Saturday's game against Penn State is Iowa's third of the season, and its third at home. The last time Iowa played three straight home games was 1986, when the Hawkeyes hosted Iowa State, Northern Illinois, and UTEP. The Hawkeyes face a Penn State team that is on the ropes, but the school's rich tradition of success suggests the slump won't be permanent.
Penn State's offensive line is highly touted, but its results have been, to say the least, suspect. The Lions have managed just 1.8 yards per carry thus far, despite tremendous talent at running back. On the flipside, Iowa's rushing defense has been dominant, allowing a misleading 139 yards per game (Had Roethlisberger not taken off on his 80-yard scamper, it would be under 100 yards per game). The pass rush has also been effective, as the Hawkeyes recorded 5 sacks against Miami University. Conversely, Penn State allowed 4 sacks… in one half… by one player (Wisconsin's Wendell Bryant). That probably won't happen again against Iowa, but considering PSU's past performance, coupled with the fact that their two top left guards are likely out for the Iowa game, does not bode well for the Nittany Lions. On the other side of the ball, the Iowa offensive line has looked sharp thus far, despite injury problems to Eric Steinbach and Alonzo Cunningham. Both appear to be healthy for the Penn State game, and are welcome additions to the Iowa line. Penn State's defensive line has played tough competition in its first two games, and it shows. Wisconsin's Anthony Davis and Brooks Bollinger combined for over 300 yards on the ground, and Miami rushed for 258 yards in addition to Dorsey's 344 passing yards. Unless Penn State can figure out the way to start stuffing the run on a consistent basis (and thus far, even a spotty basis is a marked improvement), look for Iowa to dominate the lines, especially if Cunningham and Steinbach are 100%.
As far as the running game goes, neither team's top backs have played extensively. Penn State's Omar Easy, a Jamaican native with terrific athleticism but only 49 yards to his name on 17 carries. Eric McCoo, the leading rusher for Penn State for the past three years, has 86 yards on only 11 carries. Despite McCoo's superior numbers, through this year as well as the past three, Easy remains the starter. Ladell Betts has gained 136 yards on 25 carries in two games, a departure from his usually higher averages. This year, though, he isn't accounting for 100% of the Hawkeyes' rushing yards. Iowa has gained 472 yards on the ground this year, which means Betts only has 29% of them. Considering the rumblings that Betts may be injured, and could even miss the Penn State game, this won't be as big a blow to the team as last year. Once again, due to the offensive lines of each time, Iowa seems to have the upper hand in this aspect of the game.
The quarterback situations at Iowa and Penn State provide a lesson in contradiction. Yes, they both feature two quarterbacks, but their roles are different. At Iowa, Kyle McCann is a pocket passer with remarkable accuracy, as he is the 2nd highest rated passer in Division I-A. For a change of pace, Brad Banks is brought in, and his mobility energizes the crowd and team. At Penn State, however, Matt Senneca is the starting quarterback, but his awful 4-18 passing mark approaches Steve Bellisari-like levels of ineptitude. His replacement, Zack Mills, shares in their lack of mobility (Penn State quarterbacks have been sacked 12 times already), but at least has a knack for finding the end zone. Mills has two touchdown passes, which are the only scores Penn State has recorded this year, and both were from over 40 yards out, which speaks volumes about the Nittanty Lions' inability to so much as get in field goal range. Iowa's quarterbacks look to have a clear advantage.
When these quarterbacks have to go to the air, they have similar targets. Iowa's quarterbacks will have the speedy C.J. Jones, the go-to receiver in Kahlil Hill, and a legitimate second target as tight end Dallas Clark. Similarly, the Nittany Lions have Edward Drummond, a 5'9", 185 track star, and their number one receiver, Bryant Johnson, has Kahlil's size and speed. The second-leading receiver for Penn State, John Gilmore, is a 6'4", 258 tight end, much like Dallas Clark. So, as far as size and talent go, the receivers are similar. The Iowa receivers ought to put up better numbers, however, just due to who's throwing the ball.
The secondary at Iowa suffered a major blow when both Jeremire Roberts and Chris Smith went down to injuries; Roberts will be lost for the year. Shane Hall will get the nod at free safety, which provides him a chance to atone for a disastrous 2000 campaign that he finished on the bench. Some good news came, however, when Bob Sanders was announced to be a probable starter, after sustaining an ankle injury in the second quarter of the opener against Kent State. Penn State's defensive backs are still young, as Paterno lost three starters from last year's team, including two third-round draft picks. Although Ken Dorsey picked them apart in the 33-7 debacle at Happy Valley, they kept the Wisconsin passing game in check, somewhat, as Sorgi and Bollinger combined to go 9-18 for just 88 yards, and one score. However, with a running game like Wisconsin's, passing was a secondary option, to say the least. Although Penn State's defensive backs are probably more physically talented, the stat sheets may not reflect it, considering each unit's experience and the opposing passing games.
This game could hinge on the special teams, and once again, Iowa seems to have an advantage in this aspect of the game. Nate Kaeding is a fine kicker, having hit on 11 straight field goals. Thanks to this streak, Kaeding is one of only 5 sophomores on the 30-player list of Lou Groza award candidates. Punter David Bradley's finest accomplishment as a Hawkeye thus far was a 4-yard completion to Siaka Massaquoi for a first down in the second quarter of the Miami game for a first down. Penn State kicker David Kimball hasn't had a whole lot in the way of chances in the first two games for Penn State, so his 1-2 mark on extra points thus far, while unimpressive, probably isn't indicative of his future performance. Penn State punter Bruce Branch's mark of 38.5 yards per punt is underwhelming, but Bradley's 39.8 mark isn't much better either. Factor in Kahlil Hill's dominance as a returner, and it seems like Iowa could outperform Penn State here as well.
When it comes down to it, Iowa has thoroughly outplayed Penn State through two games, and even though the two teams' competition has been vastly different, don't expect the outcome of the game to be much different from the first two weeks for either team as well. 37-9, Iowa, in a wake-up call to the Big Ten and the Top 25. Bring on the Lions!