Game Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions
Iowa returns home on Saturday to host the 10th ranked Penn State Nittany Lions at 6:44 P.M. in beautiful and historic Kinnick Stadium. The Hawks will enter ranked 17th in Associated Press poll following their defeat at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines. Iowa sits at 4-1 overall with a 1-1 record in the Big Ten. Penn State comes off a 35-7 bludgeoning over a banged up Purdue Boilermakers team. Penn State sports a perfect 5-0 record with a 2-0 record in the Big Ten. The two teams met a year ago in State College, with the then #18 Nittany Lions defeating the then #17 Hawkeyes by a final score of 30-24.
Iowa's Offense Against The Nittany Lions Defense
The Iowa offense will enter this matchup off their worst performance of the year and Nate Stanley will be looking for a bounce back game, as he failed to record a touchdown a week ago and threw three interceptions in the loss. The offensive line will also look to to rebound from the 8 sacks allowed a week ago.
Iowa's offense will have its work cut out for it as they try to exorcise the offensive demons from a week ago. Penn State enters the game ranked 2nd in the nation with a minuscule 7.4 points per game allowed and boast an astounding 21.5 sacks on the season to date. Penn State's defense really hasn't shown any weaknesses to date, only allowing just over 240 yards of total offense per game, including an exceptional 50.6 yards per game on the ground, through five games this season.
Despite all the stats saying Penn State has a decided advantage in this unit matchup, there are some factors that have helped them put up those stats. Iowa will be a significant jump up in talent compared to the teams that Penn State has played to date. The Penn State defense has also benefited from huge leads by the offense, allowing them to pin its ears back and rush the quarterback. Iowa should change that script. The Iowa defense will be the best that Penn State has faced to date, and the Penn State defense won't have the benefit of knowing that their opponent has to throw the ball to stay in the game.
I expect Iowa to establish the run early on the heels of their 1 rushing yard performance against the Wolverines. Iowa's offense should be run heavy early, with Stanley getting more chances as the game wears on, especially if the Hawks can force Penn State to commit more defenders to stopping the run.
I think Iowa exorcises some of its demons from a week ago and put up 24 points on a stingy, but largely untested Penn State defense.
Iowa's Defense Against The Nittany Lions Offense
The weather forecast will have a huge impact on this unit matchup, particularly if the forecasted 40 m.p.h. wind gusts rear their ugly head.
Penn State boasts a potent and balanced offense, predicated largely on the arm and legs of quarterback Sean Clifford. Clifford is responsible for nearly 1,700 total yards on the year, with nearly 1,500 through the air and 200 on the ground. Clifford has shredded defenses this year, utilizing the short passing game to hit wide open receivers in space, then finding wide receivers down the field when teams commit to slowing down the short passing game. His top target, and a high priority for the Iowa defense to account for, is K.J. Hamler who had over 90 yards against the Hawkeyes a year ago.
The Iowa defense will have to be fundamentally sound in this one, as many of Penn State's big plays have come after making the first tackler miss or on Clifford dumping down to his running backs in the flats. The Iowa defense has risen to every occasion this season, this Saturday should be no different.
This offense runs through Clifford, and he will have to be Iowa's number one priority if they want to emerge victorious in this game. Iowa should be aided by the wind, a raucous Kinnick night crowd, and proven themselves time and again this year. A potent Penn State offense hits a road bump in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes hold them to a tie with their lowest point output on the season at 17.
As with every game against ranked opponents, special teams likely play a key role throughout the game. Michael Sleep-Dalton's ability to use both the rugby and standard style punts should work to his benefit, as he can adjust to maximize or minimize the wind's impacts on his kicks. Keith Duncan's range is likely to be limited in a cold windy game, but I trust him if the offense gets into his range to hit field goals. Special teams continue to only help the Hawkeyes, as they have all year.
Iowa didn't pass their test against Michigan a week ago. Kinnick at night, with the 2009 Orange Bowl team in attendance and a pregame flyover should help them get over that loss. Nate Stanley comes out firing and will have a big game after the debacle against Michigan. The offensive line will be better than they were a week ago and paves the way for a much improved run game.
The Iowa defense will be the best defense that Penn State has faced to date, and shapes up to be a difficult matchup for a Penn State offense that has benefited from broken tackles and wide open receivers. On a night where the weather is likely to play a huge factor, I've got Iowa by a touchdown, with the Iowa defense having to stand tall late to seal the win.
Penn State 17
As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!
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