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No. 4 Penn State at No. 3 Iowa: Game Preview

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We’re expecting a real slobberknocker of a game in Penn State’s first Top 5 match-up since 1999.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Penn State at Iowa Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Things always get interesting in Kinnick, but things are turned up to 11 as two of the nation’s best teams battle it out to stay undefeated.

#4 Penn State (5-0, 2-0) vs. #3 Iowa (5-0, 2-0)

Kickoff: 4 p.m., Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA

The Betting Line: Penn State +2.5

TV: FOX - Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analyst), Jenny Taft (sideline)

Weather: A hot, humid and cloudy day with a high of 84 and little chance of rain.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 65-28, 8th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 88-43, 11th Year

VS. IOWA: 4-1

Kirk Ferentz:

IOWA RECORD: 173-106, 23rd Year

OVERALL RECORD: 185-127, 26th Year

VS. PENN STATE: 9-8

FUN FACTS

IOWA OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras is off to a fantastic start, and has steadily improved following a so-so performance against Indiana in week one. Petras makes excellent decisions and is very effective using play action once running back Tyler Goodson gets things moving on the ground. He has a 62 percent completion rate after five games, with seven touchdowns to just one interception, and is coming off his best performance of the season after going 21-of-30 for 259 yards and three touchdowns (all season highs) in a blowout victory over Maryland.

Iowa’s offensive line has had trouble keeping Petras upright at times this season, giving up two or more sacks in four of five contests, and yielding a season-high four sacks against Iowa State and three by Colorado State. They will face the best pass rush of the season so far against Penn State, who will need to stay in Petras’ face with a four-man front.

Speaking of the standout runner, Goodson seems to be on his way to a first-team All-Big Ten season. He’s a complete running back who can hurt you in many ways - converting short yard situations between the tackles, making something out of nothing with his elusiveness, and being difficult to catch once he’s in the open field. He’s also a standout receiver, and is second on the team in both receptions (12) and receiving yards (146). Ivory Kelly-Martin is an effective replacement, averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season.

This will not come as a surprise at all, but Iowa’s leading receiver by a wide margin is tight end Sam LaPorta, who has 22 catches for 263 yards and two scores. Iowa’s top two wide receivers are tied for third on the team with receptions behind LaPorta and Goodson, with 11 grabs each by Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracey Jr. Ragaini is more of a big play threat, although he has yet to reach the end zone this season. Tracey is used more in the short passing game, with an average of 7.2 yards per catch and a season long of just 14 yards.

This Iowa team is the epitome of the “best offense is a good defense” mantra. They do not let a short field go to waste, which is often considering the opportunistic play of the defense, which leads us to...

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. IOWA DEFENSE

...There are two major keys for Penn State’s offense in this game - eliminate, or at least limit turnovers, and do not give Iowa a short field. If they do not give up these opportunities, the Nittany Lions defense should find success in preventing the Hawkeyes offense to go the length of the field.

Sean Clifford has done a tremendous job protecting the football, with no lost fumbles and just one “true” interception, as one of the three coming on a desperation heave right before halftime, and the other being the result of a perfectly thrown ball bouncing off the receiver’s hands into the waiting arms of a Villanova defender.

Iowa’s defense doesn’t do anything complicated - just play smart, fundamentally-sound football. What has made this defense so stellar this season is their ability to get pressure from a four-man front, and dropping seven into zone coverage. This has helped lead to 12 interceptions on the season, most amongst any team in the nation. The Hawkeyes also lead the way in turnover margin with a +2.4 margin. They also own the second-best scoring defense in the nation, 11th in rushing defense and seventh in yards allowed per game. The silver lining is that the Nittany Lion defense isn’t far behind in those categories.

The Hawkeye defense is similar to Penn State’s with standouts on all three levels. Linebacker Jack Campbell is having an All-American-type season with 46 tackles (leading the team by 13) a sack, four passes defended, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, including one that was returned for a touchdown. The same can be said for Riley Moss, who already has three interceptions and two that resulted in pick-sixes. Defensive end Lukas Van Ness has four sacks, and is the only Hawkeye with more than two on the season.

This Hawkeyes defense makes you earn every yard. They also have a tendency to suffocate the offense until they start beating themselves, and turning the tide by creating turnovers. Penn State can survive a turnover on Saturday, but multiple turnovers may be too much to recover from. Sean Clifford will need to continue the decision-making that’s helped the Nittany Lions to a 5-0 record, while offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich will need to find the holes in the Hawkeyes zone scheme.

SPECIAL TEAMS

It should come as no surprise that Iowa has some outstanding specialists. Kicker Caleb Shudak has excelled in his first year as the starting kicker, connecting on eight of nine field goals, which includes a crucial 51-yarder against Iowa State. He’s perfect on 20 XP attempts as well. Punter Tory Taylor has a booming leg, averaging an eye-popping 47.3 yards per punt and regularly blasting off 60-plus yard punts.

Wide receiver Charlie Jones has proven to be a dangerous punt returner, averaging 12 yards per return on the season. Penn State has yet to defend a kick return thanks to Jordan Stout’s ability to put the ball through the end zone, which will need to continue on Saturday as the special teams battle will be as crucial as ever in a game when not many points are expected.

Speaking of which, it would be an excellent time for Dotson to take a punt return to the house - something that seems possible every time he attempts a return.

PREDICTION

Penn State-20, Iowa-17

I was prepared to call a 13-10 game, but both teams will likely have a momentum-shifting big play at some point. I’ll go with Tyler Goodson slicing his way for six on a screen, as well as Jahan Dotson breaking free on a punt return. Although, a pick-six is also a real possibility for either defense.

Other than that, I’m expecting a total slobberknocker for four quarters. We’ll see plenty of great defense, hard hits, and two teams leaving it all on the field. While Penn State’s struggles in the run game on short yardage situations gives me great pause, the Nittany Lions seem to have a slight advantage thanks to the playmakers on offense.

Jaquan Brisker shines under the bright spotlight once again with a performance that includes a game-sealing interception that puts him on the shortlist for the Thorpe Award. Ellis Brooks gives a masterful performance in the middle with 10 tackles, while PJ Mustipher helps thwart the run game with three negative tackles and impacting plays throughout the afternoon. On offense, Parker Washington comes up big to lead the team in receiving yards, while Clifford makes a huge impact with his legs to produce several key runs that give the offense a spark at the right moment.

Let’s do this.