlist, with basic training planned as his first stop after graduation. His parents didn't entirely believe him though, up until departure day had officially arrived.

"When the day finally came and I said, 'alright, I'm leaving,' my mom said, 'there's no way, I thought you were kidding,'" Iyke said. "Then she tried to convince me not to do it but I said, I already signed up and I have to go, I can't back out now." 

Iyke traveled to Parris Island, South Carolina where he completed his 13-week Marine Corps Recruit Training, commonly referred to as boot camp.

"Boot camp was cool," Iyke said with a laugh. "It was hard, but I got through it. It was way worse in my mind, so when I got there, it was a lot easier for me because I thought the complete worst was going to happen to me." 

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Both Iyke's mother and father attended his boot camp graduation, a special experience, as he looks back on the day his parents greeted him with pride at the completion of his training.

On September 19, 2010, Iyke was officially a member of the United States Marine Corps and was off on his first deployment by April 2011. Stationed in both Arizona and Japan throughout the next few years, he returned home to the United States after a stint in Japan and received news that his unit has been disbanded. 

New orders sent him back to Japan for another two years with mini deployments to different countries along the way. 


By the end of his fifth deployment, Iyke knew it was time to make his decision regarding whether or not he wanted to leave the Marine Corps to attend college or continue serving. Though he initially planned on serving for five years with his goal set on attending college, Iyke still found it a little hard to make the decision to leave.

"You make so many friends, have so many experiences and I knew there were so many things that I could only do when I was in the military, but I felt like my time was done and I wanted to see what else was out for me," Iyke said. 

On a Sunday morning, Iyke found himself watching football on television, Penn State and Ohio State in the 2014 double overtime outing at home in Beaver Stadium. 

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"I was sitting there watching the game and in my mind, I thought Penn State is about to lose, Ohio State is a great team, but they just kept fighting and fighting to stay in it and I thought wow, this is a great school," Iyke said. "I liked how the crowd got really into it and the whole atmosphere, I could feel it through the TV even though I was across the whole world." 

Knowing in the back of his mind that football was an interest, and combined with the offering of an intended advertising major, Iyke decided to apply to Penn State that very day.

He was accepted three weeks later.

"When I got home, I was telling all of my friends that I was going to Penn State and they kept telling me that I'm huge now and I should play football," Iyke said.

"Huge" he was, as the rigorous physical training in the Marine Corps had transformed Iyke's body completely, as he went from around 185 pounds when he graduated high school, to an estimated 300 pounds at the time he picked Penn State.

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Though he was initially set on his decision from an academic standpoint, he was still nervous that he wouldn't make the team. An extra bit of advice from his younger cousin soon prompted him to agree to attend run-on tryouts in mid-September, 2015. 

Working with a trainer from his hometown, Iyke got to work preparing for the tryout. With only a number on his shirt, moving from from drill to drill during the one-day tryout - an experience Iyke likened to the NFL Scouting Combine, but something he'd certainly never experienced. 

Things looked promising for Iyke after his bench press and 40-yard dash peaked the interest of the staff. 

Shortly after the tryout, Iyke received the news that he made the team. 

"I went to the tryout and I was the only to make it," Iyke said. "It was really surprising to me because I didn't think that I was going to make it at all - I knew I was big enough, but I didn't know if I was athletic enough."

Iyke can clearly remember his first official day at Penn State football practice, placed in his very first drill with nerves already surrounding him in the unfamiliar environment.

"I just remember coach saying, 'Iyke, welcome to Penn State football' and he put me in there with Sterling [Jenkins] and I got completely blown up and it was the first time that I had hit or done anything in pads in five years so I was completely taken off guard," Iyke said. 

While returning to the football field had its challenges, returning to the classroom wasn't nearly as difficult for Iyke, who credited his Marine Corps training with equipping him with the skills to maintain discipline in getting his assignments completed. Math however, was a little tricky. 

"I had always been good at math in high school but then coming here, I had forgotten everything, I hadn't done math in years, so getting back into that was a challenge." 

Flashback to the football field, as the first time Iyke stepped on to Beaver Stadium, was fittingly, Penn State's non-conference matchup against Army West Point Oct. 3, 2015. 

"I had always seen videos of the team running out through the tunnel, but finally getting to do it, that was just amazing," Iyke said. "Especially on Military Appreciation Day." 

As Penn State's annual Military Appreciation Day game draws closer, it's a game theme that means much more to Marine Corps veteran.

"I appreciate that people take the time to thank the military," Iyke said. "It's not everyday that you get any type of recognition for that type of stuff, for what people are really doing."

It's not just Military Appreciation Day that Iyke receives that type of recognition though, as it's the simple gestures throughout the Penn State football family that have become common during his time on the team.

"Sometimes we'll just be talking about something and someone will say something like, 'hey, I didn't really say it, but thank you, I really appreciate everything you've done' and sometimes it catches me off guard, but I just say thank you."

While Iyke isn't one for sharing too much about his experiences overseas, he did so as part of the team's weekly sharing session at the beginning of the season. 

"Imannuel at the beginning of the season, got up and told his story and about his family background, as well as his time in the military and the difference and the significance that the military had on his life," head coach James Franklin said. "He shared some of the experiences that he had, which really hit home to our team." 

Those experiences, are ones that will remain with Iyke for the rest of his life.

"I feel like a lot of people glorify it like war is cool and they don't realize it's different when you're there, it's not all video games and stuff like that," Iyke said. "When you're there it's a whole different thing, it's life or death and anything that happened, I'm lucky to be here." 

Come Saturday evening against Iowa, Iyke will once again have another opportunity to run through the tunnel, but this time he will be leading the entire Penn State team on to the field at Beaver Stadium with an American flag.

VIDEO: Iowa Week Player Q&A

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nittany Lion tackle Brendan Mahon and running back Andre Robinson sat down for a pair of one-on-one interview to recap the Big Ten road win at Purdue last week, while also looking ahead to Iowa Saturday at Beaver Stadium. 

Updates from the Q&A sessions below. 

Andre Robinson

Brendan Mahon

@GOPSUSPORTS

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