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ND: The out of conference portion of the schedule is over and it's now time for conference play. The Lions jump straight into the thick of things by traveling to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes in a primetime matchup. Iowa is still licking its wounds from a loss at the hands of Arizona a couple of weeks ago. They made critical special teams errors and have lost starting running back Jewel Hampton for the year. But, the Hawks seem to have Penn State's number and they are looking to win a Big Ten title and get another trip to a BCS game.
MH: Yup the Big Ten is here. The Temple game was seemingly rough; however the PSU defense woke up after the first quarter, holding Temple to 202 yards and just one of 11 on third down conversions. PSU shot itself in the foot in the red zone, so we'll see if that continues as they enter conference play. Iowa once again looks like a solid team, so Penn State will have its hands full.
Who: No. 22 Penn State at No. 17 Iowa
When: October 2nd at 8 pm ET and 5 pm PT
Where: Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, IA
Series: Tied 11-11
Line: Iowa favored by 7
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: There are a slew of big games on the docket this week as most schools dig into their conference schedules. Oregon/Stanford, Texas/Oklahoma, Alabama/Florida and a host of other games that could dictate the outcome in a conference. But, I'm looking forward to seeing how Wisconsin fares against Michigan State. Wisconsin didn't look great in their win over Arizona State, and they are a bit banged up. Michigan State has a very physical defense that plays well against the Badger running attack. And, the Spartans will have Coach Dantonio up in the press box leading his team. That, along with playing in East Lansing may be just enough of an emotional lift to push the Spartans past the Badgers. The team that is the front-runner for second in the Big Ten is very much in doubt, and this weekend's game could clear up that picture.
MH: It is another big weekend for college football. I am particularly interested in the Alabama/Florida game. Alabama had a scare against Arkansas this past weekend, but Florida doesn't look like your typical dominant Gator team. This game should be a big crossroads for the SEC champion though. As for the Spartans, I am still anticipating their typical mid-season collapse, but we'll see, since they look to be playing well all-around and have the emotional lift of playing for their head coach who is coming off a heart attack.
ND: Mark, I'm not ready to jump on the Ducks' bandwagon just yet. The only team that they have faced is Tennessee, and that's not really saying much considering that the Vols needed OT to be beat UAB. Meanwhile, Stanford has faced some competition with a pulse – UCLA, Wake Forest and Notre Dame. I really like Andrew Luck, and I think he will do well against a Duck defense that has not faced anything of any significance. I like Stanford pulling out the upset in Eugene in primetime!
MH: I know Texas is coming off a collapse against UCLA, but I anticipate that this wakeup call will have them primed for Oklahoma. The Sooners have been shaky, eking out wins against Air Force and Cincinnati in recent weeks. And I think Texas is too talented not to make this a real game. So, I like Texas to knock off OU in this one.
ND: The Lions have used a formula over the years to win games, but that formula has not worked against the Hawkeyes. So, I think they have to go back to the lab and concoct a new solution. If the Lions think that they can line up in the I-formation, use play action and move the ball against the Hawkeyes, then the coaches have completely lost their marbles.
The only way that Penn State can win this game is to take what the defense gives them and to keep taking it until the defense adjusts. The Hawkeyes play a traditional 4-3 defense, and they don't like to blitz very often. Rather, they let their star front four get penetration and pressure, and they let the other guys take away the quarterback's options. The front four, which is highlighted by Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug and Broderick Binns is fast, strong and relentless. The linebacker crew is strong, very instinctive and does a good job in passing lanes. However, they are not the best sideline to sideline group. They are fast but not as fast as when Ian Greenway and Abdul Hodge were in those positions a couple of years ago.
Meanwhile, the corners play quite a bit off of the ball to take away the deep plays. So, I think the only way to move the ball against this crew is to throw flanker screens and use that as a running play until the linebackers, corners and defensive line adjust to try to take that away. This is a throw that Bolden can make and the size of Derek Moye and Justin Brown are a huge advantage. Get the ball out there and see what the Hawks do to adjust. What makes this a particularly smart attack is that it gets the defensive line running to make a play, which will get them gassed. And, anything that the Penn State offense can do to slow down the rush of that front four must be done.
To that end, draw plays, end-arounds, screens and anything that allows the Hawks up the field will not work. In order to get Evan Royster in the game, I think Lions have to go with a single set look to force the Hawks to go into a nickel package or force one of the linebackers to go out into pass coverage. Then, a quick handoff to Royster could be effective. But, it's going to come down to the push of the offensive line. The loss of Lou Eliades is huge on the right side of the line. Chima Okoli will step in there. The rest of the offensive line has to play big and with a chip on their shoulder that they will not allow Iowa humiliate them again.
Mark, conventional Penn State wisdom is go with a max-protect lineup to make sure that Rob Bolden gets time but all that will do is take away time from Bolden. The Lions have to think more of a west-coast offense – get the ball out of the quarterback's hand as fast as humanly possible and force the defense to run in every direction but towards the backfield.
That all being said, I still suspect that the Lions will approach the game thinking a balanced attack will win the game. I also fear that the play-calling will prevent the offense from getting into any sort of a rhythm and that the recent success of Michael Zordich and Joe Suhey will tempt Galen Hall and Jay Paterno into playing more of a two-back set, which will keep the Hawkeyes' linebackers closer to the middle of the field. In short, I'm expecting self-inflicted anemic offensive production.
MH: Penn State showed that the passing game has a high-octane engine early on, but against Temple (minus the last drive) they relied heavily on the rushing attack and Royster's 187-yard career day. If the Lions can get elements of both the pass and run game working together, it will give them the opportunity to keep Iowa guessing.
I am not as concerned with PSU moving the ball on the Hawkeyes, although they have four seniors on the defensive line. The offensive line will have to gel quickly with Eliades lost to an ACL tear. Okoli and De'OnTae Pannell are seeing reps in his spot this week in practice. With Okoli likely the main guy there, he will have to get off the blocks quick and give Bolden time. Nirav, I agree that I think we will see PSU in max-protect to give Bolden as much space and time as possible.
Bolden was hit too much for my liking against Temple. I think the team came out uninspired early, but ultimately found their stride for the win. What has me impressed though is the final drive against the Owls. Bolden has shown a strong connection with Moye in earlier games and now showed a developing connection with Brown. Both Moye and Brown are big, fast, and run sharp routes to help Bolden. I expect Iowa will have to pick their poison and decide if they want to double up on one of them. If that happens, Bolden will have to read it and react by hitting the other, or an underneath route, check down or seam.
I share your concerns with the play-calling and the potential for Paterno to dig out the 1980 playbook. PSU needs to put Bolden and the offense in a position to win with roll-outs, slants and some play-action. This is similar to Alabama. Few are expecting a win, but PSU has the talent and speed to hang with the Hawkeyes. The coaches have to put them in a position to win this game though by leveraging that talent.
ND: The second half appeared to be a real turning point. Mike Mauti came alive and was showing the type of aggressiveness and speed everyone has been waiting to see. That seemed to also have an effect on Nate Stupar as well. Nick Sukay was attacking the ball really well too. Unfortunately, the Lions still have some issues on defense that have to be addressed prior to this game.
First off, the play of the interior line has to improve. Ollie Ogbu and Devon Still have to start getting penetration up the middle on running plays and blowing things up before the back, in this case Adam Robinson, can get past the line of scrimmage. Secondly, Penn State needs a third linebacker to step up. I thought Khairi Fortt had a nice game when he was in there but Bani Gbadyu and Chris Colasanti are still five yards off of the line of scrimmage before you see them engaged in a play. Likewise, Drew Astorino is taking some really bad angles on defense. He has to get a better feel for the speed of the opponent and make plays rather than chasing plays.
The Hawkeyes bring a good offense that is loaded with experience at the skill positions. QB Ricky Stanzi is good enough to win games because of his ability to throw and his ability to run, if needed. Meanwhile, Robinson is ensuring that nobody is missing Hampton. He had a great year last year and he's showing that he can carry the load this year.
But, there are a couple of differences between last year's squad and this year's squad. The Hawks are missing their star TE, Tony Moeaki (who is blowing it up for the Kansas City Chiefs), and their offensive line is still pretty young. They return three starters, but the center and right guard positions are still questionable. This puts further emphasis on Ogbu and Still to get pressure where the Hawks are vulnerable.
Defensively, I think Penn State can hang with this squad. But, the running of Robinson will eventually be too much, and if the Penn State front four cannot get pressure on Stanzi, he should be able to find Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt open down the field. These two receivers are excellent and will challenge Penn State's young secondary. In the end, I think field position will help the Hawks get points up on the board.
MH: I think the coaches have a lot of faith in this defense, and I saw it turn a corner last Saturday. The staff seemed confident that the defense could carry the squad while the offense was only hitting field goals. The emergence of Pete Massaro at defensive end and Stupar and Mauti at linebacker along with Fortt provided a major spark that ignited the play of the unit.
Stanzi has been known to make mistakes, however he typically looks like a Heisman candidate against Penn State. Coach Ferentz just needs Stanzi to deliver on a few balls every drive to keep the Lions guessing. With a young offensive line, this is an opportunity for Still and Ogbu to show that they can hang with the Big Ten. They need to open things up. I'd like to see the staff give Massaro the starting nod and get Sean Stanley into a heavy rotation at defensive end.
Iowa has some impressive wideouts, so D'Anton Lynn has to get back to his earlier performance of the season since he struggled against Temple and lost containment on the Owls at times. I would not mind seeing the PSU staff take a risk and put Derrick Thomas in with Stephon Morris at corner to see what they can do.
ND: Mark, Nittany Lion fans will not have to deal with Lion-killer Daniel Murray this weekend. He is injured and has yet to kick this season. Instead, the Hawkeyes will trot out true freshman Michael Meyer who has missed from 37 yards and made a 25-yard field goal so far.
The Hawkeyes had meltdown after meltdown on special teams when they faced Arizona in the desert. I'm sure Coach Ferentz has addressed that, but the Lions should go after a punt and I think the explosiveness on kickoffs could be a big advantage for the Lions. Meanwhile, Anthony Fera seemed to be taking his sweet time punting last week. He must speed up his motion or he will get a punt blocked this week. The real highlight for me is Collin Wagner. This kid has been unbelievably accurate, but the weather has been pretty nice. We'll see how he does when Old Man Winter pays a visit on a Saturday.
MH: The speed of Fera's boots is concerning, and you can bet the Iowa staff has seen it. I will say the emergence of Fera on kickoffs is impressive. He already has 10 touchbacks this season, which is what Wagner totaled all last year. Wagner has emerged into a solid weapon on field goals. He told FOS early this season he spent extra time in the weight room working on his core strength, and it seems to have paid off. Also, the return game has become a weapon, which is a nice turnaround for PSU.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: We'll see if Mauti really did turn a corner and is going to play far more aggressively when he matches up against Robinson. Robinson is back at the helm with Hampton on the sideline, and he's an outstanding back. It'll be fun to see who wins this battle – the talented running back or the fiery linebacker.
MH: I think it comes down to Stanzi against Penn State's front four. If they can contain and disrupt him, it should give them the ability to make plays and snuff out drives. If not and Stanzi has time, it will be a long night for the Lions on the plains.
Keys to the Game:
ND: The Lions must get into a position where they are in third and short. The Hawkeyes defense plays base defense, relying on their front four to do the damage. In order to keep the Hawkeyes from teeing off on Bolden, they have to get into a position where the run is an equal threat on third down. If you see the Lions in third and 7, third and 10 or worse, it'll be another long night in Iowa.
MH: I think it comes down to play-calling for the PSU offense. The coaches have to open things up and allow Bolden to get some space. I'd love to see slants by Moye and Brown to take some pressure off and also some roll-outs along with a strategically inserted run for Bolden to keep Iowa guessing. If they come out with the Plain Jane set, Iowa will be in good shape since they have stopped it regularly over the past decade.
ND: The lack of a running attack will really hinder the Lions in this game as will the inability to get pressure on Stanzi on key 3rd downs. Look for Hawkeyes to pull away in the 4th quarter with a touchdown to seal the deal.
Iowa 27, Penn State 10
MH: The Nittany Lions have seen the passing game click and the running game click at separate times this season. If they can get them clicking together and carry the emotion of the defense into Iowa City, they should give the Hawkeyes a game. I expect some inspired play particularly from the veterans in this one.
Penn State 20, Iowa 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!