#18 Iowa vs #17 Penn State
Kirk Ferentz is a helluva good coach, but he needs to be on his game if he expects to leave St. Joe Memorial-Penndot Stadium at Beaver Field with a win on Saturday. The #18 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-1, 3-1) will try to show the #17 Nittany Lions (5-2, 2-2) some of their signature defense and improving offense on what promises to be a crappy, chilly, sloppy day.
At our local game celebration in The Cave, which has been renamed “The Pigpen” for this game, we’ll be serving spare ribs and corn-on-the-cob to honor our opponents, who represent a state famous for pigs, corn, floods, and good defense. Whether we serve up lemonade or moldy lemons depends on how Penn State can attack that vaunted defense.
Where They Been
The Hawkeyes are coming off a shutout win over our arch-rival-of-the-year, Maryland. Defensive domination was the name of that tune. The Terps wound up with only 115 total yards and seven first downs in that game. “Increasingly Irrelevant” time of possession was a ridiculous 40:55 to 19:05. The Hawkeyes ran 76 plays from scrimmage to Maryland’s 39. Iowa forced two turnovers as well.
Meanwhile, on offense, Iowa was racking up 224 rushing yards on 52 carries. Sophomore RB Ivory Kelly-Martin scampered for 98, and sophomore Mekhi Sargent ate up 54. To say that Iowa is a running team is to state the obvious. They tend to run at their opponents’ strength until they wear them out. Didn’t take all that much with Maryland.
Not a Passing Team
Although they’re by no stretch of the imagination what you would call a passing team, Junior QB Nate Stanley has improved his numbers this year to a 60.7% completion rate. He’s thrown for 1559 yards thus far with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. His offensive line protects him well — he’s been sacked only five times this year. And, curses — he throws a lot to tight ends, which Penn State’s defense are loath to cover. Iowa ranks 11th in the FBS in third-down conversions, so those tight ends come in handy.
The Iowa defense is formidable. In the top division of college football, they rank #5 in scoring defense, #2 in rushing defense, and #18 in passing yards allowed.
The Penn State defense must be up to the task because you can be sure they’ll be on the field a lot. Not that Iowa has a such a formidable offense, but if you put a persistent offense up against a withering defense, it’ll score points. In this case, with a suspect Nittany Lions defense (ranking #74 against the run, giving up over 165 rushing yards per game), the PSU offense has to sustain drives to give the defense a blow. Will they?
Takin’ It to da Street
The big stat to look at here is third down conversions. Penn State ranks 92 out of 129 teams in the FBS in that category, converting a paltry 36.8% of third downs — which happens to be the exact percentage that Iowa’s defense allows. In fourth down conversions, PSU is even worse — ranking 108th, with a 40% conversion rate. We all know that some boneheaded fourth down coaching has something to do with that. Bad news bears be aware — Iowa has not allowed a fourth down conversion yet this year!
Badger Badger Badger
For a key to how to beat Iowa, look at their 28-17 home defeat at the hands of Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes’ only loss this year. First off, Badger stud running back Jonathan Taylor had 113 yards rushing. But it was the fullback, Alec Ingold who ran for a 33-yard score with 22 seconds left to seal the deal for Wisconsin. Prior to that, Wisconsin employed an 88-yard, 10 play drive to overcome a 17-14 deficit. The Badgers took care of the ball, although they had 8 penalties for 68 yards to Iowa’s single 5-yarder. The big deal, though, was in “increasingly irrelevant” TOP, where Wisconsin led 35:13 to 24:47. Annnnndddd… the Badgers converted seven of fourteen third downs against a stingy Iowa defense.
Iowa’s ball handling in that game was sloppy, coughing up two fumbles and an interception. So, with cold, rainy weather in the Big Beave, we can see all obstacles in our way — keep the defense off the field and take care of the ball. Simply stated, but a pretty tall order, methinks.
Finally, PSU special teams cannot afford to make costly mistakes. This game will likely come down to a field goal. Penn State’s freshman kicker Jake Pinegar must focus on getting some elevation on his kicks, and getting them through that 18½ foot gap. Clanking one off the upright (or the crossbar) in this game could be fatal.
Those of you who might be worried about Juwan Johnson’s head or his ankle or whatever, he’ll be there dropping passes in the rain.
I told you crappy, chilly, and sloppy. I wasn’t shitting you. We’re looking at a high of 43 with periods of rain on Saturday. That’s got to affect play, and it’s got to favor Iowa’s run-oriented game.
da Bottom Line
So, where are we going with all this? To the Official Turkey Poop Prediction, forsooth! This is another tough one, man. I don’t know who is going to win, but I think we’re going to see a punishing game, in the rain, in the cold, in the Big Beave. Thing is, lose this one and a Toilet Bowl bid is a 50-50 proposition. In this forthcoming tough three-game stretch, any lapse will be disastrous. Will the team psyche reflect the disappointment of this season? Do they have anything to play for, with two conference losses? Can James Franklin motivate them to play like a great-but-not-elite team, like each remaining game is their Super Bowl?
Having watched them the past three outings, I get this certain queasy feeling.
The gambling line on this game is presently favoring Penn State by 6½ points, with an over/under of 51½. (I remember one Iowa game from the St. Joe era where if the o/u had been 12, you would have won with the under). Anyhow, if you do a little simple math, you will glean that the betting suggests a 28-23 PSU victory. In any case, I’m thinking this one should come down to a fourth quarter field goal, but I’m uncertain which team will win. For grins, I’ll go with the homies. Penn State 27, Iowa 24. I think the over/under is just about right, but my inclination based on some flimsy assumptions dating back to the Paterno years is to go with the under.
I’ll be back after the game to make excuses for why my prediction failed to materialize.