Penn State Football 2012: Top Storylines Heading into the Week 8 Game at Iowa

Barry Leonard@@barryleonardjrAnalyst IIIOctober 18, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 06:  Zach Zwinak #28 of the Penn State Nittany Lions scores a one yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter against the Northwestern Wildcats during the game on October 6, 2012 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

As the Nittany Lions head to Iowa City for a matchup against the Hawkeyes, there are several things that Penn State fans will want to watch.

Penn State headed into the bye week riding a four-game winning streak.

The Lions are currently 4-2 on the year, 2-0 in the Big Ten Conference. Bill O'Brien will have to have his team performing in top form if they hope to extend the winning streak. The following storylines are interesting things to keep an eye on while watching the key Big Ten tilt.


1. Can Penn State finally win at Iowa?

Kinnick Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Nittany Lions over the years. Penn State has not won there since a 31-7 victory in 1999. Current players were in grade school the last time the Lions left Iowa City happy.

The 2008 Penn State team was 9-0 heading into a game at Iowa. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 24-23 in what proved to be the only regular season blemish for the Lions that year.

The 2012 Nittany Lions have to like their chances heading to Iowa this year, even though they are a 2.5-point underdog according to Danny Sheridan in USA Today. Penn State has looked good lately, scoring at least 30 points in three of its last four games.

If Penn State hopes to change the losing streak at Iowa, it will have to jump out to an early lead and quiet the sea of black and gold who will be extra excited in prime time.


 2. Will Matt McGloin continue his first-half success?

Quarterback Matt McGloin is in the middle of the best season of his college career. The senior signal-caller ranks among the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, throwing for 1,499 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has also rushed for five touchdowns in 2012.

McGloin has stayed away from the big mistake, throwing just two picks on the season.

Saturday's prime time game in a hostile environment will be a good test for McGloin. He will look to keep the Penn State offense rolling into the second half of the season.


3. Have the special teams improved over the bye week?

It's no secret that the biggest problem for Penn State so far has been special teams. Both kicking and returning have been major issues.

Place kicker Sam Ficken has struggled all season, hitting only three out of nine fields goals and missing two extra points. Ficken's lowest point of the season was in a 17-16 Week 2 loss at Virginia in which he missed four field goals and had an extra point blocked.

Punter Alex Butterworth has seen his own share of struggles. He has shanked several punts and is only averaging 36.5 yards per kick. Butterworth ranks 10th in the conference in total punting yards. In Week 6 against Northwestern, Butterworth had a punt returned 75 yards for a touchdown.

Things are not any better in the return game for the Lions. Penn State ranks 11th in the Big Ten in total kick return yards and 10th in punt return yards. In the Northwestern game, returner Jesse Della Valle muffed a punt deep in his own zone that led to a Wildcats touchdown.

No doubt head coach Bill O'Brien spent a lot of time with special teams over the bye week. Any miscue in that area could make escaping Iowa with a victory difficult.


4. Can Zach Zwinak continue to lead the rushing attack?

Running back Zach Zwinak has been one of the biggest surprises so far this year for Penn State. Zwinak, who was buried on the depth chart to start the season, has found himself leading the charge out of the Penn State backfield.

Penn State running backs have been riddled by injuries. Bill Belton, Derek Day and Michael Zordich have all had to miss time in 2012. That has opened the door for Zwinak.

Zwinak, a bruising runner, has shown that he is more than capable of being a feature back at the collegiate level. In his last three games, the sophomore has gained 94 yards, 100 yards and 121 yards. He has also attributed for three touchdowns so far.

Look for O'Brien to rely heavily on Zwinak at Iowa. The Lions will look to control the clock and not make quarterback Matt McGloin do everything on offense.