Will Saturday Be Paterno's Sayonara to Kinnick?

Iowa fans might be witnessing the last Joe Paterno-coached Penn State football team this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State is looking at its third losing season in the past five years, and Paterno certainly isn't getting any younger. He has become the complaining, crotchety old man of the Big Ten.

A victory for Iowa this year would be its fourth consecutive in the series. The overtime victory in Happy Valley in 2000 seemed to be the turnaround game for this program Iowa has had a lot success since that game, but very little prior to that in the Kirk Ferentz era.

Unlike Ohio State, which excelled on defense and made up for a weak offense, Penn State isn't strong on either side of the ball. Penn State suffered the most losses in terms of graduation of any Big Ten team after Iowa. But unlike Iowa, the Nitts have been unable to fill void left by those players. They are in the bottom three of four major offensive categories: points per game, yards passing and rushing and total yards per game.

PSU is 10th in scoring, averaging just 18.6 points per game. Iowa allows a conference best 14.1 points per game so Penn State might see single digits on its side of the scoreboard. Penn State rushes for an average of 152.4 yards per game which is eighth, facing a stout Iowa rush defense that allows 78.7 yards rushing and 2.2 yards a carry. Only three rushing touchdowns have been scored on Iowa all season. Penn State's leading rusher is freshman Austin Scott who averages 60.8 yards per game, 4.6 per carry and has hit paydirt five times. Penn State has not run the ball with success this year, and it probably won't start this Saturday either.

Iowa probably will not see Zack Mills at quarterback unless starter Michael Robinson gets hurt. Mills can be a very good quarterback or a very bad quarterback, often in the same game. Last year in Iowa's overtime win, Mills was horrible in the first half but threw for over 300 yards in the second half nearly bringing his team back from a 24-7 halftime hole but it was to no avail. Robinson is more of a runner than a thrower, evidenced by his 43% completion percentage with only three touchdown passes. Mills was benched after throwing only one touchdown and three interceptions. A defense wants Robinson to stay in the pocket rather than take off and run. If he does run, you want him to throw rather than tuck it up and take off because he is not an accurate passer. A defense needs to be disciplined to stay home and not over pursue a scrambler like Robinson.

Robinson will be without his leading receiver Tony Johnson who was arrested over the weekend for drunken driving. Penn State has been bothered by very inconsistent play from young receivers who have dropped numerous passes, at least the ones that Robinson has given them the chance to catch. Penn State has been plagued by turnovers all year, they are dead last in turnover margin at -11 thru six games. They have lost 10 fumbles, thrown seven interceptions and only gained six turnovers from their opponents. That is enough to drive Paterno to the graveyard in and of itself. But hey, PSU has allowed the fewest sacks in the league, so not all is lost.

Penn State has had difficulty moving the ball, but its defense compounds that by its inability to stop the opponent. The root of the problem is the rush defense, which is last in the conference allowing 217 yards per game. They allow an average of 4.3 yards per carry, which is lower than what you would expect considering the total per game they allow. Similar to how Iowa was last year, because teams run the ball so well against Penn State their pass defense number look great. Last year Iowa had bad pass defense number because their rush defense was so good teams deserted the run. PSU allows just 121 yards passing per game, which leads the Big Ten by a good amount, but to put the numbers in perspective Iowa allows 217.6 yards passing per game but has faced 108 more passes than Penn State has, so it's all relative.

You would expect a defense that doesn't see a lot of throws to have low sack figures, and Penn State does with only seven sacks in six games. The leading tackler for Penn State is safety Gino Capone who is third in the Big Ten with 76 total tackles, an average of 10.9 per game. It is not uncommon for safeties to high on a teams tackles list (Bob Sanders usually is for Iowa, and Stuart Schweigart is for Purdue). However, Capone is the only tackler for Penn State who is in the top 40 in the Big Ten. Capone has been the last line of defense instead of playing close to the line of scrimmage ala Sanders.

Despite having faced the most rushing attempts of any other Big Ten team, Penn State has recovered two fumbles so opportunistic PSU is not.

Penn State is a team Iowa should beat, the Hawks have better personnel than PSU. The Lions are coming off a bye week so Iowa might want to be on the look out for a determined opponent who might have implemented some wrinkles during their off week. Iowa will no doubt try to get the running game established against a poor rush defense, after having all sorts of trouble running the ball against Ohio State last week. A solid ground game will take the pressure off Nathan Chandler to win the game as was the case last week. Chandler is bothered by an ankle injury suffered last week, so if he can just stand back and hand-off all day Iowa will be successful.

Iowa's defense was solid last week and doesn't face a much better PSU offense this week. Not a lot of fire power except for Robinson who can beat you with his feet. The special teams needs to eliminate mistakes that killed them last week. If the special teams get back to what Iowa fans have been used to, in combination with the dominant defense Iowa should win going away.

Iowa needs to go for the jugular early and not let Penn State hang around. I think they will. PREDICTION: Iowa 28, Penn State 10.

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