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Previewing The Enemy: Iowa Hawkeyes

Penn State football badly needs a win, folks.

The Nittany Lions currently boast an 0-4 record and are officially the only winless squad in the Big Ten. James Franklin’s squad has yet another chance to turn things around with Iowa coming to Beaver Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff this Saturday.

The Hawkeyes have gotten off to an average 2-2 start in 2020 but have a good amount of talent on both sides of the ball.

The Team

Kirk Ferentz, a “Big Ten vet,” as James Franklin described him, is now in his 22nd season as the Hawkeyes’ head coach. His squad currently has two solid wins on the season over Michigan State and Minnesota.

Iowa opened the season with tough defeats to Purdue and Northwestern but quickly bounced back with a 49-7 win over the Spartans and a 35-7 victory against the Golden Gophers. With that, the Hawkeyes sit at fourth in the Big Ten West, sandwiched between Purdue and Nebraska.

James Franklin has yet to lose to Iowa during his time in Happy Valley, as the Nittany Lions have won six straight over the Hawkeyes. This year, Ferentz and his squad are trying to build on a 10-3 record in 2019 that finished with a win over USC in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl.


Iowa’s offense currently averages a fourth-best 31 points per game in the Big Ten, along with a solid 376 yards per game. Running backs Tyler Goodson and Mehki Sargent have been the stars stirring the drink for the Hawkeyes so far this year.

Brent Pry’s struggling defense will have plenty to deal with in stopping Iowa’s rushing attack, as Tyler Goodson has 375 yards and five scores on the year, while Mehki Sargent has put up 208 yards and four touchdowns.

Goodson has burst onto the scene in Iowa’s last two wins, as he put up 100-yard performances in both contests. The sophomore put up 113 yards and two scores against Michigan State, while he ran wild for 142 yards and another two touchdowns against Minnesota.

Sargent, on the other hand, has been consistent throughout the 2020 season for the Hawkeyes. The senior has scored a touchdown in all but one game for Ferentz’s squad, his top performance coming against Minnesota last week for 86 yards and a score.

Spencer Petras has run the offense at quarterback for Iowa. In his first year starting for the Hawkeyes, the sophomore has thrown for 72 completions worth 759 yards and three scores. Iowa has relied heavily on the run game in its last two victories so Petras has had a couple of quiet games through the air, but he threw for 265 yards in the Hawkeyes’ loss to Northwestern week one.

Petras had an ugly day against Northwestern in the week two loss. He attempted a season-high 50 passes, but completed just 26 of them and threw three interceptions.

While the running backs have been the focus for Iowa’s offense of late, tight end Sam LaPorta leads the team with 14 catches worth 133 yards. Senior wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who’s been a favorite target for the Hawkeyes over the years, currently has nine grabs worth 104 yards and a touchdown.

Smith-Marsette missed one contest this year when he was suspended for the Michigan State game. Outside of him, other wide receivers who have impressed are Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Nico Ragaini, both of whom have 11 catches on the year.


The Hawkeyes are allowing just 14.8 points and 314.3 yards per game thus far, both good for third-best in the Big Ten. Iowa has allowed no more than 24 points to opponents this season and gave up just one touchdown each in its wins over Michigan State and Minnesota.

Linebackers Nick Niemann and Sam Benson currently lead the Hawkeyes’ defense with 32 and 28 tackles apiece, while defensive back Jack Koerner is close behind with 25 tackles.

Along with solid tackling, Koerner has had a massive year in the cover game. The junior defensive back has had an interception in each of Iowa’s last three games, including a pick against Minnesota that he took back for 19 yards. That’s not great news for Sean Clifford and the rest of Penn State’s offense, as the redshirt junior has already thrown six picks this season.

Outside of Koerner, defensive back Riley Moss has hauled in two picks, Matt Hankins has another, and linebacker Barrington Wade has grabbed two. The Hawkeyes’ eight total interceptions are good for second-best in the Big Ten this season behind just Indiana’s 10.

Ferentz’s defense also trails just Indiana with 11 sacks on the season. Defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg leads the team with 3.5, while defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon has three, and defensive end Chauncey Golston has two.

While the Hawkeyes stumbled out of the gate this season, their improved pass rush and ball-hawk defense could provide some serious issues for Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense this Saturday.

Special Teams

Keith Duncan has had a fairly solid year at kicker thus far for the Hawkeyes. He’s made 14 of his 15 extra points and hit four of seven field-goal attempts. Duncan’s best kick of the year came on a 47-yarder against Northwestern in week two.

Freshman Tory Taylor has attempted 20 punts this season. He’s averaging 45.8 yards per attempt and has a season-long of 61 yards.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism and is Onward State's sports editor. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]


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