In what has been dubbed by many as one of the deciding factors in the Big Ten race, Iowa will take on Penn State this Saturday in Happy Valley on the spotlight of college football. This game is seen as a revenge game for the fifth ranked Nittany Lions, who had their National Championship run ruined last season after being upset by the Hawekeyes by a score of 24-23 in Iowa City.
For Iowa, this game means national respect. The Hawkeyes are 3-0 and carry arguably the nation's best defense into State College. But despite the outstanding defensive play, the Hawkeyes still find themselves outside of the Top 25.
With both teams opening the Big Ten season searching for a big win, the stakes couldn't be higher. Will the Hawkeye defense get the best of the Nittany Lions, or will Penn State's offense be too much for Iowa? Let's examine the matchup to find out.
Iowa will win if: Iowa's defense has been lights out over the past two games. The pass defense shined in week two against Iowa State, as the Hawkeyes forced five interceptions and a fumble, drubbing the Cyclones 35-5. And the defense didn't miss a beat in week three. The Hawkeyes pressured Arizona quarterback Matt Scott all day, holding him to only 50 yards passing and an interception. They also stopped Nic Grigsby, the nation's second leading rusher, in his tracks, holding him to only 75 yards, with most of that coming on one 58 yard scamper.
The big question mark heading into 2009 was—who would replace All-Big Ten defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul? But the line has been terrific in its' first three games, as Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug, and Christian Ballard have formed one of the best trios in the country.
The pass defense has been arguably the best unit in the country, with six interceptions already. The pass coverage has been extremely good and safety Tyler Sash would likely be on his way to an All-American year if it wasn't for the hype surrounding Eric Berry and Taylor Mays, as he already has four interceptions.
So, as we've established, the defense is good. They will keep the Hawkeyes in the game all night, so any Penn State fan expecting a blow-out, you're sure to be disappointed.
But while the defense will keep Iowa in the game, it will be up to the offense to win it. Freshman running backs Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher have been a pleasant surprise. They complement each other well, and together, have basically been able to make up for the loss of Shonn Greene.
The problem comes with the passing game. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi has been night and day all season. During the first half of every game he has struggled, but during the second half, he looks like one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten. He looked like he could get off to a fast start against Arizona, after leading the offense down the field for a touchdown on Iowa's first drive. But, he threw an interception on the second drive and wasn't the same until the second half.
If Stanzi plays at his second half level throughout the whole game, the Hawkeyes will win the game and stun Happy Valley again. But if he doesn't, it could be a long day for the Iowa offense.
Penn State will win if: It's hard to judge Penn State this season, manily because they haven't played anybody worth noting. Playing Akron, Syracuse, and Temple is a fine way to bad your stats, but it doesn't prepare you for big games, especially one so early in the season.
Plus, those wins weren't that impressive, as the Lions only beat Akron 31-7, Syracuse 28-7, and Temple 31-6. The offense was good in the first half of each of those games, but was dormant in the second half.
After a miserable first few games, Evan Royster finally got on track against Temple. But keep in mind, a 100 yard day against Temple isn't exactly good preparation for Iowa's defense. Royster will have to be at his absolute best against the Hawkeyes come Saturday.
Darryl Clark has also been impressive thus far in 2009, but he is working with a young group of receivers who have been decent—not spectacular—this season. We'll have to see how they do against the elite Iowa pass defense.
Penn State's defense has been solid in 2009. And cupcake schedule or not, they should be a tough test for the Hawkeye offense. The secondary has been shaky at times, but the run defense has been good. The main problem will be Penn State's elite linebacking corps. Star linebacker Navarro Bowman will play in Satruday's game, but he won't be 100%, and linebacker Sean Lee, who is battling a knee injury, is listed as day-to-day. If Lee can't go, that will be a huge loss for the Nittany Lions.
But Lee or no Lee, the way Penn State can win this game is to put pressure on Ricky Stanzi and force him to make a mistake. If they can force a mistake before halftime, they will basically be able to shut down the Iowa offense, as Stanzi gets flustered very easily. Without his leadership, the Hawkeyes will have trouble scoring points all day.
What will happen: This game is bound to be a low-scoring affair as both defenses are very good. In fact, I'll be shocked if either team scores above 25 points. The Iowa defense will give Darrly Clark pressure all day and he won't have many options in the air due to a young, inexperienced receiving corps. He will keep his composure for most of the game, but will end up throwing two costly interceptions in the second half. The run defense will also keep Penn State running back Evan Royster in check, holding him to his lowest rushing total of the season.
On the offensive side of the ball, Ricky Stanzi will play his first full game of the season. He will take advantage of Penn State's young secondary and get the play-action pass working with tight end Alan Reisner, who will finish with his best game so far this season. The running game will likely have more trouble than it did against Arizona, but both Robinson and Wegher will combine for over 120 yards.
As I said earlier, Iowa will win if Stanzi plays a whole game, and I see him finally going a full 60 minutes this Saturday. The Hawkeyes will stun a white-out in Happy Valley and will improve to a 7-1 record against Penn State this decade.
Score: Iowa 17, Penn State 13
Check out Isaac Luber's Iowa-Penn State Creature Vs. Creature article.