Penn State’s Big Ten opener will happen on Saturday in prime time, and this will be the first time we’ll be able to learn anything about the 2017 team. The dubiously #4 ranked Nittany Lions (3-0 – all cupcakes) must bring their A-game to Iowa City, where they take on the as yet unranked Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0 – all slightly better cupcakes).
Let’s get a few increasingly irrelevant facts out of the way before we look at this thing footballistically. The Hawkeyes have won four straight night games at Kinnick Stadium, and they’ve won five straight Big Ten openers. (Although a good omen is that the last opening conference loss was to Dear Olde State in 2011.) Four of the five opening wins were on enemy turf. This will be Iowa’s first home conference schedule kickoff since 2012.
The Hawkeyes have won 399 games at home since the inception in 1889. They’ll be trying extra hard to snag #400.
Penn State has been a frequent victim of Iowa, having lost six of the last ten games in the series, which Iowa leads 9-8 since Penn State joined the Big Ten. That, of course, includes the 6-4 classic in 2004, which you knew I would insist upon mentioning here.
Time of Possession — This Turkey’s Increasingly Irrelevant Current Bugaboo
Iowa ranks sixth in the nation in Time of Possession, while Penn State ranks 125th. Now, now, you say — Time of Possession is an increasingly irrelevant statistic! (Matt Herb, you ain’t gonna hear the end of this one — ever! Biggggg mistake to write that in your column after the Georgia State game, Matt! Come on… I know you’re reading this.)
Iowa’s ToP against North Texas was 40:45, the second highest under longtime head coach Kirk Ferentz, who is in his 19th year at Iowa and is the longest tenured active head coach in college football.
In the Iowa State game, Iowa had 29 first downs, and in the North Texas game, they had 28. They rank 24th nationally in third down conversion percentage. (And yes, I’ll mention that Penn State ranks 92nd, through three cupcakes. It’s that quick scoring offense, right?)
The Hawkeyes’ pro-sized sophomore quarterback Nathan Stanley has thrown 10 touchdown passes in the first three games. Two tight ends, sophomore Noah Fant (brother of Ella Fant) and T.J. Hockenson have 12 combined receptions, each resulting in a touchdown (4) or first down (8). The latter, of course, is a key component in the possessions game, which is something I’ll continue to harp on. Junior wide receiver Nick Easley averages 5.3 receptions and 54 yards per game.
Senior running back Akrum Wadley ranks #3 in the Big Ten and #13 in the FBS, averaging 170 all-purpose yards per game. Through three games, he has 258 yards rushing, 152 yards receiving, and 100 yards on kick returns. Yea, verily, he is Saquon Barkley Lite. He is one of the most prolific rushers in Iowa history, with 344 carries for 2021 yards. And he ties Tavian Banks and Shonn Greene for best average yards per carry.
Brian Ferentz, son of the head coach, is the offensive coordinator since this past January. Brian was an offensive lineman and one of the team captains for the Hawkeyes, from whence he went on to a brief and unspectacular NFL pseudo-career. Now, he’s back as OC, and he seems to be doing a good job. In the words of the non-committal parental unit, “We’ll see.”
Iowa ranks in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in all defensive team categories. So, after three cupcakes, we’ll declare their defense as mediocre. Senior linebacker Josey Jewell seems to be the guy to watch up front, with 14 solo tackles, 14 assists, and 2 sacks thus far. Meanwhile, junior defensive back Joshua Jackson leads the Big Ten in pass defense, with six break-ups and two interceptions.
The Kinnick Wave
In a tradition that started at the University of Iowa football team’s season opener in 2017, fans inside Kinnick Stadium and patients and families inside the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital will exchanges waves at the end of the first quarter.
The UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital opened in 2017. It is connected to the south end of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and overlooks Kinnick Stadium from the southwest grandstands. During Iowa football home games, patients and their families can watch the game from the top floor (Level 12), one of the highest vantage points in Iowa City.
The wave highlights the relationship between the football team and the hospital. The Hawkeyes’ “Touchdowns for Kids” campaign has long been a fundraiser and during every game, a “Kid Captain” from the hospital receives special recognition from the Hawkeye football program.
The forecast calls for a hot and sticky 93° day, with the “real feel” around 97°. If the defense stays on the field too long, it will wither. We’ll see how increasingly irrelevant that ToP statistic is!
The Bottom Line
And so, my Turkey readers, we come to that pure bullshit section of the pre-game issue, the Official Turkey Poop Prediction. Thus far, we’ve been doing pretty well with the no-brainers we’ve issued here, but with no great compendium of relevant information about this team’s capabilities against reasonable opposition, I feel that my luck is about to change.
The Hawkeyes are by all rights a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, but is Penn State really the best team in the conference? Every game will be a test of that, this one included. In the words of the late, great entertainer Al Jolson, albeit in another context, you ain’t seen nothin‘ yet!
Oddsmakers inexplicably favor the Nittany Lions by 12.5 points, with an over/under of 52. This suggests a 33-20 final score, going Penn State’s way. We really have too little to go on here, so after making a few bullshit comments, I’m going to pull one straight out of my ass. I don’t know how well the quick-strike offense will do as they quick-strike their way to keeping the defense on the field for 45 minutes. Man, they better start learning how to sustain drives. I’m going to say that PSU doesn’t cover the spread and the Hawkeyes make it a good show at home under the lights. Penn State 27, Iowa 24. Take Iowa and the points and take the under.
I’ll be back after the game with more bullshit about what we all hope was a winning effort.