Iowa easily flattened three September opponents and lost at Arizona in its lone tough encounter, but the start of Big Ten play brings a harsh October slate.
The festivities get started with No. 22 Penn State (3-1) invading Kinnick Stadium for a rare Iowa night home game. The No. 17 Hawkeyes (3-1) certainly would like to start Big Ten play with a victory, but coach Kirk Ferentz doesn't see an opening loss as anything that rules Iowa out of the race for the title.
"It's a long race," Ferentz said. "It's an eight-week race, a long race. Not the end of the world if you don't get the first one, but it makes it that much tougher.
"I'm just speaking from a historical standpoint. I think the conference appears like it's going to be strong."
Iowa and Penn State have played a lot of close games in recent years, and the Hawkeyes have come out on top more often than not. Iowa has won seven of the last eight meetings.
But that doesn't leave Ferentz feeling comfortable about that streak becoming eight of nine. He's aware that the luck factor could quickly turn.
"Historically against this team, if you're going to have a chance to be there in the fourth quarter, you better play your best football," Ferentz said. "We've done that. In the games that we've done that, we've won. When he didn't do that, the game was over pretty early in (2007). If you open the door at all for them, it makes it tough to win."
Saturday's night game will be only the eighth in the history of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes are 4-3 in the previous seven.
Junior DT Mike Daniels was the Big Ten's co-Defensive Player of the Week for his big game against Ball State that included four tackles for loss and one sack. Daniels is second in the Big Ten with 7.5 tackles for loss.
SERIES HISTORY: Series tied 11-11 (last meeting, 2009 at Beaver Stadium, 21-10 Iowa).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Ricky Stanzi is playing great football for the Hawkeyes and has thrown nine touchdown passes against one interception while completing 66.7 percent of his passes. With RB Jewel Hampton out for the season after knee surgery, Adam Robinson is doing yeoman duty and has already topped 100 yards rushing three times. WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (2,141) is just 131 yards away from surpassing Tim Dwight's school record for receiving yards. TE Allen Reisner has already matched last season's total of 14 receptions. The offensive line was superb against Ball State after a shaky effort in the loss to Arizona seven days earlier.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Iowa has been outstanding and leads the nation in total defense (227.5 yards per game), ranks third in rushing defense (65.5) and fifth in scoring defense (12.0 points per game). DT Mike Daniels (7.5 tackles for loss) and MLB Jeff Tarpinian (team-high 32 tackles) have been superb. DE Adrian Clayborn is still looking for his first sack after posting 11.5 last season. The Hawkeyes have forced eight turnovers (five interceptions, three fumbles) over their past three games. Five different defenders have the interceptions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll be better when Norm Parker gets back. It will be good for Norm, too. I think he's getting itchy. But in the meantime, you just do what you got to do. We'll all get through this." -- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on the absence of defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who has been hospitalized for two and a half weeks with diabetes-related issues.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Iowa vs. Penn State, Oct. 2 -- The Hawkeyes have won seven of the last eight meetings with Penn State's most recent win coming in 2007. Six of the last 10 games between the two teams were decided by seven points or fewer.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The biggest thing for Iowa is to keep Penn State star Evan Royster from rushing for 100 yards -- the Nittany Lions are 13-0 when Royster rushes for 100 yards. Royster had 187 yards against Temple last Saturday. The matchup between Royster and Iowa's run defense figures to be intense, with the Hawkeyes ranked third in defending the run. Flustering Penn State freshman QB Rob Bolden also ranks high on the Iowa defense's to-do list. Offensively, Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi faces a stout Penn State defense that ranks 17th against the pass (158.5), and guarding against turnovers will be a crucial element. The Hawkeyes figure to be in good shape if RB Adam Robinson gets 25 touches.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Ricky Stanzi -- The fifth-year senior has a 21-5 record as a starter and has thrown three touchdown passes in back-to-back weeks. The Hawkeyes will be looking for another big effort against Penn State.
DE Broderick Binns -- Made the big momentum-changing play in last year's game against Penn State, forcing a fumble for a safety with Penn State leading 10-0, starting 21 unanswered Iowa points. The junior has 12 tackles and one interception this season.
DE Adrian Clayborn -- The Big Ten opener would be a good time for the well-hyped senior to record his first sack of the season. He also had a big play against Penn State last season, blocking a punt and returning it 53 yards for a touchdown.
Junior WR Marvin McNutt (leg) is in no danger of missing Saturday's game against Penn State after being injured during the Ball State contest.
Senior RB Paki O'Meara (concussion) could return against Penn State, but Iowa plans to proceed cautiously with him since he has had two concussions in a seven-week span.
Senior K Dan Murray (hip flexor) has begun kicking and is getting close to returning to action.