No. 4 Penn State faces test at Iowa
IOWA CITY — Penn State’s James Franklin hasn’t coached at Kinnick Stadium before — but he knows how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be at home after dark.
The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions (3-0) open Big Ten play against one of their most vexing conference rivals on Saturday. Iowa (3-0) leads the series 9-8 since Penn State joined the Big Ten, which included a win in 2008 that dashed the national title hopes of the Nittany Lions.
Iowa also stunned then-No. 3 Michigan 14-13 last year as a 24-point underdog.
“I’ve never been there. I want to educate our players. I want to educate myself on what to expect. I’ve talked to a lot of people. I’ve called a lot of people. I’ve asked a lot of questions. That place is going to be rocking,” Franklin said.
Still, Penn State is a 12-point favorite for a reason. The Nittany Lions have blanked two of their first three opponents to rank second nationally in scoring defense. On offense, they boast two of the nation’s biggest stars in running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley.
After watching Penn State steamroll his Hawkeyes 41-14 last year, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knows his team’s margin for error will be tiny.
“We realize we have to play at our best and our highest possible level if we’re going to be competitive,” Ferentz said.
Here are some of the factors to consider as Penn State leaves Pennsylvania for the first time this season.
BARKLEY VS. WADLEY
Barkley is arguably the most dynamic back in the country, with 307 yards rushing (8.1 yards per attempt) and 11 catches for 241 yards. But Iowa has an explosive back of its own in senior Akrum Wadley. He’s 13th nationally with 170 all-purpose yards per game, which included a 46-yard catch and run for a touchdown that forced overtime in Iowa’s 44-41 win at Iowa State. “Akrum made some plays on his own. He’s really good at that, obviously, but we’re going to need to help him. It can’t just all be about Akrum,” Ferentz said.
MCSORLEY VS. STANLEY
It’s not surprising McSorley ranked second in the Big Ten with nine TD passes, but it is a bit surprising to see Iowa’s Nate Stanley ranked first with 10. Stanley has been the lynchpin for a much-improved passing attack for the Hawkeyes. “We’ve all seen that (Wadley) is a playmaker, and they have a big, strong-armed quarterback that they are able to take advantage of off the play-action pass,” Franklin said.
Only Vanderbilt has stingier than Penn State’s defense, which has allowed just 4.7 points a game. Iowa had its issues at Iowa State, but for the most part the Hawkeyes have been decent defensively so far. Iowa held North Texas to just 93 yards in the second half last week.
Penn State finished 2016 by winning its last three road games. …Iowa has won its last five Big Ten openers and its last four night games at home. …The Nittany Lions have scored 19 touchdowns while allowing just one. …Stanley’s 10 TD passes in three games is the best such streak for an Iowa quarterback under Ferentz, now in his 19th season. Chuck Hartlieb threw 11 touchdown passes in three games in 1987.
HE SAID IT
“Whether it’s the first play of the game or the last play of the game, if we’re losing or winning, if it’s raining or it’s sunny, we are going to fight for every inch and every yard on the field and for every second on the clock,” said Franklin about calling timeout late in last week’s 56-0 win over Georgia State to get proper field-goal defense on the field.