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Penn State vs. Iowa: Game Preview

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Desperate for a win, Penn State is probably running into the wrong team on Saturday.

Iowa v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Penn State will look to turn the page and earn its first victory of the season against a suddenly red-hot Hawkeyes squad.

Penn State (0-4) vs. Iowa (2-2)

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

The Betting Line: Pick ‘Em

TV: BTN - Joe Beninati (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), Rick Pizzo (sideline)

Weather: A pleasant and clear day, with a high near 50 that will cool down to the upper-40s as the game stretches into evening. No rain and little wind expected.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 56-27, 7th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 80-42, 10th Year

VS. IOWA: 4-0

Kirk Ferentz:

IOWA RECORD: 164-106, 22nd Year

OVERALL RECORD: 176-127, 25th Year

VS. PENN STATE: 8-8

FUN FACTS

IOWA OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Penn State will need to focus on limiting Tyler Goodson, the Hawkeyes star-in-the-making running back, to leave with a victory on Saturday. After notching his first 100-yard rushing effort in the regular season finale against Nebraska, Goodson’s sophomore season is off to a smashing start, with 136 yards from scrimmage against Purdue. In the past two weeks, Goodson has totaled 255 yards and four scores on the ground. Goodson is an all-purpose running back who does everything well, picking up tough yardage with the ability to make a cut and explode for long gains as well. He is also an effective receiver, although he’s been used less in the passing game ater catching five passes in week one. Goodson is in the mold of recent Hawkeyes star runing back Akrum Wadley, who nearly single-handedly took down the Nittany Lions in 2017 with an electric fourth quarter performance.

Senior Mekhi Sargent can also do damage when he spells Goodson, and is coming off a 91-yard, one touchdown performance against Minnesota.

Sophomore Spencer Petras is in his first year as starting quarterback for the Hawkeyes after throwing 11 passes in the previous two seasons. While Petras has done fine for his first year as a starter following an abnormal offseason, he still has a long ways to go before being able to take over a game. In his first four starts, Petras is completing 53.7 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and four interceptions. At 6-5, 231 lbs., Petras is mostly comfortable staying in the pocket, but will escape for some additional yardage here and there.

One thing Petras has done extremely well is keeping defenses on its toes by spreading the ball around. Six different Hawkeyes have eight or more receptions on the season, with 11 players with at least one catch. Sophomore tight end Sam LaPorta leads the way with 14 catches for 133 yards, nearly reaching the 15 total receptions from a year ago.

The Hawkeyes offensive line is what you’d come to expect under Ferentz, regularly opening up holes to aid the running game and allowing just three sacks thus far into the season.

Penn State’s defense is much more suited to stop a run-heavy attack, and this could be their most favorable match-up thus far in 2020. While the Hawkeyes have done a good job protecting Petras, the Nittany Lions must find a way to keep him pressured consistently. They may also sell out to slow down Goodson and let the inexperienced Petras do the heavy lifting.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. IOWA DEFENSE

The biggest factor heading into this match-up is who exactly takes the first snap as quarterback for the Nittany Lions. Sean Clifford has shown regression from the end of the 2019 season, turning the ball over at an alarming rate and seeming altogether uncomfortable in the offense (although he hasn’t had much help from his line in pass protection). Things came to a head shortly before halftime against Nebraska last week, as Clifford was shown the bench after throwing his sixth interception of the season, and then lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Levis performed well considering the circumstances, helping Penn State rally that came up short with two stalled drives inside the Nebraska 10 late in the game. Levis ended the day completing 45.2 percent of his passes (14-of-31) with no touchdowns, but didn’t turn the ball over and also contributed 61 yards on the ground.

Levis seems to be the likely choice moving forward, but we will likely need to wait until Saturday afternoon until we learn how James Franklin will handle the quarterback situation.

Whoever ends up starting, and/or getting the majority of snaps for the remainder of the season, they will have two star passcatchers in Jahan Dotson and Pat Freiermuth, who are both on their way to receiving big NFL paydays in the not so distant future. There is also the welcome emergence of true freshmen wideouts KeAndre Lambert-Smith, and espeically Parker Washington.

Iowa’s defense has been impressive thus far, and especially stingy in allowing just seven points apiece in the last two weeks - and the only score the Gophers produced last week came against the backups at the very end of the game.

They are solid at all three levels, and the defensive line can especially cause problems for the Nittany Lions offensive line that has strugglied mightily in pass protection. Defensive linemen Zach VanValkenburg, Daviyon Nixon and Chauncey Gholston can each do damage and make plays in the backfield. They’ve also done wonders for the secondary, forcing bad throws that have resulted in eight interception in the first four game. Jack Koerner leads the way with three after picking off a pass in each of the last three games, while Riley Moss has intercepted a pass in each of the past two contests, including a 54-yard pick-six against the Spartans.

Penn State’s flaws on offense feed directly into the strength of the Hawkeyes defense. The Nittany Lion offense must play clean and have its best outing of the season on Saturday. Otherwise, the Iowa defense could make things ugly rather quickly.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Hawkeyes have a reliable kicker in senior Keith Duncan, who is four-of-six on field goal attempts this season with a long of 47 yards. Over the course of his career, Duncan is 42-of-51 and 84-of-86 on extra point attempts. Freshman Tory Taylor is an Aussie-style punter with a powerful leg who is off to a hot start to his career, averaging 45.8 yards per punt. He has one punt of at least 52 yards in each of his first four games, including a 61-yarder against Michigan State.

PREDICTION

Iowa-28, Penn State-20

You know what you’re getting when preparing for a Kirk Ferentz-led Iowa squad. They will play tough, smart football and never beat themselves. They will keep opponents from getting into a rhythm, and then seize the opportunity when it presents itself. And while they may not have an overwhelming depth of talent, they certainly have a handful of playmakers who can make a difference in those key moments.

Unfortunately, this seems to make Iowa the wrong opponent at the wrong team for this Nittany Lions squad. The weaknesses that have led to the completely unimaginable 0-4 start play right into the strengths of the Hawkeyes, who suddenly look like they’re ready to challenge for the Big Ten West crown.

Penn State plays a cleaner game, but mistakes ultimately doom them once again against a team that doesn’t beat itself.

Pat Freiermuth has another big day with 90 receiving yards and a touchdown, while Caziah Holmes has his best day as a Nittany Lion with 80 yards rushing and a score. On defense, Antonio Shelton produces a sack and 2.5 TFLs, and Joey Porter Jr. gets his first career interception. Ultimately, the Nittany Lions come up short yet again.