Penn State-Iowa: Nittany Lions look to White-Out Last Year's Loss
To exact revenge, one must be humble, fearless, and mentally prepared for the task at hand.
Last November, Penn State stormed into Iowa City looking to remain on cruise control as they maneuvered through the Big Ten conference.
Undefeated at the time, then No. 3 Penn State appeared to be on a collision course with a divine decree to play in a national championship.
All they had to do is win out and most likely, the computers and polls would have leaned in their favor.
Instead, the Iowa Hawkeyes obliterated Penn State's experienced offensive line and forced QB Daryll Clark into rushing his throws throughout most of the game.
Penn State was able to move the ball, but once they entered into Iowa territory, the Hawkeyes powerful defensive line led by Mitch King proved determined to hold Penn State to a field goal or less.
In fact, on three separate drives, Penn State was not able to reach paydirt. Once their offense stalled, the Nittany Lions were forced to lean on kicker Kevin Kelly's leg. He was successful on all three field goal attempts in the game.
The inability to put the ball into the end zone proved too costly for the Nittany Lions but that was not the sole reason they lost the game.
Poor play and bad coverage from the secondary, a veteran corps led by safety Anthony Scirrotto, eventually put the final nail in the coffin for Penn State's bid for an undefeated season.
Iowa wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos would go on to have the best game of his career after hauling in seven receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Penn State also succumbed to Iowa running back Shonn Greene's 117 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
Nearly a year later, Penn State's offense may not be in as strong of a position as it is perceived to be.
The offensive line will not see any major personnel changes this week, although they have allowed a continuous amount of pressure to be applied to Clark since the first game of the season versus Akron.
Tackle Dennis Landolt has thus far underachieved but he will still make a start this weekend. Landolt has struggled maintaining his balance and hasn't shifted his weight well in the trenches.
A call to move center Stefen Wisniewski back to tackle or guard has been made by some die-hard Nittany Lions fans, but expect to see Joe Paterno retire before that move is made.
Penn State will have to stick it out against a solid Iowa defense that is ranked 25th nationally in pass defense.
It will be interesting to see how Landolt can deal with Iowa defensive end Karl Klug. Most likely, TE Mickey Shuler or Andrew Szczerba will be held on the line for added protection on passing downs to help keep Klug in check.
Meanwhile, Daryll Clark needs to stop regressing and begin to move forward with his play. Clark, a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy, has looked rather stale as of late, due in part to the inadequate protection he's been receiving from his offensive line.
Still, Clark must avenge his poor outing at Iowa from a year ago. He completed just nine of 23 passes for 89 yards and one interception.
Penn State was also just six of 14 on third down, too.
The Nittany Lions' rushing attack must take a leap or two in order to maintain a solid balance on offense between it and the passing game.
Penn State is ranked ninth in the Big Ten in rushing, only ahead of Michigan State and Minnesota. As a unit, they are averaging less than four yards per carry, which does not bode well for the Nittany Lions although Iowa is ranked just eighth in the conference in run defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Penn State could be forced to play without star linebacker Sean Lee. He suffered a knee injury and is considered day-to-day. If Lee can not go, junior Bani Gbadyu will likely get the nod to replace him.
Surprisingly enough though, fellow linebacker Navorro Bowman appears ready to play after missing the first two games of the season. Bowman has been battling a nagging groin injury but has been moving well at practice this week.
A lot of good things can be said about sophomore defensive end Jack Crawford. He has two sacks thus far for the Nittany Lions but head coach Joe Paterno believes he can be much better if he can improve on his confidence.
We will see how good Crawford really is as he goes up against one of the top five offensive linemen in America, Iowa's Bryan Bulaga.
Last season, the secondary hampered any hope of a late-game comeback for Penn State when safety Anthony Scirrotto was called for a pass interference penalty. Scirrotto was never known for his excellent coverage skills. He graduated this past year.
This year, Penn State will have to hope its new core of defensive backs can play much better.
Safety Drew Astorino leads this bunch with 14 tackles through three games.
While they may be inexperienced, the hope around Happy Valley is that they will not miss as many assignments as last year's group did against Iowa.
Field goals were an important aspect of last year's meeting but Penn State's reliable kicker, Kevin Kelly, has since graduated.
His replacement, junior Collin Wagner, is just two of four on the year.
While much has changed on both sides of the ball for Penn State and Iowa, plenty of things remain.
Nittany Lion enthusiasts are primed for a white-out game in which all of the fans in Beaver Stadium will wear white clothing. This is being billed as Penn State's first true test of 2009 and a lot rides on whether or not Penn State can improve from their outings versus Syracuse and Temple.
Will Penn State win and prove that they are worthy of their top-five rankings? Yes and No.
Penn State will win this game because they have more talent and are determined in this grudge match.
But Iowa is not a marquee win for a national championship-caliber school.
That is like considering a victory against South Carolina a "marquee win'" for the Florida Gators or the Texas Longhorns beating Texas A&M a "statement game."
Whatever your opinion of that matter is, one thing is for sure. Penn State must take one game at a time because if they get caught looking ahead, they will lose, just like they did last year.
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