After a much needed week off to catch their breath, Penn State is back to the football field with yet another tough conference battle.
This time the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) come calling, and it’s against a coach and place that haven’t treated the Lions well over the years. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz is 8-3 all-time against Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) and the Lions haven’t won at Kinnick Stadium since 1999.
Both are trends the Nittany Lions hope to reverse this week when they battle the Hawkeyes in primetime under the lights at 8 pm on Saturday night. Penn State comes in off the bye week in the middle of a four-game winning streak. Iowa also rolls in with momentum in the form of back-to-back wins to start their Big Ten schedule, including a double overtime thriller last week over Michigan State.
In a series that has featured stingy defenses and dueling ground attacks in the past, expect no different from these two this time around. While they’ve let up the reigns on quarterback Matt McGloin in recent weeks, the Lions will still look to establish the ground game with tailbacks Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak. The Hawkeyes will also rely heavily on its ground game and tailback Mark Weisman, who has racked up more than 600 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season. Penn State has gotten more consistent play from its senior quarterback in Matt McGloin, while the Hawkeyes’ own senior, James Vandenburg, has struggled in throwing just two touchdowns against three interceptions.
Both defenses have kept opponents to under 350 yards of total offense so far this season while allowing 17 points or less. In addition, both are allowing less than 3.7 yards per carry, which will make the establishment of the ground game tough for both teams. On offense, Penn State has more punch in scoring close to 30 points per game whereas Iowa is around 22 a game. The Lions have the better air attack with McGloin, but the Hawkeyes average more yards per carry and total rushing yards. Either way, both defenses will be the best either team will have faced this season by the end of the game.
The matchup also marks a huge game in the Big Ten standings. Both Penn State and Iowa find themselves in first place in their respective divisions. The Hawkeyes are tied with the Michigan Wolverines in the Legends division, and the Lions are tied with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Leaders division. Penn State, however, is not eligible for the Big Ten Championship while the Hawkeyes are. Nevertheless, the Lions are playing for pride and would love to get some payback for the heartbreak Iowa has caused over the past few years. Expect this to be an old school, hard-hitting, big-time Big Ten bash.
Special teams. With two evenly matched teams in a conference game, matchups can be thrown out the window. Both teams will try to establish the run and stop the run. With two solid and stingy defensive units, I don’t see either team having much success. In tight, low scoring games special teams tend to produce either big plays or big mistakes. Whichever team gets either a big play or forces a mistake on special teams could turn the tide in this one. Note that Iowa has one of the best kickers in the nation in Mike Meyer, who is 14-for-15 on field goals while Penn State’s Sam Ficken has struggled, making just 3-for-9 this season.
Players to watch:
Bill Belton, RB, Penn State. The sophomore came into the season as Penn State’s go-to tailback. After injuring his ankle in the opener, he’s now splitting time with Zach Zwinak. It’s time for a breakout performance for Belton, and with plenty of carries to go around this week, it could be his time.
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State. He’s been in this column almost every single week, so you think in game that’ll be a low-scoring, defensive brawl he won’t be involved? Yeah didn’t think so either. Mauti might need his crew to force a turnover of two to get Penn State a road win in this one.
Prediction: Penn State 14 Iowa 10