Thursday, October 6, 2011

PREVIEW: Oct. 8 - Iowa at Penn State (posted 10.6.11)

PSU Football 2011 - Oct. 8 - Iowa (3-1, 0-0) at Penn State (4-1, 1-0)

How do you take your tough losses? Because Iowa has served them up to Penn State in just about every way imaginable this century - agitating, crushing, inexplicable, etc.:
  • Miserable, time-warped offense? See Iowa's 6-4 win in Happy Valley in 2004.
  • Shortcomings in game management, special teams and toughness? See Iowa's 21-10 road win in 2009.
  • Inability to get over the hump to greatness? See Iowa's devastating, last-play 24-23 upset of unbeaten, 9-0, No. 3-ranked PSU in Iowa City in 2008.
  • Can't finish the job? The Hawkeyes' 42-35 OT win in 2002 negated a 22-point PSU comeback.
  • Can't score vs. good defenses on the road? See last season's 24-3 result in Iowa City.
  • Stumbling as a huge favorite? The Lions were -17 in Vegas when they fell 26-23 in OT at Beaver Stadium in 2000.
Yes, no opponent has bristled PSU like the Hawkeyes, winners of 8 of 9 against Penn State (the Lions won 27-7 in 2007).

PSU might be a superior program to Iowa  - the Lions are five games better in Big Ten play the past five years. Yet Iowa holds a 3-1 head-to-head edge in that span.

A win Saturday in State College pushes those memories to the recesses. Much like the streak-busting win over Michigan in 2008 numbed the pain of a decade of Wolverines domination.

This has the earmarks of a bellwether game. The one that will be looked back on as a springboard to success, or another step backward toward mediocrity.

WORDS: Providing bulletin board material during game week is a potentially foolish thing. But PSU LB Glenn Carson's much-publicized commentary (ESPN has eaten it up) this week doesn't meet the criteria. Carson said: "Iowa's a wrestling school and Penn State's a football school. So we've got to take it to them,'' which, first of all, is completely accurate: Iowa is a wrestling school. It is the premier wrestling school, the most historic wrestling school in the nation (23 national championships), which surely everyone on Iowa's campus is keenly aware of. So the Iowa football team is supposed to be insulted, or motivated, by that? Second, what sort of bad karma kibosh can Carson possibly inflict on PSU? Iowa is dominating this series. Being called a wrestling school is supposed to give Iowa an extra edge? Hardly. By the way, lost in this much-ado-about-little, the-media-are-reaching-for-another-angle-on-this-one hullabaloo, is the fact the Penn State is the defending national champion in wrestling.

THE REAL MEANING: Carson has called out his team. Or at least the defense, which he sits at the center of. Last year's performance at Iowa was unacceptable. Carson knows it and is publicly acknowledging it, putting the PSU defense in the crosshairs and demanding a better performance.

BYE BYE: Iowa had a bye last week, which is much better news for the Hawkeyes than anything coming out of Carson's mouth, as it provides extra rest/recuperation and preparation time.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?: Iowa OT Riley Reiff is rated the No. 8 overall NFL prospect for 2012 by Mel Kiper Jr. WR Marvin McNutt is third in the Big Ten in both receptions (6.2) and receiving yards (103.2) per game. RB Marcus Coker is fifth in the league in rushing yards per game (95.0). Junior QB James Vandenberg, in his first year as a starter taking over for 5th round draft pick Ricky Stanzi, is second in the league in passing yards per game (273.8) and passing TDs (10). DBs Micah Hyde (two interceptions) and Shaun Prater (two forced fumbles) are big-play guys, and sophomore LB James Morris leads the Big Ten in tackles per game (10.0).

AND WHAT HAVE THEY DONE: Iowa defeated Tennessee Tech 34-7; lost at Iowa State in triple OT 44-41; defeated Pitt 31-27 with a big late rally; and beat Louisiana-Monroe 45-17 before having a bye last week.

OFFENSIVE OPTIMISM? When an offensively challenged team meets a defense that historically keeps it out of the end zone, the math is not in your favor. But this is not a vintage Iowa defense. It lost three draft choices off the defensive line. It ranks 11th in the Big Ten in third-down defense and pass defense, and 10th in first downs allowed and pass efficiency defense. PSU, despite its offensive struggles, should be able to garner 300 yards and 20 points. Should.

NOT DIVISIONAL: The Hawkeyes are "Legends," the Lions are "Leaders.'' So this game will jump on and off the schedule in coming years.

FRIENDLY CONFINES, FOR NOW: Iowa is leaving the state for the first time this season and playing its first conference game. Attendance has been down in Beaver Stadium (which is something that bears watching; the University depends on revenue from sold out Beaver Stadium) and Black Shoe Diaries and other media outlets are reporting a very tepid secondary ticket market this Saturday. Nevertheless, a full house of strong-throated support likely awaits. How long will it last? If the Lions get off to a slow start - and who would be surprised if that happens? - the crowd will get frustrated quickly.

CORNERED: Joe Paterno indicated earlier this week that CB D'Anton Lynn (head) likely would miss a second straight game. Replacement Stephon Morris (foot) might not play also. So true freshman Adrian Amos, who has been impressive, might get the biggest challenge of his career Saturday. Expect Iowa to be more adept than Indiana was at trying to attack Amos.

THE RANKINGS: The Massey Ratings, a composite ranking of dozens of computer rankings and polls, has PSU No. 30 and Iowa No. 37.

VEGAS SAYS: Depending on when and where you checked the line, PSU is favored by 1.5 to 3.5 points. The over-under of 45 probably seems high to PSU fans.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Fundamental football will erase the past vs. Iowa and give PSU a win. Run the ball with at least modest success (4 yards a carry, more than 125 total rushing yards) on offense, minimize negative plays and match Iowa in special teams (i.e. no blocked punts returned for TD a la 2009). The defense has to continue its string of impressive early season performances against one of the better offenses in the Big Ten, and tie or win the turnover battle. And the Lions must exhibit the toughness they've lacked in recent Iowa matchups. PSU will face adversity and have to make plays well into the fourth quarter, much like the Temple game. Can this team do those things against its nemesis?

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