1. Which offensive weapon does Iowa need to stop most: Clark, Royster, or Williams?
Rob: Nobody has been able to run on Iowa this season, so I'm not overly concerned about Royster. If he has a big day, it will be because the Hawkeye defense has spent too much time on the field and is worn down. I think the weather could slow down Williams a bit and Iowa has done a pretty good job with coverages as of late. To me, Clark is the key, just as Ricky Stanzi is the key for the Iowa offense. If Clark gets loose with his legs or his arm, it could be a long afternoon for the home team.
Jon: Royster/Running game. If you cannot stop the run, you have no shot. The good news for Iowa fans is that the Hawks have been able to stop the run all season long. Javon Ringer, PJ Hill, Tyrell Sutton, John Clay, Juice Williams…none of them have topped the 100 yard mark. Iowa is only allowing around 100 yards rushing per game. Stop the run, and you have a shot.
Brian: I think you need to shut down Clark. Iowa should be able to handle Royster, as they've handled every other running back this year. That leaves Clark back there needing to make plays to win this game. As I'm writing this response, I'm watching Brad Banks use his feet to create passing lanes and openings downfield. I fear that's what Clark will be trying to do on Saturday, and what the Hawks need to limit. Keep him in the pocket, and that helps Iowa a great deal, allowing the Hawk linebackers to stay in their zones.
2. Some people are saying if Iowa beats Penn State, it would be the biggest Hawkeye upset in the last 30 years. Do you agree/disagree?
Rob: With the spread only being at 7.5, I just don't see it. I think there is more parity in college football than there's ever been. Also, there are plenty of pundits calling for this one as an upset special. To me, that disqualifies it. I think Iowa beating Nebraska in 1981 or Ohio State in 1987 or Michigan in 2002 would rank higher. And that's off the top of my head.
Jon: I disagree. The upsets Iowa pulled back in the 1981 season would be more monumental, because the program was coming off of 19 straight non-winning seasons. While beating the #3 ranked team in Kinnick hasn't happened all that often, Iowa is only a touchdown underdog in this game. How big of an upset could that be?
Brian: For an Iowa team? No. I agree with Rob that the 2002 Michigan game would be a lot bigger. Although you have to look at this 2002 Penn State game as well. Iowa was coming off that loss against Iowa State, on the road against a #12-ranked PSU team. I think it would be the biggest since 2002 Iowa/Michigan though.
3. Which team is better; this year's Penn State team, or Ohio State in 2006?
Rob: It's kind of tough to give this to PSU when the Buckeyes ran the regular-season table a few years ago, but I think this Lions team is more well-rounded. Also, I also think this year's Big Ten is a little tougher, top to bottom, than it was in 2006. This PSU defense is also more explosive than was the Buckeyes'. I think the teams have comparible talent on offense.
Jon: I know that Kirk Ferentz said Penn State on Tuesday, and I am not saying I know more than he does. But I also think that Penn State is easy for him to pick, because they are on the schedule. PSU doesn't have an Anthony Gonzalez, and Williams and Binn are equally dangerous. OSU QB Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy. Darryl Clark is good, but he is not as good as Smith was in 2006. OSU's defense in 2006 is better than PSU's defense this year. While Penn State's statistical rankings this year are on par or better than 2006, I am going with my eye test. I think the OSU squad wins.
Brian: Ohio State, no doubt. Heisman winner, several #1 NFL picks, and some absolutely huge wins in that season. Before the 2006 OSU team rolled into Iowa City, they had gone to Austin and beaten the Longhorns 24-7. The closest comparison this year for the Lions is a skin-of-their-teeth victory against Ohio State two weeks ago. Penn State is a great team, no doubt about it, but that 2006 OSU team was loaded at every position.
4. How well must Ricky Stanzi play for Iowa to win this game?
Rob: He has to be very good. He has turned the ball over seven times in Iowa's three Big Ten losses and that's not an option this week if he hopes to lead his team to victory. I don't think he needs to throw three or even two touchdowns. I don't think Iowa will score that much. He needs to protect the ball, not throw INTs and manage the game. Penn State is going to force him to make some plays, and I think he can do that. But he can't negate his good plays by making poor ones.
Jon: Rick is going to have to play his best game of the year. I think Shonn Greene will struggle a bit in this game, perhaps like last week. Penn State has to take him away, and I think they will be effective. So the pressure will be on Stanzi to deliver at a much more proficient way than he did a week ago, and eliminate the turnovers.
Brian: I think he needs to be accurate. There were several plays that were completed against Illinois that could have been game-changers with a bit more accuracy. The one that stands out is a ball that Brodell had to slow down and adjust to, otherwise it would have been 6. Stanzi doesn't need to do it all, but he needs to do the little things. Get to the 2nd and 3rd receiver, throw the ball away when need be, protect the ball. If Stanzi can show he's come to play, that's going to go a long way toward getting Shonn Greene going early on.
5. Is the forecast for possibly bad weather overplayed when it comes to deciding the outcome of this game?
Rob: I think it is. Many of the players on the Penn State roster are from Pennsylvania, where the weather can be just as bitter as it is here in the Midwest. I also think it gets a bit overplayed when it comes to negating speed. It might slow down the Nittany Lions, but it could also slow down Iowa on both sides of the ball. Shonn Greene runs through everything, but he hasn't been faced with poor field conditions outside of Iowa State, and it was warm that day.
Jon: I don't think so. At this latitude, you have to be able to run and stop the run in November to win games. Why? Because it gets cold, and the wind picks up. As of Thursday evening, the forecast called for temps in the high 30's at kickoff, possible snow flurries and winds 13-15mph out of the west, northwest. That's not necessarily conducive to an aerial assault.
Brian: I don't think the precipitation will affect the game a whole lot, but the wind has the possibility to play a huge role. If Donahue can find a way to ride the wind to a couple monster punts, that'll really help take away a big-play opportunity for Penn State. Derrick Williams averages 9.7 yards per punt return with a long of 63. Andy Brodell, meanwhile, averages 10.9 per return with a long of 81. I think the punting game stands to be affected the most, as I don't think Penn State is going to have room for too many deep throws anyway.
6. Who is your pick to click?
Rob: If Iowa is to win this game, it will take a clean game from the offense and an opportunistic day from the defense. I don't see Iowa doing too much with the ball, so it will come down to the defense playing its game of the year. I will go with Pat Angerer to disrupt the Nittany Lions' bid for a spot in the national championship game.
Jon: Mitch King. I think #47 has to have a monster game this week. When he does that, he brings the rest of the team with him, sort of like Bob Sanders used to do. King is a beast, and though he will have the attention of Penn State, I think he finds a way to get over.
Brian: Adrian Clayborn. I think Clayborn has lost contain too much this year, andsomething I'm sure the Iowa staff has focused some work on. With all the attention Mitch King and Matt Kroul will generate, combined with the desire for both Clark and Royster to get to the edge, should put Adrian in a position to make some plays this week. It may not show up in the stat sheet, but pushing PSU players 2 or 3 yards closer to the sideline is going to save this Hawkeye team a TON of yards.