We are at the point in our preview series that things should start to get really interesting for Iowa. As of now, I have them sitting at 8-0. If this holds true during the regular season, Iowa may head to Happy Valley as a top five team in the country. This just adds to the significance of this game.
First off, it's not often Iowa plays night games. Secondly, it's not often they do it as a top five team on the road.
Penn State will be coming off games against Ohio State and on the road at Purdue. Iowa comes into this game off a bye week, which they'll likely be very much in need of. The Hawkeyes are going to have two weeks to prepare for a Nittany Lion team that would likely win more football games if they didn't play in the brutal Big Ten East.
They lost Big Ten games to Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Northwestern last season.
The Lions return 13 of 22 starters off a seven win team last season and looking at their schedule this year, they'll likely be a 7-8 win team again. James Franklin will be entering his third season in University Park, PA after replacing Bill O'Brien and currently holds a 14-12 record in Big Ten play. Franklin has never taken on the Hawkeyes during his tenure.
The Nittany Lions lost an NFL QB in Christian Hackenberg, who was drafted by the New York Jets in the second round of this past years NFL Draft. It was no secret that Hackenberg didn't exactly get along with new head man, James Franklin. He had career lows in completions, attempts, completion percentage, and passing yards last season.
Franklin's system favored the talented Saquon Barkley, who shined in his freshman season rushing 182 times for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns. Barkley will be the main focus as PSU will be replacing the quarterback that has been the starter for the last three seasons.
One issue the Lions may run into is having a backup for Barkley. Their number two RB, Mark Allen, carried the ball 27 times for 98 yards last season.
As good as Barkley was, the Penn State offense was not. They ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring offense, rushing and passing yards per game, as well as total yards per game. The highest they finished in any one of those offensive categories was ninth in passing yards per game.
This prompted Franklin to make a change. He brought in Joe Moorhead, who will look to shake things up and spread things out in his first year at Penn State. He'll have Barkley and then Chris Godwin to work with. Godwin finished second in the Big Ten in receiving yards with 1,101 last season. They'll be turning to sophomore Trace McSorley as the starting quarterback. He completed 20 out of 40 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns last season.
The offensive line returns four of the five starters from a season ago, but they'll need to be better given PSU's numbers last year on offense weren't the greatest and it all starts up front.
Penn State's defense was strong last season. They allowed just shy of 22 points per contest, which was good for 28th out of 128 teams. They are going to be returning five starters on the defensive side of the ball, including their top two tacklers in Jason Cabinda and Marcus Allen. Brandon Bell will be a key contributor as well. He was fourth on the team in tackles last season and tallied 12.5 tackles for a loss.
They'll have to replace three on the defensive line, including Carl Nassib, who led the NCAA with 16 sacks last season. Opposing QB's will certainly be happy that Nassib will no longer be pestering them in the backfield.
Nayeem Wartman-White, who was lost to injury in PSU's first game last season, returns to fill the middle linebacker spot. Wartman-White totaled 74 tackles in his sophomore season. He'll be flanked by Cabinda and Bell, which should give PSU one of the better trio of LB's in the conference.
One thing defensive coordinator Brent Pry would undoubtedly like to see his defense do better is intercept the QB. The Nittany Lion defense tallied just 10 INT's a season ago. To put that in perspective, Iowa's Desmond King had eight.
This game really scares if I'm the Hawkeyes. Odds are, Iowa enters this game with either one loss or none. That is going to get the attention of the 106,000 people Penn State is able to cram into Beaver Stadium. Last time the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions met in a night game it was back in 2012 in Iowa City and I, unfortunately, had the privilege of being at that game. It was over by halftime. I do not see the same thing happening this go around.
I do, however, see the Nittany Lions knocking off the Hawkeyes in an early November night game by a final score of 23-21, giving Iowa their first loss of the season.
When you combine a hostile environment and a tough football team, it's hard to win football games and I think Iowa comes up jus short.