Full disclosure, I hate Penn State football. After the Jerry Sandusky scandal, I never want them to have success in football. I understand the kids on the team now had nothing to do with what happened, but the fans that have never seen any necessary blame for the Paterno drive me absolutely CRAZY. Not to mention the fact that the NCAA let them off the hook after only 2 years of sanctions. But I digress….
Kirk Ferentz’s matchups against Penn State over the years have yielded some of the most memorable games in his tenure. Kirk’s first breakthrough win as Iowa’s coach came in a 26-23 overtime upset in 2000 sealed by an interception by People’s Magazine’s Sexiest Athlete Ryan Hansen (seriously….look it up). 2002’s game also went to overtime with Iowa blowing an early 23-0 lead, only to hold on for a narrow 42-35 win. Who can forget the 6-4 slugfest in 2004 just days after Kirk’s father, John, had passed away. Probably the most emotion Kirk has ever shown on a sideline, and rightfully so. Daniel Murray was the last second hero in 2008, kicking the game winning field goal to beat the #3 Nittany Lions on a chilly November night in Iowa City. Then there was the monsoon that took place during the 2009 matchup, where Adrian Clayborn flexed his way through the Penn State punt team for a block, scoop, and score to catapult Iowa to a 21-10 victory over a top five Nittany Lion squad. Kirk always seemed to have Joe Paterno’s number and he has always seemed to treat Penn State a little differently than other opponents. However, since JoePa left the Happy Valley sidelines, Penn State has blown out the Hawkeyes by an average margin of 25 points over the last 2 meetings. Another crazy fact is that Iowa has only played Penn State THREE times since 2011, but that’s another discussion for another day.
This year’s Nittany Lion squad is as talented as they’ve been since before the Sandusky scandal. The offense is a three-headed monster with QB Trace McSorley, TE Mike Gesicki, and RB Saquon Barkley leading the charge. Barkley isn’t just the leading rusher on the team, he’s also the leading receiver by almost 100 yards. We saw these guys carve up Iowa last year in Happy Valley and Barkley went so far to say that Iowa quit in that game. The Nittany Lion offense THRIVES on the big play, as evidenced by the fact that they have nine scoring plays of 30 yards or longer so far this season. Due to the big play aspect, they haven’t had to run quite the tempo of offense that we saw last year averaging only 56 plays per game this season. Defensively they’re led by two pretty stout linebackers, which you’d come to expect from the school referred to as “Linebacker U”. Manny Bowen and Jason Cibinda fly all over the field making plays, in fact last year we saw Cibinda fly over the line of scrimmage on a 4th and short to flatten CJ Beathard on a QB sneak attempt.
One thing we can confidently say about this Penn State squad? They haven’t been tested yet. Wins over Georgia State, Akron, and Pitt aren’t anything to write home about, then again is Iowa’s schedule all that impressive so far? Comparing the 2 schedules I’d say Iowa has had the toughest test in their win over Iowa State. Penn State will be walking into a stadium full of Iowa fans that will have been tailgating for 8-10 hours…..it’s going to be a (drunken) hornet’s nest.
Kinnick night games against top 10 ranked teams have been a good scenario for Iowa. However, normally the night games have come later in the season when Iowa has had time to gel and put things together a little more. Akrum Wadley will need to have a Michigan-esque performance for Iowa to have a chance against the high octane Nittany Lions. Listening to him in interviews this week, he’s taking all the praise for Saquon Barkley personally and I predict we’ll see him playing with a chip on his shoulder. He wants to prove HE is the best back in the B1G. Iowa’s defense is going to have to make Penn State sustain long drives, something that they have not had to do yet this season. For me the magic number here is 24, if Iowa can hold the Nittany Lions to 24 points or less I like their chances. If it gets to a shootout, I just don’t think Iowa is there yet offensively to be able to keep up. Keep the crowd into it, get it to the 4th quarter close, and let’s see what happens.
On this night, I’m not sure the Hawks are going to be able to pull this one out. I hope I’m wrong, but I see this game as a win for Penn State by a score of 35-21. Now PLEASE…..go prove me wrong!