Penn State is one of the best teams in the country, but can it survive a trip to Iowa City?
A season ago, Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes were throttled by an upstart Penn State squad in Happy Valley 41-14. It was uncharacteristic to see a Ferentz coached team get bullied up and down the field, but Penn State did just that as the Nittany Lions gave Iowa their worst loss since they received a 51-14 thrashing at the hands of Minnesota in 2014. Many thought the Hawkeyes were left for dead with #3 Michigan coming to town. So what did the Hawkeyes do?
They handed the undefeated Wolverine squad a stunning 14-13 defeat thanks to the clutch kicking of freshman Keith Duncan.
Iowa finished the season with a three-game winning streak and another January bowl berth. A nice finish to what some had called a “lost season” after the Hawkeyes’ stunning loss to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State in the non-conference slate.
This time, the stakes are a bit different for both sides in this huge Saturday night matchup. Penn State comes into the game as a contender for not only the Big Ten title, but for the national title as well. The Nittany Lions offense is led by the dynamic duo of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. The duo a year ago combined for 5,951 of the total 6,056 yards the 49th ranked offense accumulated. So far this season, McSorely and Barkley have accumulated 1,545 yards of offense through the first three games, and show no signs of being slowed down easily.
The Penn State defense comes into the game ranked 22nd in the country allowing 273.7 yards a game, granted against generally weaker opponents. They also boast the 19th rated pass defense, but only, 50th ranked rush defense. The big playmaker on the Penn State defense is safety Marcus Allen, who a year ago, led the Nittany Lions with 102 tackles, along with three pass break-ups and a blocked field goal against Ohio State.
This season, Allen once again leads the team with 19 tackles through three games and an interception. He’s one of the key defenders that look to slow down a sudden lively Iowa passing attack.
The Iowa offense comes into the game led by electrifying running back Akrum Wadley, who through three games, has accumulated 510 all-purpose yards. Wadley was a major key in the Hawkeyes upset of Michigan a season ago, rushing for 115 yards on 23 carries and hauling in five passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. Wadley looks to be able to provide the same spark he did a year ago, but with an improved passing attack led by sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley, which ranks 74th in the nation, compared to a 118th ranking from a year ago.
The Hawkeye defense comes into this game with goals of a better performance than they put on in Happy Valley last year. The Iowa defense is rated 46th nationally after a sluggish performance against North Texas. While Iowa is ranked 23rd against the run, they rank only 74th against the pass, a challenge for a relatively young secondary. Preseason All-American linebacker Josey Jewell looks to rebound against the Nittany Lions after a bad ankle limited his abilities against Iowa State and North Texas. So far this year Jewell leads Iowa with 28 tackles and two sacks as well. The battle between Jewell and Saquon Barkley is shaping up to possibly be the X-factor in the game.
This one is going to be fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/ET0SMOVpIv— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 21, 2017
The home field advantage in this game could play a huge role in determining who wins. Since the start of the 2015 season, Iowa has a perfect 4-0 record at home in prime time. All of those wins came against Power 5 schools as well: Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Iowa State and Michigan. Another statistic that favors the Hawkeyes is Kirk Ferentz’s career record against Penn State, a satisfactory 8-5, albeit most of those wins were against longtime head coach Joe Paterno.
On paper, Penn State is slated to statistically dominate this game. But this Iowa team is set to avenge the embarrassment they received a season ago in Happy Valley. The home field advantage will give Iowa a much-needed boost, but will it be enough? Saturday night will answer the question.
Edited by Brian Kang.
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