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No.17 Penn State vs. No.18 Iowa: Game Preview

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Penn State hosts Iowa in a crucial home game.

Penn State v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Penn State gets a chance to knock off a ranked opponent and gain bowl eligibility as the Iowa Hawkeyes roll into town.

(18)Penn State (5-2, 2-2) vs. Iowa (6-1, 3-1)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -5.5*

TV: ABC- Steve Levy (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analyst), Todd McShay (sideline)

Weather: A wet and chilly day, with highs in the low 40s. Showers are expected all throughout the afternoon, making for very soggy conditions.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 41-19, 5th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 65-34, 7th Year

VS. IOWA: 2-0

Kirk Ferentz:

IOWA RECORD: 149-98, 20th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 161-119, 23rd

VS. PENN STATE: 8-6

NOW THE FUN PART....

IOWA OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley is quietly having a superb season, completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,559 yards with 16 touchdowns to six interceptions. However, he does run hot and cold at times so you just don’t know what you will get from him, regardless of the opponent. He had two of his best performances recently against Minnesota and Indiana, where he threw for a combined 634 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, he came back down to earth last week against Maryland, completing 11 of 22 passes for 86 yards. He also had a similar performance against Northern Illinois in week one, completing just 11 of 23 for 108 yards, and like the Maryland game, threw one touchdown and an interception.

Stanley is a pure pocket passer with a 6-4 242 lb. frame. He will rarely leave the pocket, and in two years as a starter, his game-high for rushing yards is just 15. His offensive line does a great job of keeping him upright and giving him time, as Stanley has only been sacked five times in seven games.

Fortunately for Penn State, running back Akrum Wadley is now in the NFL. Wadley was Iowa’s top offensive weapon in recent memory, and single-handily brought Iowa back for a late lead in 2017. Taking his place is sophomore Torren Young, although Kirk Ferentz will typically go with whichever running back has the hot hand. Young leads the team with 403 yards, but sometimes disappears from the game plan- in four games this season he’s had less than 10 carries. Fellow sophomore Mekhi Sargent also receives regular carries, and is coming off two solid outings as he rushed for 59 yards against Indiana and 54 versus Maryland. Another sophomore, Ivory Kelly-Martin, could receive the majority of carries on Saturday. After recovering from a concussion, Kelly-Martin came just shy of a 100 yard effort against Maryland on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes offense relies heavily on tight ends, and may have the best one in the nation in Noah Fant. Despite receiving the lions share of attention from defenses, Fant leads the Hawkeyes in receiving with 26 catches for 312 yards and six scores. Another tight end, T.J. Hockenson, leads the team in receiving yards with 424. He had a huge game in a close loss to Wisconsin, racking up 125 yards on just three receptions. Both can really move for their size (both players are listed at 6-5 and 250 lbs.), and have potential to create some major headaches for an inconsistent Nittany Lions defense.

Senior Nick Easley is Stanley’s top target at the receiver position, but his productivity can be very inconsistent. For Penn State to come out with a victory, they will need to focus on stopping the run and keeping the Hawkeyes incredibly talented tight ends in check.

Defensive end Shaka Toney ended the Indiana game on an absolute tear, accumulating four sacks during the Hoosiers final three drives. He’ll look to pick up where he left off. The same can be said for Yetur Gross-Matos, who had a team leading 10 tackles and contributed two sacks at Indiana.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. IOWA DEFENSE

Penn State will face the best overall defense so far thus season on Saturday, which is bad news considering the offense has been in a state of disarray after a hot start. Iowa has outstanding talent on all three levels, and it will be crucial for Penn State to eliminate the constant mistakes that continue to thwart drives and miss opportunities.

The offensive line will be in for a test, as the Hawkeyes have several players upfront who can get after the quarterback. Anthony Nelson is one of the best defensive ends around. The 6-7 behemoth has five sacks on the season and seems to create problems for whoever is lining up across from him. Sophomore A.J. Epenesa leads the team with six sacks, and has at least one in five of seven games played this season. Senior defensive end Parker Hesse is highly disruptive as well. He’s accumulated three sacks and is tied with Epenesa with a team-leading seven TFLs. Chauncey Golston also provides quality depth with not much dropoff as a reserve.

The secondary is also filled with playmakers. The Hawkeyes have picked off nine passes on the season, and have three players with multiple picks. The safeties are especially productive- free safety Jake Gervase is tied for the team lead in tackles, while strong safety Amani Hooker is third in tackles and also has two interceptions, five pass break ups and a safety.

As previously noted, Iowa’s defense doesn't really have many weak spots to attack. They are second in the nation in rushing defense and 18th against the pass. They are only yielding 258 yards and 14.1 points per game, so nothing will come easy on Saturday.

This game certainly has a make-or-break feel for the Nittany Lions offense. The offense has been inconsistent at times, and a far cry from the explosive big-play unit that often moved the ball at ease. The drops and inopportune penalties are still holding them back and greatly reducing productivity. Now they have one of the best defenses in the nation coming to town, and will be facing two more exceptional defenses in the coming weeks.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Iowa has a reliable kicker in Miguel Recinos, which is incredibly important as this game could easily come down to a field goal. Recinos is 10-of-13 on the season, and has made all three of his field goal attempts between 40-49 yards. His career long is 48 yards. They also have a very steady punter in Colten Rastetter, who is averaging 43.6 yards per punt. While he doesn’t have a booming leg, he also doesn’t have any poor punts either.

The Hawkeyes have a dangerous kick returner in receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who is averaging 33.3 yards per return on the season with a long of 60. Receiver Kyle Groeneweg handles punt returns, averaging 7.4 yards per return with a long of 23. The Hawkeyes do not have a return touchdown on the season, although Smith-Marsette seems prepared to break one at any point in the near future.

PREDICTION

Iowa-27, Penn State-21

Here’s the simple, plain truth about these two teams at this juncture- Iowa comes prepared each Saturday to put its best foot forward, while Penn State has been incredibly haphazard each week with regular mistakes. This will be a typical Big Ten game played in sloppy conditions, meaning it will come down to the little things like field position, turnovers, and minimizing costly mistakes. There’s no question which team has the advantage in that regard.

I expect this to be a close contest throughout with neither team taking a double-digit lead. However, Iowa makes the plays at the end to come out with a victory, while the Nittany Lions have a few costly mistakes that once again is the difference between a win and a loss.

Miles Sanders is his usual self, running for 120 and a touchdown, while McSorley chips in another 70 yards on the ground with a score, and tosses for another to Jahan Dotson, who finds the end zone for the first time as a Nittany Lion. Cam Brown leads the team in tackles with 10, while Yetur Gross-Matos builds off of last week’s strong performance with a sack and three TFLs.

*The line for this game has seen some interesting shifts since being posted on Sunday. If you want to play the odds on this one check out SBD, a great resource for researching your wager.