Iowa/PSU: 6 Questions with the HN Staff

Each week, we sit down and answer six questions about this week's game. In this free update, see what Jon Miller, Rob Howe, and Brian Finley see happening this weekend in State College as the Hawkeyes take on the Nittany Lions.

How many drives into the game will Iowa score, and how will it happen?

Rob: I'll say drive No. 5, second quarter, James Cleveland 12-yards from Christensen. And, the extra point is good. It will occur after an Anthony Morelli interception courtesy of Charles Godfrey. It kind of sounds like I'm pretty confident and decisive on this one. I actually have no idea what I'm talking about.
Brian: We'll go with the third drive, on a 34-yard Austin Signor field goal, that will squeak in the left upright.
Is it possible that this team can improve and get better this year, and at the same time NOT record a winning season?
Jon: I'll go with the 4th, and say that Jake Christensen hooks up with DJK. But I am hopeful that the Iowa defense or special teams can put a touchdown on the board in the first half, to take some of the pressure off of the offense. Well, it won't take a ton of pressure off of them, since Penn State's defense is going to bring a ton of heat in this game. But when defenses do that, it means that you can attack them, if you pick up the blitzes.

Is it possible that this team can improve and get better this year, and at the same time NOT record a winning season?

Rob: That's a tough one. When Iowa was known as the team that got better as the season advanced, it was because it won games in October and November. Even in 2005, when the Hawkeyes finished 7-5, they upset Wisconsin in Madison and destroyed Minnesota at Kinnick. I do think there will be some measurable areas to gauge improvement. The things that stand out to me are offensive line play, quarterback decision making, receiver blitz pickup, how the defense defends the spread and the kicking game, including punting. That said, nothing that looks like it has improved this season guarantees anything for next year.
Brian: In the eyes of the fans? Not likely. If Iowa, once again, loses to the likes of Northwestern and Illinois, the same rheotric will continue, no matter how the losses come. If Iowa can squeak out a 7-5 record from here on out, with a bowl win pushing it to 8-5, things will be bearable in Hawkeye-land during the off-season. If Hawkeye fans have to be at home in December, then there might be problems.
Jon: I think the answer to that is yes, and that might be the reality that this team faces this year. In 2000, Iowa was a better team in game 12 than it was in game 5. The team got better in each of the last three games of the season. Whether you want to believe it or not, or whether you want to hear it, or not, this offense has a chance to be pretty good next year, with so many players returning. And as Kirk Ferentz has said, with young players, there is a greater chance to see significant improvement.

Do you think that Penn State's 'straight ahead' of old school offense is a better matchup for Iowa than Indiana's?

Rob: Definitely. I said that before the Indiana game. Iowa does not match up well with the spread offenses and quarterbacks that move around well. But just like I think Penn State will be a better match-up this week, Illinois and Purdue the next two weeks will not favor the Hawkeyes. And, I think Penn State does the "old school" think better than Iowa right now. It will take drastic improvement by the Hawkeyes and a continued dip by Penn State for this upset to happen.
Brian: I think the quarterback matchup is more important than the offense. Indiana was able to move the pocket, sending Kellen Lewis to the edges, which kept Iowa's defensive linemen at home. They couldn't sell out on the pass rush, for fear of giving up a big run to Lewis. With Morelli, even if you lose contain, he's not going to outrun your whole defense the way Lewis did last week.
Jon: I think Penn State's attack won't be all that different than Wisconsin's. If QB Anthony Morelli gets time to throw, he has some dangerous weapons and he can make some big plays. Penn State will take more deep shots against Iowa than Wisconsin did. Morelli had a hand in four turnovers last week, and he will want to atone for that. But I think Penn State will run a fairly basic offensive attack at Iowa, and the Hawkeye defense should look better this week. Unfortunately, this will be the best defense that Iowa has seen all year,and the most aggressive defense. Coming off a nine sack game, that is a scary thought.

Of the problems occurring with the Iowa football team through five games, what has been the biggest surprise in your mind? In other words, what weakness did you not expect to see?

Rob: I know people will probably call me a nut job, but the pass rush from the ends. I expected Kenny Iwebema and Bryan Mattison to experience stellar senior seasons, but after the Syracuse game, they have been somewhat unproductive in the pass rush despite tackle Mitch King seeing frequent double teams. Penn State's Anthony Morelli is not a guy that moves well, so the ends know where to find him. I'll give them a bit of a break because they've been on the field a lot, but they haven't been overly successful even early in recent games.
Brian: The struggles that Austin Signor has gone through came as a great surprise, to me. Last year, Signor was 2-2 on field goals and 5-5 on extra points in limited action. For him to struggle so mightily, when the job was, without a doubt, his.
Jon: Iowa's third down conversion percentage has been abysmal. I know that the attrition that has taken place at wide receiver along with the inexperience at offensive line and quarterback shouldn't produce a great third down conversion percentage, but Iowa is at risk of going below the 30 percent mark. That is not up to Big Ten standards. That isn't up to low level MAC standards, and it's the clearest result as to the problems with the offense. It's the 'fruit' of the problems, if you will. Inexperience usually leads to inconsistency, and teams are teeing off against Iowa on third down. That's a problem to begin with. But add Iowa's issues to the mix, and it's a big time problem. I don't know that anyone could have predicted a 31 percent third down conversion ratio.

If you could have one of the injured/suspended players back for this week, who would it be (let's assume that Klinkenborg and Moylan are out)?

Rob: I said this when it happened, and I'll say it again, Tony Moeaki's injury was a killer. He showed his ability against Syracuse which forced future opponents to account for him at all times. This would have relieved some pressure on this young receiver core and a new starting QB. The loss of starting receivers Douglas and Brodell hurts a lot but the tight end is such an integral part of the Iowa attack and Moeaki is a gifted catcher and blocker. He can't get back soon enough.
Brian: I'll agree with Rob on this one. Moeaki, as demonstrated through the first few games, was Jake's safety valve, and still quite underestimated. He was also one of the toughest Hawkeyes, never shying away from a crossing route that might find his chin in contact with a defender's shoulder. Hopefully he's back soon, as the Hawkeyes will need him against some of the more exotic blitzes they'll see in the Big Ten season.
Jon: Dominique Douglas. My initial gut said Tony Moeaki, but Douglas did a very good job of getting open last year, and catching the football. I think Iowa has missed both of those traits quite a bit this year. Iowa would have converted more third downs, and that means more points on the board. Douglas was also an exceptional blocker for his position, and he was only a freshman last year. I think having a go to guy in the receiver corps is something this team needs quite a bit. Moeaki is a close #2 for me, because he can attract so much attention that helps open up things for other players.

Who is your pick to click?

Rob: I'm going to stay on D until the offense hits stride. I had Godfrey last week, and he picked one off. That said, nobody really clicked against the Hoosiers. It seems like this is the first time Iowa has gone to Penn State in the Ferentz Era without it being a homecoming for one of his key players. So, since I can't go in that direction,  I'll go with the Freak, A.J. Edds. PSU runs more of a traditional offense, so Edds will get more freedom to roam and make plays.
Brian: Adam Shada. This week, I'll assume Shada is back at corner, with Greenwood filling in at safety. This will give Shada a bit more comfort out there, and he'll use it to make quicker decisions, and make some nice stops, with a pick at some point during the game.
Jon: I agree with Rob, it has to be defense if we are going to be anywhere near accurate. I will also go with a linebacker, and say Mike Humpal. Iowa's linebackers have had a very good season thus far, a fact that has gone mostly under the radar due to the overall record and struggles this team has had.

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