Download the full FOS Blitz gameday guide at the link below, or simply read Nirav and Mark's game preview below.
ND: Well, the Lions have been able to win the games that should have won. But, it has come at a price. Bowman has been nursing a bad groin, but he should be back. Zug got "conked" on the head and Lee has a banged up knee. We'll see what type of contribution Zug and Lee make in the "revenge" game against the Iowa Hawkeyes, who handed PSU their only league loss last year. This should be a defensive battle in white out conditions if the weather holds up.
MH: I think we'll see Zug in this one, but although Lee is lobbying to get into action, it will come down to whether he can convince PSU's medical staff that he is healthy enough for action. As you said Nirav, Penn State has won the first three games as expected, but will have to get fired up in this clash with the Hawkeyes, which I have little concern they will be able to do come Saturday night.
Who: Iowa at No. 5 Penn State
When: September 26th at 8pm ET and 5pm PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 11-10
TV: ABC National Coverage
Line: Penn State favored by 10pts
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: Mark, don't look now but the ACC is starting to get a little respect thanks to the play of Miami and the Seminoles' big win over BYU last weekend. This weekend is a matchup of two top ACC teams when No. 9 Miami travels to Blacksburg to face the No. 11 Hokies. Taylor threw a late TD to seal the VaTech win over Nebraska but Jacory Harris has been on fire this year as he lit up Georgia Tech last week. I like Miami in this game because I think the Harris is the real deal and I think the speed of the Canes will prevent Taylor from making the plays with his feet that he did against the Huskers.
MH: That is a big early clash, although I am not sold BYU was really as good as that Oklahoma win had them hyped. Another game that will be interesting is 2-0 Arizona State heading to No. 21 Georgia. The Dawgs stumbled early against Oklahoma State and ASU has blown out creampuffs Idaho State and Louisiana-Monroe, so we'll see if they are a legitimate force in the Pac-10.
ND: Too bad I didn't pick the Huskies to beat USC last weekend. That would have been a great pick. But, my Cincy pick was gold. This week, I really like Arkansas taking it to Alabama. Both WR Jones and RB Upchurch missed last week's game against North Texas because of injuries but they should be able to play against Arkansas. And, the Tide will need them. Arkansas has averaged 45.5 points in their first two games, which included a loss to Georgia last week. Ryan Mallett, the Michigan transfer, has thrown for over 350 yards per game this year and that Razorback defense can score big. I think they will outscore Alabama and steal a win against the #3 Rolling Tide.
MH: I am going with ACC matchup Georgia Tech over the Tarheels. No. 22 UNC squeaked by UConn and has to go on the road to face the Ramblin' Wreck. Granted Tech lost soundly to Miami, but UNC doesn't have the horses Miami has, so this should be a good clash to see if Butch Davis' boys are legit.
ND: The offense was able to pick things up a bit against Temple. The offensive line was able to sustain blocks and gave Evan Royster plenty of room to run. I thought Troutman had a good game but I thought Eliades had his best game of the season by far. He was blowing his opponent off of the line. The offensive line will need to continue this momentum push as Iowa comes calling. The Hawkeyes have had to replace their interior line but Karl Klug has filled that void really well. This kid jumps right off the screen at me. He pushed around Arizona Oline with little trouble. So far, this season, he has 3.5 TFLs and 2 sacks but he is a real disrupter. The PSU interior line will have their hands full. I am looking for the Lions to use more misdirection, read options and end-around sweeps to use the Lions' speed into a real asset in this game. Running between the tackles is not going to come easy against this Iowa interior line.
Iowa is only giving up 165 yards per game through the air but the Arizona offense showed a chink in the armor. The Wildcats went with a 4 and 5 WR set, which caused the Hawkeyes to go with a nickel package with both LBs going really wide. This opened up the middle of the field for the TE, crossing patterns or even a check down to a RB. We'll see if the coaches noticed the same thing and if they take advantage of the athleticism of Quarless and the hands of Royster. Regardless, Daryll Clark has to come to play. His ability to stayed poised amidst the pass rush and deliver the ball to open receivers is probably the most important aspect of this game. But, Clark needs to keep an eye out for Angerer, who is the Iowa stud LB and, in particular, safety Tyler Sash. Sash has a nose for the football. He leads the team in tackles, is second on the team in TFLs and has already snagged 4 INTs.
The Lions are going to struggle on offense. The pass rush of the Hawkeyes and their ability to clog the interior is going to make things hard for the Lions. But, if Hall and the offense can get the speed of the Lions in one-on-one situations, there is some big play potential. But, Clark needs the protection. I think the Lions will be able to grind out a couple of scores but the Hawkeye defense is not going to let the Lions into the end zone very often.
MH: That was the big story in the Temple game; Penn State managed to assemble a solid ground game thanks to Evan Royster. Now, Iowa some outlets have taken some swipes saying, "Yeah but it was Temple." Fair enough, although Temple has the No. 55 rush defense nationally while Iowa is No. 68. I certainly don't see Iowa's front seven rolling over in this one and I fully expect their ‘backers to play up to stuff the lanes, so the PSU line will have to get off the line quickly to open up some running room for Royster and Green.
I see Penn State having to go to the air early in this clash given the traffic Iowa will create inside. That means Clark will have to look to the intermediate passing game to pull out the coverage. I think you'll also see the Lions trying to go deep early to spread things out and keep the Iowa linebackers honest with their reads.
Keep in mind that Penn State and Iowa are two of six teams that have not allowed a rushing touchdown so far this season. That will require PSU to come out with a balanced attack and I suspect they will have to leverage the size of guys like Andrew Quarless (TE), Joe Suhey (FB), Brett Brackett (WR) and Derek Moye (WR). I also think you'll see a dose of misdirection from Chaz Powell (WR) and Devon Smith (WR).
I can definitely see Penn State stalling some drives, but I think they will find success on offense given the sheer variety of weapons they have at their disposal. Clark has done a great job spreading the ball around, hitting upwards of eight different receivers in games. He'll have to keep that up in order to keep the Hawkeye defense guessing.
ND: So far, the defense has come up big but they haven't exactly faced high-powered offenses but this is not the week that they will see that either. The Iowa offense is nothing spectacular but they are also very efficient. The Hawkeyes lost start offensive lineman, Bulaga, to an illness and they are still breaking in two running backs after losing Jewel Hampton in preseason camp. Taking the RB spot is Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher. Robinson loves to run between the tackles and is also a fan of the cut-back. Meanwhile, Wegher likes to bounce things to the outside. The key to stopping this running attack is to force the Iowa Oline, which is still excellent even with Bulaga out, to stay on the defensive line blocks rather than seek out the Lion linebackers. Odrick must have a big game stuffing holes and forcing double-teams.
Mark, if there is a clear weakness on this team; it's the play of Ricky Stanzi. I'm just not impressed with this kid. He watches his targets the whole way and isn't very accurate when throwing anything out towards the sideline. With him watching receivers, the PSU corners need to be given the green light to play close to the line of scrimmage and to squat on the short out patterns. If Jack Crawford and the rest of the defensive line get pressure, the PSU corners should be able to jump some routes and make some plays on the ball. Coach Paterno has been complaining about the lack of turnovers but you can't pick the ball off if you are lined up 15 yards off the line of scrimmage.
Where Stanzi is dangerous is hitting the TE down the seam routes. We'll see which TE actually plays for Iowa in this game. But, my hunch is that it will be Allen Reisner. Also, keep an eye on Trey Stross. At 6'4" and 200lbs, this kid reminds me of Moye. He likes to run over the middle on crossing routes and Stanzi likes the easier throw to him on those routes. This is where the PSU zone needs to be tight and the LBs and the safeties have to make sure that the gaps in the zone are well-patrolled.
This Iowa offense should move the ball on the ground but if the Lions can't get pressure on Stanzi, he could have a ton of time throwing the ball especially if the corners are allowed to play aggressively.
MH: Stanzi is the main character in "A Tale of Two Quarterbacks." The guy tends to struggle in first halves, but also turns on his game in the second half. I think we'll see pressure up front on Stanzi with Odrick, Ogubu and Crawford leading the charge. The issue is that Iowa has a very good offensive line that can keep the pressure off of Stanzi in the pocket. This should be some impressive trench warfare with two solid lines.
Although Robinson and Wegher are young, they have shown the propensity to find holes and pickup some yardage. This is why getting Bowman back would be huge for the Lions, allowing him to shut down one side of the field, or at least contain it. The question is whether the secondary will need the support of the linebackers. If they can hold their own then it will allow the backers to stay up to butt heads with the offensive line.
Nirav, I don't expect to see too much aggression from the corners and doubt they play up tight. This is still Penn State we're talking about and they will want to contain the big play. As you said, if Stanzi has time it will be interesting since he'll help Iowa put together some drives and success they can build off of.
ND: Mark, I'm not going to sweat the kickoff coverage against Temple. As I mentioned last week, Temple is pretty good in that area and with good reason – they get plenty of opportunities to return kicks in a game! On the other hand, the Hawkeyes are not so good, which bodes well for the Lions. Iowa's longest kick return this season is only 20 yards. PSU should be able to gobble things up. Mark, I may never forget the name Dan Nystrom, who nailed the kick for Minnesota to knock off the Lions in 1999. The other name that is burned in my memory is Daniel Murray, who is the Iowa kicker that hit the FG last year to keep the Lions out of the national championship game. Murray is back this year and we know he's one heck of a kicker. But, now we'll see how Wagner can perform when he is in a critical game. He must drive the ball on kickoffs and he has to be able to hit FGs when the offense comes up short.
MH: The Lions have been working kick coverage this week, but in my view it comes down to hang-time and the ability for Wagner to get the ball up to allow his coverage to get downfield. If this game comes down to kicking the Hawkeyes have a major weapon in Murray. He has good power and range. This is why Penn State has to capitalize and put touchdowns on the board rather than field goals. As for punting, Boone is still an overlooked weapon. Last week he boomed four punts for 191 yards. He can really help get PSU out of field position jams.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: Mark, I like the matchup of the Iowa tight ends against the Penn State linebackers. In the season opener, Tony Moeaki caught 10 balls but he has been injured and did not play against Arizona. We'll see if he goes this weekend despite not being on the depth chart. If he can't go, Allen Reisner will play. Last week, Reisner was a go-to receiver for Stanzi. We'll see how well the Lions matchup against either TE. Whoever plays for Iowa will certainly be the target of a large number of passes so we'll see if Hull, Bowman and Stupar are up for the challenge.
MH: I think the clash of Penn State's defensive line with Iowa's offensive line will be a pivotal battle in this one and one that could help decide this game. If the Lions can get pressure on Stanzi and force some decisions they could create some turnovers. If not and he has time to deliver the ball watch for Iowa to pick up momentum.
Keys to the Game:
ND: Anytime you have two teams that play good, sound defense in a conference game, the game always comes down to turnovers and penalties. Iowa is +3 but has 6 Interceptions this season, 4 of which Sash has picked off. Meanwhile, PSU is -1 on the season. The team that can take care of the football and avoid giving the other team prime field position will pull off the win.
MH: Emotion and attitude. Penn State has to come into this game excited, but focused. There has been a lot of talk of revenge, but this team needs to play some sound football and capitalize on opportunities presented to them. Sloppy sleepwalking will not cut it in this one. PSU has to play up to their potential to get a "W" here.
ND: I'm just not convinced that Stanzi is the QB that we saw in the second half of the PSU/Iowa game last year. I like the PSU defense shutting down the Iowa offense and picking up a late turnover to seal the deal.
Penn State 20, Iowa 13
MH: With a White House crowd behind them, Penn State finds themselves in a dogfight early on, but with a balanced attack and some new offensive wrinkles, PSU manages to pull away late. Wow, we have the same prediction? I don't think that has happened in 14 years of doing The Blitz.
Penn State 20, Iowa 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!