The Breakdown: Penn State

Iowa and Penn State have clashed for some epic battles during the last decade. The Big Ten foes open the conference season against each other for a second year in a row when the Nittany Lions visit Kinnick Stadium for a prime time showdown. Publisher Rob Howe takes an in-depth look at the match-up in The Breakdown.

IOWA CITY, Ia. - The Breakdown - Penn State:

Joe, why has Iowa been so successful, especially lately? And are there similarities between the way you run your program and Kirk (Ferentz) runs his?

Joe Paterno - Well, I don't know about the similarities. I can tell you, Iowa has been a good, solid football team that's played extremely well against us. And I think Kirk's done a great job. They're recruiting well.

He's been able to keep his coaching staff together. That defensive coordinator (Norm Parker) does a great job for them. He's been with them a long time. And I think when he (Kirk Ferentz) plays Penn State there's a little bit something there because he is a Pennsylvania kid and his father in law and I were high school teammates together Gerry Hart.

But, they just do a good job. They recruit well. Their kids play hard. They're disciplined. You've got to beat them. They don't beat themselves.

Last year, we thought we had them licked and we made one or two mistakes and they took advantage of it. They blocked the punt at midfield and scored, and then they came back and intercepted a pass, took it to the 24 yard line; and the year before that, out there, they scored on a field goal on the last play of the ball game. Great job on the last drive. They're a good football team, well-coached, that's what it's all about, I suppose.

There you have it from college football's all-time leader in coaching victories. Iowa and Penn State renew what's been a nail-biting series for the better part of two decades.

The teams have split the previous 22 meetings with six of the last 10 meetings being decided by a touchdown or less. Iowa is a touchdown favorite Saturday night.

"I'm not sure why they'd be considered the underdog," Ferentz said. "Again, I'm looking at a team that's won 51 games, five years, they don't give up points. I mean, I think our biggest margin of victory in this series is 12 points back in '03.

"We've had tough games with them or we've gotten nailed pretty good. I'm expecting this thing to be a real 60minute game and hopefully we'll be in there in the fourth quarter."

TELEVISION: The game will be shown to a national audience on ESPN. Mark Jones and Bob Davie will have the call with Jeannine Edwards working the sidelines. The broadcast is set to begin at 7 p.m. central with kickoff scheduled for 7:06 p.m.

RECORDS, RANKINGS: Both teams are 3-1. The AP ranks Iowa 17th, while the coaches put the Hawkeyes at No. 18. Penn State is 22nd and 20th.

HISTORY: The teams each have won 11 of their 22 meetings.

THE LINE: Danny Sheridan listed the game as Iowa minus seven points on Monday. I thought it would be in the 4-5 point range.

I saw the line move to Iowa -7½ in a few offshore spots from Sunday to Monday. That means the early money was going on the Hawkeyes.

I think that early money is right. Penn Sate is the bigger national name and sometimes that can push the opening number down with the thinking that some of the less educated bets would go on the Nittany Lions.

Iowa is the better team with the home field for homecoming under the lights. Penn State has the revenge factor, but that didn't help the Lions last year in State College. He really hasn't helped them during the Ferentz Era.

I'll be interested to see if the late money comes in on Penn State. That's when the pro gamblers and wise guys make their moves. They jumped on Arizona late.

KEY MATCH-UPS:

-PSU True freshman QB Rob Bolden vs. Iowa Defense/Kinnick Stadium - The Lions rookie struggled mightily in a 24-3 loss at No. 1 Alabama in Week 2. Bolden completed just 13 of 29 passes for 144 yards and two picks. He also fumbled twice.

The Hawkeyes enter this game with the top-rated defense statistically in the country. Combine that with a night crowd at Kinnick Stadium, where Iowa's won 47 of its last 56 games, and it's a lot to ask of a freshman making his first Big Ten start. Penn State last won here in 1999, a span of three games.

-PSU C Doug Klopacz vs. Iowa DTs - Last year's starting man in the middle, Stefen Wisniewski, moved to guard this year after an all-Big Ten campaign in 2009. Klopacz suffered an ACL tear in '08 and has seen very little playing time in his five years in Happy Valley.

Iowa's interior line is rolling right now. Mike Daniels is the reigning co-Big Ten defensive player of the week after creating havoc against Ball State. Christian Ballard and Karl Klug are physical seniors that overpower many blockers. Don't be surprised to see all-American end candidate Adrian Clayborn sneaking inside to give Klopacz something else to think about.

-Iowa's Kick Coverage vs. PSU Returners Chaz Powell and Stephfon Green - The Hawkeyes looked much better in this area on Saturday, but the Lions return men will challenge an area that had been shaky for the Iowa before Ball State.

Powell has brought back six kicks for 199 yards and a touchdown and ranks eighth nationally in yards per return. Green has gained 100 yards on four returns.

I don't think there are going to be a lot of kickoffs in this game, but the Hawkeyes need to execute their assignments and not give up anything in this phase.

-Iowa WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos vs. PSU CB Stephon Morris - The Lions true sophomore is a first-year starter and will face one of the hottest pass catchers in the conference. If he's not on the top of his game, DJK might be handing the ball to the official in the end zone.

Johnson-Koulianos has caught 11 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Opportunities have been there for those numbers to be even higher.

Morris has come a long way in his year plus in State College. He'll find out just how far this weekend.

INJURIES:

Penn State - RB Brandon Beachum (knee) - doubtful; WR Curtis Drake (leg) - out; Lou Eliades (knee) - out; LB Gerald Hodges (leg) - out; TE Andrew Szczerba (back) - out

Iowa - RB Paki O'Meara (concussion) - doubtful; LB Christian Kirksey (head) - questionable. Marvin McNutt, Jeff Tarpinian and Julian Vandervelde are a go.

THE SKINNY - PENN ST.:

-The Lions lost starting offensive tackle Lou Eliades to a torn ACL in last week's Temple game. The fifth-year senior was a returning starter.

-Collin Wagner tied the school record with five field goals last week against Temple. He earned Big Ten special team player of the week honors.

-Evan Royster ran for a career-high 187 yards against the Owls.

-The Nittany Lions are 7-1 in their last seven conference road games. The loss came at Iowa in 2008.

-Penn State's offensive line has allowed just one sack this season. It came last week against Temple.

-The Nittany Lions have won 56 of their past 70 games overall (80.0 pct.) dating to the final two games of the 2004 season. Ohio State is the only Big Ten team with a better record than Penn State over the past 70 contests.

-Penn State has a 7-10 record in Big Ten opening games.

-The visiting team has won 14 of the 22 games in this series.

-Only one back, Alabama's Trent Richardson, has rushed for 100 yards against PSU in the last 18 games.

-Penn State guard Mark Arcidiacano and Iowa's Greg Castillo both attended St. Joseph's (Pa.) Prep; Penn State RB Mike Zordich and RB Brandon Beachum and Iowa's Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (Sr.) all attended Cardinal Mooney HS in Youngstown, Ohio; Nittany Lion linebacker Chris Colasanti and Iowa's Kevonte Martin-Manley both attended Brother Rice (Mich.) HS.

-The Nittany Lions again are among the nation's least penalized teams, ranking No. 1 in fewest penalty yards and second in fewest penalties. The Nittany Lions lead the nation with just 17.5 penalty yards per game, having committed 11 penalties for just 70 yards in four games.

THE SKINNY - IOWA:

-This is only the third time in the 12 years of the Kirk Ferentz Era that the Hawkeyes have opened the conference season at home.

-Iowa has won seven of its last eight games against the Lions dating back to ‘00.

-Paul Federici, Iowa's Director of Football Operations, is a 1985 Penn State graduate. He is in his second year in football operations after five years as Iowa's Director of Athletic Training Services.

-Senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a starter in 26 career games has completed 66.7 percent of his passes (66 of 99) through four games, throwing for 999 yards and nine touchdowns and just one interception.

-Iowa has won 18 of its last 21 games and 20 of 24, dating back to the middle of the 2008 season.

-Iowa Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker was expected to miss his fourth game in a row after undergoing a medical procedure. The veteran coach was released from the hospital and could return to work in a limited capacity next week, Ferentz said.

-Penn State's Joe Paterno and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz rank one-two in Big Ten Conference seniority. This is Ferentz's 12th year with the Hawkeyes. Paterno is in his 45th season as Penn State's head coach. The Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993. Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel is in his 10th year as Buckeye head coach to rank third.

-Iowa begins Big Ten conference play at home for just the third time in 12 seasons under Coach Kirk Ferentz. Iowa is 4-7 under Ferentz in the opening conference game of the season, including 1-1 when opening at home.

-Iowa's 2009 win at No. 4/5 ranked Penn State marked Iowa's first road win over a team ranked in the top five since 1990. That season Iowa scored a 54-28 win at fifth-ranked Illinois. Iowa concluded last season with a neutral site win over ninth-ranked Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

-Daniel Murray informed Ferentz after Wednesday's practice that he's 100 percent healthy. The senior kicker missed the first four games with a muscle strain.

THE PREDICTION: Penn State will open the game with its offensive tackles having started a combined four games. That's far from ideal when you're facing one of the best defensive fronts in the nation.

The news doesn't get better for the Nittany Lions on that side of the ball. True freshman Quarterback Rob Bolden will lead them into Kinnick Stadium, a place they haven't won since Bill Clinton was in office.

I've heard Ferentz and others say this kid won't be rattled by a night game in the historic confines because he played at Alabama earlier this year. Well, he was awful in that game with two picks and a pair of fumbles. A conference opener at night in front of a homecoming crowd won't be any less daunting that it was in Tuscaloosa.

Evan Royster also has been talked up by Ferentz and others this week. He's enjoyed a nice run in college and did a fine job last week with a career-best 187 yards in a tough win against Temple. Still, he needed 26 carries to get to 90 yards against the Hawkeyes last season with a senior in Darryl Clark calling the signals.

We talk a lot about match-ups every week. You look at a match-up against Arizona where the Wildcats run a spread and feature an aggressive, fast defense. That becomes a battle of opposing schemes.

That's not the case when Iowa lines about against the Lions. These are two, straight-ahead teams in a battle of wills. Saddle up and whomever executes the best gets the W.

For the most part, in these type games, personnel really is the deciding factor. To me, it's lopsided in this game. I feel like Iowa owns the advantage on both lines and at many of the skill positions with fifth-year senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi being a huge one.

One of the hot spots for Iowa remains kickoff coverage and overall special teams play. If they blow up in that area and Penn State holds its own in the other two phases, the Hawkeyes could find themselves on the wrong side of the score. And that would be a shame because they have the better team.

I don't think I've ever felt so strongly about an Iowa team's chances facing Penn State. It reminds a bit of how much I lacked confidence in the Hawkeyes' prospects at Happy Valley in 2007.

Give me Iowa's experienced talent in a relatively comfortable win: Hawkeyes 24, Penn State 9

STATISTICS

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Penn State


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