Iowa isn't used to playing Penn State as a favorite, but that's how the stage will be set when the Nittany Lions come to Iowa City Saturday night when the Hawkeyes will go for their third-straight victory over Penn State.
This year a win for the Hawkeyes would mean they took care of business, rather than shook the college football landscape.
Also different from previous years is the fact that Penn State is not undefeated, as was the case the last two times these teams battled. But Iowa can use that to its advantage.
By rolling over Penn State 24-3 two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, the Alabama Crimson Tide set an example for how Iowa can best defeat the Blue and White.
Alabama, which replaced nine starters on defense, did not shut down Penn State's offense, but halted the Nittany Lions when it needed to.
Sound familiar? It should.
The Crimson Tide allowed 283 yards (156 passing, 127 rushing). Alabama clamped down by creating four turnovers when Penn State began to move the ball.
This is perfect "bend-but-don't-break" (and create your own breaks) defense—Iowa's cup of tea.
In fact, creating turnovers seems to be the best way to stop Penn State this season. Freshman quarterback Robert Bolden is doing a great impersonation of Ricky Stanzi's performance last season with five interceptions in four games.
The Nittany Lions also rank 89th nationally with eight fumbles. They have recovered all but three, which ties them with Iowa for 41st—but even near-turnovers are potential drive killers.
Consider Penn State hasn't played a team anywhere near Alabama's level in any of its other games this season, and the turnovers only stand out more.
Iowa's defense knows how to create turnovers. It's done so every game except the opener against Eastern Illinois. But one thing that separates Alabama's defense from Iowa's is that the Crimson Tide will blitz, and they did so heavily against Penn State.
However, Penn State is tied for second in the country with only one sack allowed this season. That sack came against Temple.
Despite not being sacked, Bolden was still shaken, which caused some bad decisions against the Tide, including an interception at the Alabama three-yard line.
Though it is highly unlikely Iowa blitzes on Saturday, Iowa's defensive line has shown it can lay the wood on opposing quarterbacks. Surprisingly, Adrian Clayborn hasn't registered a sack, but Mike Daniels has stepped up in the Iowa defensive leader's absence in that department with three.
Iowa will look to pressure Bolden into making mistakes, but that is by no means the end-all or be-all to the Hawkeyes' success.
Another factor is that Penn State has trouble scoring and that bodes well for Iowa, which has the No. 1 defense in the country in total yards allowed through the first month. Penn State has only scored more than 24 points once, against Youngstown State in the season opener.
Its other two opponents were Kent State and a decent Temple.
We'll get back to the Owls soon.
The Hawkeyes are also second in the nation in opponent redzone conversion, keeping the other team out of the end zone four times in only nine sniffs at pay dirt. Alabama is 24th in that category. The Tide allows its opponents to score 70 percent of the time.
Penn State only finds the end zone 73.33 percent of trips to the redzone. That's good for 100th nationally.
In its game against Temple, Penn State was given more than it bargained for, largely because it couldn't do anything but kick field goals. The Nittany Lions didn't score a touchdown until 3:35 left to play.
It's clear that Iowa needs to follow Alabama's example and pressure Bolden. The mistakes should follow. If not, the defense can always give Iowa's offense a chance by holding Penn State to minimal points.
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