#4 Penn St. Nittany Lions (5-0 Big Ten East) vs #3 Iowa Hawkeyes (5-0 Big Ten West)
4 p.m. ET, October 9, 2021--Fox
The Historic Kinnick Stadium (Capacity: 69,250 / Iowa City, IA)
The Redzone TD% and Redzone TD% Defense are calculated by me and not ranked by the NCAA. Determining who has the advantage in these categories is strictly my arbitrary judgment.
I can’t be the only one who has somehow completely forgotten all about the 2019 Penn State-Iowa game, can I? Like, I legitimately cannot recall a single play from it, and we won the game! What a difference from 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2020, and I could not tell you why.
What I will tell you, though, is unlike last season - there’s a lot more chipmunks up on this big board than I expected. My expectations for this matchup is that it’ll be a close game (conventional wisdom says low-scoring, which means it’s going to be the opposite) - but I honestly didn’t expect more PSU logos on the board than tigerhawks. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Specifically delving into the numbers, what stands out the most to me are special teams, and red zone opportunities.
This year, the Hawkeyes are priding themselves on winning two out of the three facets of the game - defense (when their defenders are on the field), and special teams. But they’re running into a PSU squad that’s been doing basically the same thing - and the teams are pretty evenly matched on the special teams front. What those numbers above don’t tell you, though, are special teams opportunities rather than averages - in punting situations, UI has returned 16 to Penn State’s 10, and allowed 11 punt returns to Penn State’s 4. In kicking off, PSU has the advantage with reigning Big Ten Special Teams POTW Jordan Stout, who’s had no kicks returned on the season; Iowa’s had 8 kicks returned (both teams are evenly matched when returning kicks, with the Hawkeyes returning 9 kickoffs this season, with the Nittany Lions returning 7).
The other numbers that are glaring to me, as said above, are the red zone opportunities. We all knew that this Penn State defense just stiffens up in the red zone - but only allowing 5 TDs on 15 red zone tries - and only 3 field goals out of those additional 10 scoring opportunities! - is just monster for a defense that, last year, was in the bottom third of the nation in the red zone (side note, don’t click on that link unless you want to get nauseous about where PSU was headed into this game last season). I normally don’t explain why I give whichever team an edge in the one arbitrary category on this chart (redzone TD %) but this time, I think it’s quite obvious why I gave the edge to PSU when Iowa’s offense is in the redzone.
On the flip side, the very good ball-hawkish Iowa defense has only allowed ten trips inside the red zone all season (an average of two times per game) - but has allowed 6 touchdowns and three field goals amongst those ten trips. I’m putting a push in the redzone when PSU’s offense is there because Iowa’s defense is just so good (and, as mentioned, very hawkish) and I’m not quite ready to give a still-new Yurcich offense the benefit of that doubt yet. But I wouldn’t blame you if you disagreed.
What say you all?