Iowa will enter Happy Valley tomorrow night with a 5-3 record while being 3-2 in the Big Ten while the Nittany Lions arrive with a 6-2 record and 4-1 in the Big Ten.
Penn State still has dreams of winning the Big Ten East and clinching a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. They'll need some help, including a couple losses by Michigan but it is within reach. Iowa's chances of capturing the Big Ten West have yet to be eliminated either, however may be daunting. In addition to winning out, they'll need losses from Wisconsin and Northwestern, both of whom play one another this week.
James Franklin and company have won four in a row and five of their last six. The Hawkeyes have won two of their last three.
Everyone believes Penn State has come back to life due to their win over Ohio State. That should be considered, as should their wins over Temple and Minnesota where they had to squeak away victories. Both of those contests were at home.
Both of Iowa's losses in the Big Ten have come against some of the elite running backs in the conference, Corey Clement and Justin Jackson. Third time's a charm? They'll take on Saquon Barkley this weekend who may be the best of the three.
It should be mentioned that the Nittany Lions have had their struggles offensively once again. They scored 24 against Ohio State but 10 of those points were a result of a blocked kick and a blocked punt.
KEYS TO WIN
1) CONTAIN BARKLEY - We've talked a lot about him this week and for good reason. He's the best back in the Big Ten and can get loose at any moment. He's ran for over 200 yards in 2 of the last 3 games, so he's rolling a bit. Iowa has done a good job against backs the past few weeks but Barkley is a different animal. Iowa has a tall task ahead of them Saturday, one they can handle.
2) GET PSU IN THIRD DOWNS - The Nittany Lions are worst in the Big Ten when it comes to converting on third downs. If the Hawkeyes can prevent big plays on first and second down and make the Nittany Lions convert third downs all night they likely will struggle. This also enables them to have a run at McSorley, who is fairly mobile so they'll need to make sure they keep contain on him.
3) DIRTY IT UP - The have looked all but impressive on the offensive side of the ball the last couple weeks, with the exception being the Purdue game. They had a bye week to implement and perfect some new things but I think Iowa needs to try and make this game a bit ugly. Turning PSU over will be huge for them, although McSorely does a good job of taking care of the football. I think the talent level is pretty close to the same, but the Nittany Lions are without a doubt the favorite here.
1) WIN FIRST DOWN - I have been told often how Penn State at night is the most difficult environment to play in as an offensive lineman. It is the loudest venue you'll ever play in so you can't hear the snap count or your teammates. It results in having to go to a silent count which gives the defense the advantage off the ball. It also results in impossible conditions to have communication as a unit. You're slower off the ball and struggle to communicate at the line of scrimmage pre-snap. That is going to compound the pass protection issues that already exist. Win first down to get out of obvious passing situations on third down.
2) WIN SPECIAL TEAMS - Penn State only beat Ohio State because of the mistakes they made in the special teams game. Ohio State missed field goals. They gave up a big return. They had a field goal blocked and returned for a score. They also had a punt blocked that set up another score. Penn State got three scores off of big plays in this area of the game. That is a lifesaver for them because despite all the talent in their skill positions, they struggle to get them the ball and struggle to protect the quarterback still. Don't bail them out with points from other areas of the game or set them up with brilliant field position.
3) WIN FIRST QUARTER - Noise is a problem in Beaver Stadium. That's why it's so difficult on the offensive line. Ohio State went to Happy Valley at night and couldn't block anyone in the fourth quarter on any play. It's that much of a game changer. Take them out of the game early. Jump on them immediately if given the opportunity.
HAWK TO ROCK
I'll go with Akrum Wadley on offense. He seems like the obvious pick here, but he has been Iowa's most consistent weapon over the course of the season and especially recently. They have put in some new stuff that has him lining up in the slot a bit so that'll be something to keep your eye on Saturday. Defense is going to be Josey Jewell. The Lions are going to try and establish the run and it's going to be up to Jewell to lead the charge in stopping that, and I think he's up to the task. Jewell logs double digit tackles Saturday night.
Penn State is a quick team that defends the perimeter pretty well. They even controlled it effectively against a quick team in Ohio State. Wadley is good but getting him on the perimeter against this defense could be a tall task. The Nittany Lions also have a strong secondary. If Iowa is going to win, it has to be because of their offensive line and getting into good downs and distances. If third down is third and long all night with an extremely loud crowd, they have no chance. The offensive line has to win the game. Defensively, they just need to limit the big plays and take care of business as usual. The Nittany Lions have great skill position players and they won't always be stopped, but they need to be contained and kept in check. This makes tackling in space imperative. I'll say Brandon Snyder emerges and plays his best game of the year and keeps everything in front.
PENN STATE 23 IOWA 17
IOWA 20 PENN STATE 16