In what figures to be one of the Big Ten's best games of the year, the Iowa Hawkeyes must travel to Happy Valley to face the Penn State Nittany Lions. The rivalry gained intensity last year after Iowa ruined Penn State's undefeated season on a last second field goal in Iowa City. This year, the game goes back to State College, where Penn State has scheduled a "White Out" to intensify an already hostile environment.
While this will be a very hard fought battle and a great game to watch, Iowa will come out with a win. I know that I will recieve a lot of hate mail from Penn State fans, but the statistics and facts in this article don't lie. Most experts are already writing off the Hawkeyes just because of the location of the game, but in the end, experience will win over location.
1. Iowa will wear down Penn State's secondary
Ricky Stanzi may be the most underrated quarterback in the Big Ten. He improved each game last year, and should continue that improvement into 2009. He learned how to win big games down the stretch, crushing Minnesota and South Carolina and leading his team on a late drive to beat none other than Penn State.
The offensive line will be a big factor in Stanzi's success in 2009. They gave him plenty protection during his first season, and will likely provide him more protection as a junior. The line is regarded by many as the best in the Big Ten and one of the best in the nation, as Fox Sports and Phil Steele rank them third and fifth in the nation, respectively. This extra time to throw will alow Iowa's solid group of receivers more time to get open against a weak, young secondary.
Penn State's secondary is by far the weakest unit on their team. ESPN ranks the unit ninth in the Big Ten, seemingly because the Nittany Lions return no starters from a solid 2008 unit. A schedule of Akron, Syracuse, and Temple doesn't allow the unit to gain too much experience before a Sept. 26 date with the Hawkeyes. Iowa's receivers are much more talented than any of the above teams, and Stanzi will have plenty of options to throw to. The whole unit is experience and the tight ends will also be frequent targets for Stanzi throughout the season.
2. Evan Royster won't be able to run on Iowa's run defense
Iowa will likely have the best rush defense of any team that Penn State running back Evan Royster sees all year, and will certainly be the best he sees up to that point in the season. The problem won't so much be Royster, as it will be the Nittany Lions' offensive line. The line is just average, as ESPN ranks the unit seventh in the conference, mainly due to a lack of experience. While center Stefen Wisniewski is back, he can't carry the load by himself.
Even with the losses of Mitch King and Matt Kroul, Iowa figures to have a strong defensive line in 2009. Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard will contend for All-Big Ten honors and should do a solid job of helping to replace the production of King and Kroul. The linebackers will also be a huge help. The linebacking corps, ranked second in the Big Ten (yes, behind Penn State), will be anchored by All-Big Ten candidate Pat Angerer. All three of Iowa's linebackers return and the trio should be a major help to the defensive line in run defense.
3. Iowa's secondary will give Darryl Clark trouble
Iowa's secondary will be the best that Darryl Clark faces all season. The best secondary in the Big Ten, junior cornerback and All-Big Ten candidate Amari Spievey leads a very strong unit. The safeties both come off stellar seasons as well. Sophomore Tyler Sash tied for the Big Ten league in interceptions in 2008 with teammate Pat Angerer. His counterpart, Brett Greenwood, improved off of a decent 2007 to become a solid safety last season.
Penn State's wide receivers are much worse than a season ago. The Nittany Lions return no targets for Clark from a year ago and inexperience is bound to catch up with this bunch, expecially during such a big game so early in the season. Iowa's secondary allows little chuncks of yards at a time, but rarely gives up big plays. Defensive coordinator Norm Parker also teaches this unit to capitalize on mistakes. A group of young receivers vs. a defense that takes the ball away frequently is not a good formula for Penn State. Unless we see massive improvement from the Nittany Lions' wideouts before the season, Iowa will definitely have the upper hand in this match-up.
4. Jewel Hampton will prove to the country that he is capable of Greene-like production
Most people around the country see Iowa's main weakness as the loss of Shonn Greene, but those people don't know Jewel Hampton. Hampton is a great replacement for Greene, having rushed for 461 yards as Greene's back-up last season. He isn't as strong as Greene, but is much quicker. But at 5'9", 210 pounds, he's no pushover either.
Hampton's success in 2009 will largely be based on the offensive line's play, much like the line was a big reason for Greene's success last season. The line looks to be even better this year and will help Hampton mature and grow as a back all season. While Penn State's defensive line is good and probably the second best Hampton will face all season (behind Ohio State), Iowa offensive line is better and should be able to clear a big enough path.
5. Iowa will spread out Penn State's Linebackers
It's no secret that Penn State has the best linebackers in the Big Ten. Iowa is probably the deepest at that position, but the Nittany Lions have two of the most talented linebackers in the country in Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee. The problem that Penn State will have is they won't be able to use them effectively.
Bowman and Lee will likely be used mainly for pass coverage, considering the weakness of the secondary. While the passing game may be closed for Stanzi during the first part of the game, the running game will be open. Once Hampton gets out of Penn State's first line of defense, which should be taken care of by Iowa's offensive line, he will have plenty of room to run because Penn State's linebackers will be dropped back in pass coverage. If they start to creep in, that will open up the passing game, allowing Stanzi to have a huge day. While Bowman and Lee are outstanding if used effectively, they can't be two places at once, which will allow Iowa to hit them on two different fronts.
6. Iowa owns Penn State
Sorry, but I have to throw in a piece of intangible evidence. It may come as a surprise to many, but Iowa has owned Penn State this decade. The Hawkeyes are 7-2 against the Nittany Lions in their last nine games, including a 3-1 record in Happy Valley.
Now does this automatically mean a win, not even close, but it proves that Iowa can win in this kind of hostile environment. So for all of you experts who are writing off Iowa right away, don't be too quick to judge. History tells us to do otherwise.