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No. 4 Penn State at Iowa: Game Preview

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It’s time for Big Ten play!

NCAA Football: Iowa at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State and Iowa both look to remain unbeaten in front of a nationally-televised, prime time audience.

(4) Penn State (3-0) vs. Iowa (3-0)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA

The Betting Line: Penn State -12.5

TV: ABC-Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Maria Taylor (sideline)

Weather: Hot and cloudy with temperatures in the low 90s during the day making for a humid evening and little chance of rain.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 28-15, 4th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 52-30, 7th Year

VS. IOWA: 1-0

Kirk Ferentz:

IOWA RECORD: 137-92, 19th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 149-113, 22nd Year

VS. PENN STATE: 8-5

NOW THE FUN PART....

IOWA OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

The success of Iowa’s offense on Saturday could come down to the health of running back Akum Wadley, who left last week’s victory against North Texas after injuring his ankle. Wadley is expected to play, but if he is not his usual self and/or needs to exit the game, Iowa will be down to its third-string running back as back-up James Butler was also injured in week three, and has been ruled out for the next month.

Wadley is far-and-away the biggest playmaker on the Iowa offense. Like Saquon Barkley, he is dangerous as a runner and receiver and the Hawkeyes offense relies on getting the ball into his hands in a variety of ways. Wadley leads the team with 258 rushing yards through three contests, and is also the second-leading receiver with six catches for 152 yards. During Penn State’s 41-14 victory in 2016, Wadley was basically the only player who was able to move the ball against the Nittany Lions defense.

Sophomore Nathan Stanley has stepped into the starting role at quarterback, and has show tremendous potential to start the season. Stanley was brilliant in the Hawkeyes biggest game of the non-conference season, going 27 of 41 for 333 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions in a comeback 44-41 overtime victory against Iowa State. Overall, he is completing 61.4 percent of passes with 10 touchdowns and only one interception- not bad at all for the first three starts of his career. Like the three quarterbacks Penn State has faced thus far, Stanley is a tall dropback passer with limited scrambling ability. Expect more of the same from Penn State’s defense- varied looks to keep pressure on Stanley and not allow him to get too comfortable in the pocket.

Wide receiver Nick Easley is Stanley’s primary target, catching 16 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Easley depends on his speed and has proven to be very dangerous in the open field. Fifth-year senior Matt Vandenberg is another reliable option who always seems to find a way to get open when the Hawkeyes need to move the chains.

Iowa’s offensive line will be the biggest challenge yet for the Nittnay Lions defensive front. With a heavy rotation along the defensive line, it will be interesting to see if they can wear down the Hawkeyes in the trenches if the game is tightly contested into the fourth quarter. Penn State could be without starting defensive end Torrence Brown, who was carted off the field against Georgia State.

IOWA DEFENSE VS. PENN STATE OFFENSE

Iowa’s general gameplan is much like Penn State’s during the Paterno era- Run the ball, don’t make unnecessary mistakes, win the turnover battle, and of course, play stout defense. While this is not likely to be a premiere Hawkeyes defense, it should be the biggest challenge for the Penn State offense thus far in 2017.

The Hawkeyes have perhaps the Big Ten’s top linebacker, and one of the best overall defensive players, in Josey Jewell. The fifth-year senior is a smart, disciplined player who can patrol from sideline-to-sideline and also has a penchant for making plays. Through three games, Jewell has 26 stops, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups. If Iowa’s defensive line can hold their own, Jewell will be able to snuff out Barkley and meet him at the line of scrimmage throughout the evening.

Iowa has replaced plenty of talent in the secondary this fall, and it has shown throughout the first three games. While the rush defense has been stout, the Hawkeyes are giving up 238 yards per contest through the air. Expect Trace McSorley to test the secondary early by divvying the ball to his many options, especially as the Hawkeyes are more than likely to mainly focus on stopping Barkley.

Iowa’s front seven will be the biggest test for the Nittany Lions young and talented, but still developing, offensive line. Their ability for consistent run blocking will be a huge indicator of how they will perform against some incredibly talented defensive lines ahead on the schedule.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Iowa kicker Miguel Recinos is perfect on the year, connecting on three field goal attempts with a long of 44, and all 12 extra points. Punter Colten Rastetter has a 39.8 yard average through three games, and had a career-long 47 yard punt against North Texas.

Wadley’s injury concerns could also hurt the Hawkeyes special teams, as he is the team’s most dangerous returner with a 25.0 average on the season. In his place could be fellow running back Ivory Kelly-Martin, who is averaging 20.8 yards on four returns this season.

Penn State kicker Tyler Davis has shown signs of being human, missing two field goals in the first three weeks after basically going perfect in 2016. Hopefully, Davis has gotten this out of his system and returns to his reliable self as the schedule gets tougher.

Barkley will be back once again to return kickoffs. His sole return against Georgia State was good for 37 yards.

PREDICTION

Penn State-31 Iowa-17

This week has been a battle between the logical and illogical portions of my brain (which, for the record, is mostly comprised of portions of the latter and a delicious goo). The logical side looks at this match-up and is confident the Nittany Lions can easily outpace the Hawkeyes. But then there’s the part of me that keeps replaying all of the horrifying, heartbreaking moments against Iowa that stretched from my childhood into adulthood.

I’ll go with the logical side and predict a satisfying victory for Penn State, with the Hawkeyes keeping it close into the second half before Penn State begins to pull away in the third quarter.

Barkley is his usual self with 200 yards from scrimmage, with Juwan Johnson and Mike Gesicki reeling in touchdowns. For the second year in a row, Tommy Stevens plows through several Iowa defenders on his way to the end zone. The defense comes up big in the second half, with Shareef Miller forcing a fumble and Christian Campbell picking off a pass in the fourth quarter to help seal the ‘W’ for the Nittany Lions.