Preview, Prediction: Hawkeyes Shooting for Signature Win at Penn State
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa is enjoying a fine season. Still, the Hawkeyes are searching for a signature win.
They can get that this Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN) on the road at No. 17 Penn State. It would be their first victory against a ranked opponent this season.
No. 18 Iowa (6-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) is riding a three-game winning streak since losing to Wisconsin at the end of September. The Nittany Lions (5-2, 2-2) are coming off a win at Indiana after losing back to back home games to Ohio State and Michigan State.
Both teams could really use a win Saturday. Iowa is chasing a Big Ten West title. Penn State already has two home losses.
That’s how Iowa views this matchup. It’s the next opportunity not revenge from last year’s last-second loss to the Lions or as a chance for a marquee win in ’18.
“I don’t think this game carries any more weight than any other game on the schedule this year,” Hawkeye defensive lineman Parker Hesse said.
Players must approach it that way. Realistically, a win against Penn State carries more weight than one at Illinois next month in terms of public perception. That said, the Hawkeyes probably need to sweep their final five games to win the West.
In that pursuit, Penn State is the next outfit standing in the way. It comes into the contest having won the last four meetings against the Hawkeyes.
“One thing about playing Penn State, this has been true for a long, long time, you’re guaranteed they’re going to have good players. They’ve recruited well forever up there. Tremendously gifted, tremendously athletic. They have good size, speed, talent. That’s a given,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes won’t have to deal with all-world running back Saquon Barkley, who dominated last year’s game and left for the NFL after the season. They will have to handle his sidekick, quarterback Trace McSorley, who’s last-second, seven-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson in Iowa City helped his team escape with a 21-19 victory last September.
McSorley stresses defenses with his arm and his legs. He’s skilled at disguising the run-pass option (RPO) aspect of the offense.
He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in yards per completion (13.16) and leads all conference quarterbacks in rushing yards (554). He’s No. 8 in the league overall in ground yards.
“It’s really tough. I’ve said it before, when you think about Braxton Miller, some of the guys like that, it’s like playing 12 guys when you face those guys. He can make a play out of nothing. He’s got that ability. That’s why he’s such a dangerous performer,” Ferentz said.
McSorley has help. While he’s not Barkley (few are), Miles Sanders is a really good running back. He ranks third in the Big Ten with 110.3 rushing yards a game. His eight rushing touchdowns tie him with his quarterback for the most in the league.
KJ Hamler is dangerous in the open field as a receiver and on returns. He leads the team in receptions (22), receiving touchdowns (5) and yards per catch (18.2). He’s 17th nationally with 26.6 yards per kick return.
Defensively, the Lions lead the conference in sacks with 25. It likes to blitz and takes chances by bringing defensive backs.
“They do a lot of counters and stuff at the top of their rush when they get to the quarterback level. That’s where they get a lot of their sacks,” Hawkeye offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “We can’t let our internal clock get the best of us, thinking the play is over and they can hit us with something at the very end.”
Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring defense at 14.1 points per game, which ranks fifth nationally. The 2.7 yards yielded per carry rates sixth in the country.
“They’re as sound as it gets on defense and really have been for a long time. They’re disciplined, they’re physical, and they’re well-coached,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
The Lions moved the ball well on Iowa last year but struggled finishing drives. The Hawkeyes have improved defensively since that game.
“They pose a lot of challenges as far as how you’re going to block them up front with their ability and size and all that, and you’ve really got to earn it, like I said, on offense in the passing game and in the running game. That’s what they did last year to us, made us earn everything,” McSorley said.
Iowa’s offense is showing more dimensions that it has in recent years. The tight ends, receivers and running backs all are contributing to a balanced attack. Quarterback Nate Stanley is improving weekly.
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“It’s going to be tough because he’s experienced so he’s played in tough environments like this before, so we’re just going to prepare for him like we do any other quarterback every week, but I think he’ll give us a good challenge, but I think we’ll be up for it,” Lion cornerback Amani Oruwariye said.
Iowa and Penn State have faced one common opponent this season. The Hawkeyes won at Indiana, 42-16, two weeks ago. The Lions claimed a 33-28 victory in Bloomington last Saturday.
TV ANNOUNCERS: Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Todd McShay on ESPN.
SERIES: Saturday will be the 28th meeting between Iowa and Penn State. The Nittany Lions
have won the last four meetings and hold a 15-12 advantage in the series. The last time the teams met with both schools ranked in the AP Top 25 was 2010, when No. 17 Iowa defeated No. 20 Penn State 24-3 in Iowa City.
BETTING LINES: Penn State opened as a 7.5-point favorite on Sunday, a number that dropped to 6 as of Monday at the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas. The total was set at 52.5.
-Penn State is 13-4-1 Against The Spread in its last 18 games at home.
-The total has gone OVER in 4 of Penn State’s last 6 games at home.
-Iowa is 8-1 ATS in its last 8 games overall.
-The total has gone OVER in 4 of Iowa’s last 5 games on the road.
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PENN STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH
–Trace McSorley, QB – He lost a lot of firepower on offense from last year’s team and it’s shown with some inconsistencies this year. He comes into this game ranked eighth in passing efficiency among Big Ten signal callers. Still, he’s always dangerous with his arm and legs. He can take over a game.
–Miles Sanders, RB – Sanders was never going to be Saquon Barkley but he’s still been pretty darn good. He averages 110 rushing yards a game and 6.5 yards per carry. His eight touchdowns are tied for tops in the league. He’s well put together with good speed.
–Nick Scott, S – Scott is the do-everything type defensive back who seems to be all over the field making plays. He supports the run well but also can cover. He’s among the team’s leading tacklers for loss.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Penn State: The Nittany Lions have been up and down on defense this season. They better be able to slow down Iowa’s running game or it could be a long afternoon.
Iowa: Contain McSorley. If he gets in a rhythm, he can put a team on his back.
-Penn State freshman K Jake Pinegar and Iowa freshman DB Riley Moss played together at Ankeny Centennial in Iowa.
-Penn State leads FBS in scoring offense in the second half, averaging 24.86 points. Houston is second averaging 23.43 points.
-Penn State leads the Big Ten in “big play” (15 or more passing yards and 12 or more rushing yards) percentage (16.50 percent of plays; 11th in FBS) an 12 or more yard run percentage (15.09 percent of plays; 8th in FBS). (Per Coaches by the Numbers).
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-Penn State is averaging 240.7 rushing yards per game to rank second in the Big Ten and 13th in FBS.
-Penn State leads the Big Ten in both sacks (3.57) and tackles for loss (8.4) per game. Nationally, Penn State ranks third and 10th, respectively.
-Iowa’s defense leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth in the country in scoring defense (14.1). The Hawkeyes have held four of their opponents to a season-low in points (Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Indiana, Maryland).
-Iowa’s defense allows 2.7 yards per carry, sixth in the country. The Hawkeyes are one of three defenses in the country to have allowed only three rushing touchdowns (Alabama, Auburn).
-Senior C Keegan Render leads an off ensive line that has allowed six quarterback sacks, fewest in the Big Ten, tied for ninth nationally. The Hawkeyes start two sophomore offensive tackles (LT Alaric Jackson and RT Tristan Wirfs) and rotate starting guards who have a combined 16 career starts (RG Cole Banwart, RG Dalton Ferguson, and LG Ross Reynolds).
-With one more win, Kirk Ferentz becomes the fi Ō h coach in conference history to win 150 games as a member of the Big Ten Conference. The top five includes Woody Hayes (202), Amos Alonza Stagg (199), Bo Schembechler (194), Joe Paterno (162), and Ferentz (149).
-The Hawkeyes lead the country averaging 30.1 yards per kickoff return. WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette has six returns for 200 yards (33.3). Iowa has returned only nine kickoffs this season. Kyle Groeneweg averages 27.0 yards on two returns. Devonte Young has one return for 24 yards.
Penn State – Nathan Cook
Iowa – Grant MacEwan
HOWE I SEE IT: Before the season, this looked like Iowa’s toughest game. While it still might end up being that, it appears a lot more winnable now that we’ve seen both teams play.
I actually think Iowa is playing better football right now. It certainly is the more well-rounded and balanced outfit to date.
The catch is that it’s a road game, and a tough one at that. The environment at Penn State is among the hardest in the country for a visiting team.
The Nittany Lions also are loaded with a lot of individual talent. It’s just not come together yet but it certainly could this week.
Weather might be a factor in this one as well. Remnants of Hurricane Willa could push a wintery mix into State College.
All that said, I can’t go against the Hawkeyes right now. They’re rolling and I’ll roll with them until they show me otherwise.
PREDICTION: IOWA 34, Penn State 30
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