Hawkeyes face winless Penn State
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Will Levis’ bulging biceps round out an imposing physique, one Penn State’s backup quarterback has used to earn respect as a hard-nosed, lower-the-shoulder-first signal-caller.
But the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, who could make his second career start when Penn State hosts Iowa on Saturday, will need to do more to help the Nittany Lions avoid their first 0-5 start in program history.
“Will was able to give us a spark (last week) that we needed, but at the end of the day we are confident in both our quarterbacks and we trust both of them a ton,” center Michael Menet said.
Iowa (2-2) has seen its defense improve week by week. The Hawkeyes have allowed just 14 points over the last two games should make it harder on an offense still finding his way, likely with a new quarterback.
After relieving Sean Clifford last week, Levis got more time with the first-team offense in practice this week.
He’s not a new face to Iowa’s staff, however. Levis attended a Hawkeyes camp during his recruitment.
“He was interested and enamored until Penn State offered him. That was the end of that relationship, and I say that jokingly,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s a first-class young man and that was a delight to get to know a little bit.”
Penn State coach James Franklin wouldn’t announce a starter, but he didn’t deny Levis provided a late surge in the team’s 30-23 loss to Nebraska.
He continued to bring a physical element with 61 yards on 18 carries, and also dropped back 31 times and completed 14 passes for 219 yards. To Franklin, Levis’ arm strength has been evident, but he’s still a raw passer.
He’s completed just 2 of 10 throws in the red zone, for one.
“That’s kind of all the subtle things of playing the quarterback position,” Franklin said. “Everybody loves the big, strong arm, which he has, but it’s also knowing when to take a little something off it and throw for touch.”
IOWA’S IMPROVING RUN GAME
Two new starters on the offensive line have helped the Hawkeyes run the ball better the last two weeks. Cody Ince has taken over for Kyler Schott at left guard and Mark Kallenberger for Coy Cronk at right tackle. Schott and Cronk are both injured.
The Hawkeyes have averaged 231 yards on the ground the last two games after going for just 77 against Northwestern on Oct. 31.
Penn State has allowed an average of 134 yards, and 3.6 per carry, in its last two games.
“They’ve got a pretty veteran defensive line and they do a great job against double teams and stopping the running game,” Ince said. “We have to be disciplined in our fundamentals and do what we’ve been doing the last two games and understand our job, play as a unit and not take turns having bad plays.”
The Hawkeyes have intercepted at least one pass in 11 straight games and rank second in the Big Ten with eight this season. They’re 61 passes since 2017 lead all teams.
Strong safety Kaevon Merriweather said he and his mates in the secondary spent extra time breaking down film of opposing quarterbacks’ tendencies.
“The extra film work shows whatever can potentially hurt us, and we prepare for it so once we see something, we instinctively react to it,” Merriweather said.
Merriweather is well aware of the interception streak.
“It’s not as easy as it may seem,” he said. “Just seeing what we can do is definitely impressive.”
SHUFFLING BIG GUYS
Penn State switched up its offensive line rotation last week, shifting longtime right tackle Will Fries to right guard where he replaced C.J. Thorpe. The move allowed the team to reinsert talented freshman tackle Caedan Wallace on the right side.
Franklin liked the look and will likely stick to it as it helped generate 245 rushing yards and a pair of scores.
Franklin said a string of false-positive COVID-19 tests has caused more than a handful of players to miss more practice than usual.
Penn State has had 39 false-positive tests since practice began, Franklin said.
“We’re at, I think, a higher rate than anybody in the conference and trying to find out why, because every time we have one of those guys, they miss a practice,” Franklin said. “There’s a silver lining in everything, and the positive is, knock on wood, those are not positive COVID tests, which is something we’ve worked really hard to keep everybody as safe and healthy as we possibly can.”