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Previewing The Enemy: Iowa Hawkeyes

No. 10 Penn State football (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) will travel to Iowa City for a match-up against No. 17 Iowa (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten).

The Nittany Lions will undoubtedly face their toughest test of the 2019 season so far when they enter Kinnick Stadium. Iowa is the first ranked opponent that James Franklin’s team will face this year, but the Hawkeyes are coming off a 10-3 defeat at the hands of No. 16 Michigan in Ann Arbor. Penn State leads its all-time series against Iowa 16-12, including an active five-game win streak that dates back to 2011.

Iowa started the 2019 season with four consecutive victories — including a wild 18-17 win over Iowa State that featured multiple lightning delays that lasted for three hours. The team’s solid offense, however, slowed to a crawl against Michigan last weekend, but that didn’t stop its defense from continuing its elite run of form.

The Team

Head coach Kirk Ferentz is five games into his 21st season as Iowa’s head football coach. Ferentz has amassed a record of 156-102 during his time in charge of the Hawkeyes, and he’s led the program to winning records in each of the last six seasons and 10 of the past 11.

Iowa’s record in Big Ten play is 92-73 since Ferentz began his tenure as head coach in 1999. Ferentz has posted a 7-7 record against Penn State since taking charge of the Hawkeyes’ football program, including five consecutive wins over the team from 2000-2004. On the other end, James Franklin has yet to lose against Iowa as Penn State’s head coach with wins over the Hawkeyes in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Defense is the name of the game for Iowa, which boasts a truly elite unit that can stuff even the most potent offenses. The Hawkeyes also have a veteran quarterback and a nice assortment of weapons to work with on offense.

Offense

Quarterback Nate Stanley is back for his third season in charge of Iowa’s offense. He’s passed for 1,225 yards, eight touchdowns, and three interceptions while completing 99 of his 160 throws so far this year. He’s led a unit that’s struggled to get much going so far this season.

Iowa ranks No. 81 in FBS football with an average of 27.4 points per game through six weeks of the season. The team’s rushing attack, which is led by junior Mekhi Sargent, ranks No. 55 in the nation with an average of 174.2 yards per game, and the Stanley-led passing game is the 57th-best in college football. At face value, those are fairly pedestrian numbers that indicate Penn State’s defense having an easy day, but there are plenty of reasons to watch out for the Hawkeye offense.

Stanley has generated NFL Draft buzz through the first five games of his 2019 season, and there’s plenty of reason for that. Although he does have a tendency to miss deep passes, there’s a lot to like about his game — particularly his ability to make accurate throws with pressure in his face. Stanley is 21-10 in two-plus seasons as Iowa’s starting quarterback, and that experience is so incredibly valuable in big games.

The senior has been able to rely on steady, reliable tight ends for most of his career, but TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant were both plucked by NFL teams in the first round of last spring’s draft. Instead, wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who leads the Hawkeyes with 19 receptions for 314 yards and four total touchdowns, has jumped out as Stanley’s favorite target so far this year.

In addition to Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith is the Hawkeyes’ clear-cut No. 2 wideout. He’s hauled in 17 passes for 215 yards and three scores so far this year. Stanley has done a nice job of spreading the ball around to 12 different receivers — eight of whom have at least four catches.

Defense & Special Teams

Iowa has allowed five touchdowns this season. That’s perhaps the most telling stat about the defensive unit that Penn State will face on Saturday night, and it’s filled with stars.

At defensive end, AJ Epenesa and Chauncey Golston are both capable of generating a strong pass rush at an elite level. Epenesa led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks last year, but he’s been held to just two through five games in 2019. Meanwhile, Golston is coming off the best game of his season after posting eight tackles against Michigan.

Defensive tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Austin Schulte definitely don’t have the same pedigree as their end counterparts, and Iowa lost a stud linebacker in Josey Jewell to the NFL. Jewell, who now plays for the Denver Broncos, is being replaced by a committee led by senior Kristian Welch, who leads the team with 39 stops so far this year. Nick Niemann — the son of Hawkeye assistant coach Jay Niemann — and Djimon Colbert are the other starting linebackers for Iowa.

In the secondary, New Castle, Pennsylvania native Geno Stone is a player to watch out for on Saturday. The safety returned a Trace McSorley interception for a touchdown against Penn State last season, and he’s started in Iowa’s last 14 games. Cornerback Michael Ojemudia has intercepted two interceptions so far this year, too.

Junior kicker Keith Duncan is 11-for-12 on field-goal tries so far this season, and Iowa’s punter is Michael Sleep-Dalton — a graduate transfer from Arizona State who can punt with either one of his feet (!).

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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