1. Get the rust off quickly – It will have been 20 days since Iowa last played a game, and many starters played pretty much a half of football against Miami (Ohio). Unlike Penn State who just played their opening Big Ten game last week, Iowa has yet to square off in league play. Iowa still has the advantage over the Nittany Lions because the Hawks are 2-0 and have played well in both games this season. However, they need to play at a higher level out of the gate than many other teams around the nation exhibited this last weekend after a long layoff. Many teams played and made mistakes like it was their first game of the year. Part of making mistakes and looking rusty is poor tackling. Iowa's linebackers and secondary were tackling and covering very well before the long break. Players like LB R.J. Meyer and LB Grant Steen must come out this week and play like they have been. Having FS Chris Smith injured this week hurts the team since he was playing so well, but S D.J. Johnson and S Shane Hall are experienced backups who have been around for years. They need to step in and play well.
Even though Penn State has many players that were bigger high school recruits than their counterparts on the Iowa roster, the Hawkeyes have a better team on paper. If the Hawks play like it is their first game and Penn State improves dramatically on offense from the Wisconsin game, it could be a disappointing day. But make no mistake; both things need to happen for Penn State to actually win the game.
2. Kick the Penn State OL while it is down – It is paramount to control the line of scrimmage every week, but everyone that has seen Penn State play this year has noticed the serious issues on their offensive line. The Nittany Lions gained 23 yards on the ground and finished with 108 in the passing game last Saturday. Not only did the Wisconsin Offense almost quadruple the PSU total yardage, but the Badgers and Lions were stark contrasts in showing what ball control meant. Any offensive line that struggles like Penn State has this season also has some injuries, and the interior spots have been fighting injuries so far. The PSU OL reminds me of the 1998 Iowa OL that could not control above-average defenders. Wendell Bryant of Wisconsin had, perhaps, his best day of his storied career as he had 5 sacks (-32 yards) and 6 total tackles for loss (-34 yards), which set a school record.
There is no Wendell Bryant on the Iowa DL, but as a group, they have the ability to make the Penn State Offense look just as suspect as last week. The Nittany Lion running backs and some of their receivers have talent, but if the Iowa front seven controls the line of scrimmage it should be a long day for Coach Joe Paterno. The PSU quarterbacks have looked very shaky so far this season, so DE Aaron Kampman, DT Derrick Pickens, and DT Jerry Montgomery need to make sure that the Nittany Lions stay shaky and confused for at least one more week.
3. The Iowa Defense needs to set the tone – I still believe that Penn State has more talent on their defense then they have shown so far. The front four are big and athletic, and there is athletic ability all over that side of the ball. Their linebacker and safety play have been very poor for a Nittany Lion Defense, but they have the ability to improve. However, as long as they are blowing coverages and tackling poorly, their athletic ability alone will not let them win games.
Since Penn State has more ability on their defense than on offense, the Iowa Defense must dominate the Penn State Offense so that the field position wars and pressure of performing in adverse situations falls squarely on the Nittany Lions. If the Hawks can stuff the Lion Offense deep in their territory and force them into 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations, the Penn State Defense will respond to the lack of momentum by missing tackles and playing the way they have been. If Iowa lets PSU get some momentum, we could see a much better Nittany Lion Defense.
4. Get the passing game going early – With the PSU front four being the strength of their team, Iowa could really open things up on offense by using the short passing game to WR Kahlil Hill and TE Dallas Clark to exploit poor tackling and other Nittany Lion weaknesses past the line of scrimmage. If RB Ladell Betts and FB Jeremy Allen are healthy, they will get their yards eventually. This could be one of those games where the pass sets up the run because the coaches want to exploit the weaknesses in what PSU has on defense.
QB Kyle McCann had a great day running and throwing the ball last year at Happy Valley. If he can perform like that or like his last game against Miami (Ohio), Iowa should be all right. Penn State had problems against Wisconsin on bootleg passes to the tight end, so I am sure Dallas Clark is in the game plan. McCann is a better thrower than Badger QB Brooks Bollinger, so the Nittany Lions will have their work cut out for them.
Penn State has given up 1,036 yards in two games already this season, so the Hawks should be able to move the ball. Hopefully the Iowa team and fans will not get frustrated if Penn State sells out and takes away either the pass or run. As long as Iowa is not turning the ball over or committing penalties, they should be able to take and exploit what Penn State gives them.
5. Break the Joe Pa mystique early in the game – Although Iowa has done really well in series games played at Happy Valley, Joe Paterno is 7-0 in games played in Iowa City. Iowa hasn't beaten Penn State at home since 1930. Ironically, 1930 is the last year that Iowa has played Penn State for homecoming until this Saturday. Penn State has always been able to get most of the recruits they wanted, but the fact is that this team looks just as bad as their 5-7 club of last season. If Iowa can get off to a good start, it could be one of the longest years ever in the history of Penn State Football.
For their own team psyche, Iowa needs to jump on them early and show the Big Ten and themselves that they are indeed much better than last season. This conference is wide-open and is ready for a team to step up and perform in tough situations. Unlike certain games, this game is an attitude game, not an X and O game. This game is a contest where Iowa must show PSU how much stronger and skilled they have become over the last twelve months. The Hawks are bigger, stronger, more experienced, and tougher, and much like the first two weeks, they need to show it again this week. If they win, they pass another test and the season will continue to look promising.
Also, if they win, all home games against Penn State in the future should be homecoming games!