Previewing The Enemy: No. 12 Penn State vs. Iowa
By: David Abruzzese and Ethan Kasales
Let’s take a closer look at Iowa (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) and what kind of challenges Kirk Ferentz’ Hawkeyes will present under the lights. The Nittany Lions (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) are on a roll in conference play, as Joe Moorhead’s offense is taking flight at just the right time. However, a stingy black and gold defense could cause a few headaches for Penn State.
Iowa’s strength may be on the defensive side of the ball, but make no mistake — the Hawkeyes’ offense is an effective bunch. Veteran quarterback C.J. Beathard has remained relatively consistent, accounting for 1,380 yards, 11 touchdowns, and only four interceptions while completing 58.7 percent of his passes.
The Hawkeyes thrive in the running department. The duo of Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr. has combined for 1,260 yards and 14 touchdowns, and is the lifeblood of the Iowa offense. Expect to see Daniels Jr. in plenty of short-yardage situations given his sturdy 225-pound frame. The pair of runners pose a new challenge for Penn State’s healthy front seven.
The Hawkeyes have an abundance of talent at wide receiver led by Riley McCarron, Matt VandeBerg, and George Kittle. McCarron leads the bunch with 336 yards and three touchdowns. Behind him is Vandeberg, who also has three touchdown receptions on the season. The Hawkeyes love to spread the ball around the field, meaning Penn State’s entire secondary figures to be tested. The key for Penn State will be containing Iowa’s playmakers and getting to Beathard early and often.
It all starts on an island called Desmond King. The shutdown corner out of Detroit came back to Iowa City for his senior year after bringing home the Jim Thorpe Award, which annually recognizes the nation’s top defensive back. Though his lone interception this fall is far from the eight picks he recorded in 2015, numbers can often be misleading. Hardly anyone is brave enough to test King’s cover skills on the outside, despite him usually sticking to one side of the field. He’ll probably draw junior wideout Chris Godwin for most of the night. Fellow corner Greg Mabin is no slouch either, so the Nittany Lion receivers will need to focus on gaining separation from the start.
Iowa, fresh off its bye week, is holding opponents to a mere 18.9 points per game — good for a tie with Miami (Fla.) for the 16th-best scoring defense in the nation. The Hawkeye linebackers have been prolific this season to say the least. Josey Jewell, Bo Bower, and Ben Niemann make up three of Iowa’s top four tacklers with at least 50 apiece through eight games. Backup defensive end Anthony Nelson, who checks in at a towering 6-foot-7, is putting together an impressive debut season with four sacks and two fumble recoveries. Jaleel Johnson is a force at tackle, as the senior leads Iowa with 5.5 sacks to go along with 32 total tackles.