#12 Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2, 4-1) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (5-3, 3-2)
7:30 PM – Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA
Television: BTN (Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen, Lisa Byington)
Spread: Penn State (-7.5) O/U (52.5)
Head Coach – Kirk Ferentz (18th season, 132-90)
Last Game – Lost 17-9 vs. #10 Wisconsin
Key Players – QB C.J. Beathard (SR), RG Sean Welsh (JR), WR Riley McCarron (SR), RB LeShun Daniels, Jr. (SR), RB Akrum Wadley (JR), DT Jaleel Johnson (SR), LB Ben Niemann (JR), LB Josey Jewell (JR), LB Bo Bower (JR), CB Desmond King (SR)
Iowa visits Happy Valley on Saturday night for the first time since 2011. The Hawkeyes enter the game with the nation’s second longest active road win streak with a school-record nine straight victories. With many key contributors returning from last season’s Rose Bowl squad, Iowa’s 5-3 start has been a disappointment. The Hawkeyes scored convincing wins in week one and week two before losing at home 23-21 against Football Championship Subdivision power North Dakota State. Since the loss, it’s been a mix of good and bad for the Hawkeyes, narrowly winning by identical 14-7 scores at Rutgers and at Minnesota, thumping Purdue 49-35 and losing close games against Northwestern (38-31) and Wisconsin (17-9) at home. In fact, Iowa is just 2-3 at Kinnick Stadium this season while a perfect 3-0 on the road.
Iowa’s top player is reigning Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year Desmond King. The senior cornerback is the only Big Ten player in the last 20 years with at least 12 career interceptions and 1,500 career kickoff and punt return yards. King has returned three of his 12 career picks for scores. This season, King ranks fourth nationally with an average of 32 yards per kickoff return.
With King’s influence, the Hawkeyes’ defense is holding opponents to just 18.9 points per game, which ranks 16th nationally. Like many of Kirk Ferentz’s teams over the last 17-plus seasons, the Hawkeyes play solid defense, while trying to execute complimentary football and eliminate mistakes with a pro-style offense. Iowa features a strong red zone offense and red zone defense, has a plus-seven turnover margin and has one of the conference’s best special teams units. However, the Hawkeyes offense has struggled to sustain drives and execute through the air and the defense has not consistently pressured opposing quarterbacks.
On offense, senior quarterback C.J. Beathard boasts a career 18-3 regular season record as a starter, but lacks eye-popping numbers. Beathard has completed just 59% of his passes for an average of 172.5 yards per game, but has tossed 11 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Beathard is more athletic than his statistics indicate, but is simply responsible for managing the offense. Iowa’s running back duo of Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels is among the Big Ten’s best backfields. Combined, the two have more than 1,200 yards rushing and 14 rushing touchdowns. Wadley also has 18 catches for 188 yards. In the passing game, the Hawkeyes greatly miss wide receiver Matt VandeBerg, who has only competed in four games due to an injury. Riley McCarron leads the team in receptions, yards and is tied for the team-high with three receiving touchdowns. Traditionally, Iowa’s offensive line has been the team’s strength. The Hawkeyes have run the ball well, but rank 91st nationally with 20 sacks allowed. As usual, the line has tremendous size and four of the five players have at least 15 career starts.
King leads a veteran defensive backfield that is joined by a pair of experienced tackles and a trio of talented junior linebackers. King and fellow senior cornerback Greg Mabin present a difficult challenge for Penn State’s talented wide receivers. King is a projected first-round NFL talent and Mabin has made 30 consecutive starts. However, Iowa’s pass defense does rank 12th in the Big Ten, allowing 223 yards per game. The struggles can likely be attributed to a defensive front that has failed to penetrate the opponents’ backfield, ranking last in the conference in tackles for loss. Just six Hawkeyes have recorded a sack this season with Jaleel Johnson posting a team-high 5.5 sacks. Linebacker Josey Jewell leads the defense with 77 tackles, followed by fellow linebacker Bo Bower with 61.
– Penn State and Iowa meet Saturday night for the first time since 2012. Penn State has won two straight meetings, defeating the Hawkeyes 13-3 at Beaver Stadium in 2011 and 38-14 in Iowa City in 2012.
– Iowa is 6-10 all-time when playing a ranked PSU team, but has won the last four meetings when the Lions enter the game ranked.
2010: 24-3 vs. #22 PSU
2009: 21-10 at #5 PSU
2008: 24-23 vs. #3 PSU
2002: 42-35 OT at #12 PSU
– Penn State leads the all-time series 13-12. Iowa is 7-5 in games played at Penn State.
Stat of the Week:
Iowa running backs Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels, Jr. ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, in the Big Ten in rushing yards. The Hawkeyes are the only team in the conference with a pair of players in the top ten. Just twelve yards separate Iowa’s two leading rushers. Both players amassed more than 100 yards in week 7 at Purdue, helping the Hawkeyes gain 365 rushing yards against the Boilermakers.