By: David Abruzzese and Ethan Kasales
Penn State travels to Iowa City for the first time since 2012 to take on a 3-0 Iowa team poised to revive memories of 2008. The Nittany Lions enter the contest ranked No. 4. Sound familiar?
The Hawkeyes sit atop the Big Ten, but boast a middle of the road offense led by bright spot Akrum Wadley. The matchup between superstar running backs hits the national stage, and should produce fireworks (along with Chris Fowler’s serenading voice).
Saturday’s atmosphere should be one for the books, too:
— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) September 21, 2017
C.J. Beathard is off to the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, but towering sophomore Nathan Stanley is filling his shoes admirably with 655 yards, 10 touchdowns, and one interception. His production with Wadley in the receiving game is hard to ignore; so far, the Hawkeyes senior poses the same big play threat Penn State fans see Saquon Barkley produce game after game. Wadley has six grabs for 152 yards and a touchdown to Barkley’s 11 catches for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
Beathard’s top two targets, junior Nick Easley and sophomore tight end Noah Fant, should see plenty of action on Saturday. The 6-foot-5 Fant is a redzone nightmare with three touchdowns on seven catches — Jason Cabinda and co. should have their hands full.
A bulk of Iowa’s offensive production comes through the air, but expect this battle to be won between the running back duel. Wadley will see the ball early and often, assuming his ankle is playable — he was listed as probable.
Iowa’s veteran linebackers in Josey Jewell, Ben NIemann, and Bo Bower lead the way defensively, as all three seniors sit atop the stat sheet with the most tackles on the team. Niemann’s younger brother, Nick, is a redshirt freshman following in his footsteps at linebacker.
Jewell’s two sacks set the standard three games into the season, while true freshman A.J. Epenesa — the crown jewel of Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class — has recorded two of his own coming off the edge at defensive end. The former U.S. Army All-American and Hawkeye legacy (his father played for Iowa in the 90s) should give Penn State’s offensive tackles plenty to handle.
Redshirt junior cornerback Joshua Jackson paces the Iowa defense with a pair of early interceptions and six pass breakups. He even blocked a 40-yard North Texas field goal attempt. Defensive end Parker Hesse has made his way into the backfield often this season, tallying four tackles for loss in non-conference play.