Iowa run offense vs. Penn State run defense: In three Big Ten games this season, the Nittany Lions have allowed an average of 234 yards rushing per contest. Not real good. Each opponent has averaged at LEAST 4.3 yards per carry against Coach Joe Paterno's defense.
The Hawkeyes are led by Fred Russell's 768 yards rushing and 4.9-yard average. Jermelle Lewis, who ran for 709 yards last season, got his first two carries of the season last Saturday in Columbus. Look for more action for Lewis against Penn State. Advantage: IOWA.
Iowa pass offense vs. Penn State pass defense: The Nittany Lions have been pretty stingy against the pass during their first three Big Ten games. Penn State's league opponents have averaged 11-of-23 for 114 yards.
The Hawks have struggled at times with their passing attack this season. Nathan Chandler has done a good job at quarterback, completing 56% of his passes for 974 yards, including 11 TDs and only four interceptions. Of course, the entire "Hawkeye Nation" put the jinx on Chandler last week by projecting his season totals to be 22 TDs and only six interceptions at year-end, all but guaranteeing that it won't happen.
Injured receiver Maurice Brown has been difficult (read that: impossible) to replace. Despite missing what seems like the last 18 months due to a sprained ankle, Brown is STILL tied for the team lead in receptions with 14. Advantage: PUSH.
Penn State run offense vs. Iowa run defense: Penn State has a quarterback—Michael Robinson—who likes to run. And he's pretty good at it. Iowa has a defense that has one goal in mind from the outset of every game: stop the run. So far this season, the Hawkeyes have been awfully good at that.
With Jonathan Babineaux out for the rest of the season, Iowa's defensive line loses a good run stuffer. However, even if a Nittany Lion runner breaks the line of scrimmage, the Hawkeye linebackers—Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge and Grant Steen—are having a terrific season. Advantage: IOWA.
Penn State pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense: Penn State has a quarterback—Michael Robinson—who likes to run. And he's pretty good at it. This is a good thing, because he's not the greatest passer in the country. Robinson has completed just 44% of his passes for 725 yards, including three TDs and four interceptions. In PSU's last game, Robinson was 10 of 32 for 98 yards. Ouch.
Defensively, look for Iowa to have one of its linebackers "shadow" Robinson to help limit his scrambling yardage. Greenway and Hodge have good closing speed and should be able to do the job. Matt Roth and Howard Hodges will need to pressure Robinson, while keeping him in the pocket as much as possible. Advantage: IOWA.
Special Teams: I don't know what happened last Saturday in Columbus. That certainly didn't look like the same special teams units we've seen wearing Iowa uniforms for the last two seasons. While I didn't care for the block in the back that opened the door on Ohio State's punt return, the play that REALLY turned the tide was when the Buckeyes blocked David Bradley's punt for a touchdown in the third quarter. You simply can't make mistakes like that on the road and win.
I look for Penn State to make at least one mistake like that. And Hawkeye fans will be able to look at last Saturday as a fluke. Also, I think we're due to see Nate Kaeding drill about a 56-yard field goal. Advantage: IOWA.
Coaching: Kirk Ferentz has turned the Hawkeye program around. He was named the National Coach of the Year in 2002. Other schools use the NFL's interest in Ferentz against him in recruiting. Coach Ferentz has not been timed recently in the 40-yard dash.
Joe Paterno is Penn State football. His teams have won two national titles…most recently when Bob Sanders was in pre-school. Schools were using Paterno's age against him when he was recruiting Franco Harris. When JoePa is REALLY angry, he can still run a 4.3 40-yard dash to catch an official running off the field. Advantage: IOWA.
Intangibles: Iowa has only one victory since September 21. That means the Hawkeyes will be extremely hungry against Penn State. The offense has been criticized quite a bit after last week's poor showing in Columbus, so there will be something to prove for Iowa. On the other hand, the Nittany Lions HAVE to be tired of the Black & Gold, since they've lost to the Hawks for three straight seasons. Advantage: IOWA.
PREDICTION: The running game will tell the story. Fred Russell will gain 130+ yards and Iowa will be able to chew up the clock with a couple of long scoring drives. Nathan Chandler will have a solid day, completing 13 of 20 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Penn State will NOT be able to run the ball against the Hawkeyes, forcing the Nittany Lions to throw the ball, which hasn't been the strength of its offense. In addition, I expect Iowa's special teams to bounce back with a strong performance as the Hawkeyes improve to 6-2 for the season. FINAL: IOWA 27, PENN STATE 15.
Jon Miller's Prediction: Iowa 24, Penn State 10
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)