HAWKEYES VS. NITTANY LIONS
When the Hawkeyes have the ball
Penn State’s front seven is the best the Hawkeyes will face this season, if all hands are on deck for the Nittany Lions. The availability of linebackers Navorro Bowman (groin) and Sean Lee (sprained knee) is up in the air. Bowman has missed the last two games with a right groin injury, which showed up in August. Lee, the Big Ten’s reigning defensive player of the week, sprained his left knee late in PSU’s 31-6 victory over Temple last week. Lee leads PSU in tackles (14 solos, 18 assists) and tackles for loss (7.5).
Lee is telling coaches he wants to play. Bowman practiced some throughout the week. These decisions will probably run up to about 7:11 tonight.
If they don’t go, Penn State is still pretty well fortified in the middle. Tackle Jared Odrick was Herculean in Iowa City last season and has picked up where he left off, sitting among Big Ten leaders in sacks (2.0) and tackles for loss (3.5). Odrick (295 pounds) and Ollie Ogbu (285) give Penn State the most fearsome tackle duo in the Big Ten. They will be opposite an inside trio for Iowa that hasn’t seen anything like these two. Iowa guard Dace Richardson seems to be firing on all cylinders after missing two seasons with knee realignment. Guard Julian Vandervelde seems full go after offseason surgery for a torn pectoral tendon. Center Rafael Eubanks’ health bears watching going into this.
If Bowman is limited and Lee is sidelined, sophomore Nate Stupar and redshirt freshman Michael Zordich. Stupar has 22 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and an interception that set up a TD against Syracuse.
Despite losing their top three defensive ends, the Lions are No. 4 in the nation in rush defense, allowing 46.3 yards a game and a stupendous 1.6 yards a carry. Granted, that’s against the blah competition — Kent State, Syracuse and Temple — but those a startling numbers nonetheless. Sophomore end Jack Crawford has 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Yes, the Lions are young in the secondary — starting one senior and three sophomores — but they are still the No. 5 scoring defense in the country (6.7 ppg) and No. 5 total defense (293.7 yards a game.)
The Hawkeyes have injury problems of their own, of course. As many as four starters are up in the air for today’s game, including left tackle Bryan Bulaga (undisclosed illness), tight end Tony Moeaki (ankle) and wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Moeaki probably has the best chance to play of the trio.
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi has started slowly in all three of Iowa’s starts. In the first half, he has a pass efficiency of 93.1 and a completion percentage of 49.1. The second half has been Stanzi’s half — a 72.9 completion percentage and 163.72 efficiency. Last week, he threw a pick six. Iowa might be able to live with less than 50 percent completion, but it might not survive a first-half turnover or two at Penn State.
Iowa has replaced its three injuries fairly well. Freshman Riley Reiff has settled in at tackle; junior Allen Reisner at TE and a bunch of WRs, including junior Colin Sandeman, who led Iowa with five receptions for 47 yards last week.
Iowa’s O-line vs. Penn State’s D-line is advantage Penn State, on paper. Stanzi can be the difference, but he’s going to need to put it all together.
Advantage: Penn State
When the Nittany Lions have the ball
Penn State’s offense houses two of the Big Ten’s marquee names this season — quarterback Daryll Clark and tailback Evan Royster. They fueled a Big Ten championship last season. So far this year, Clark has shown off his arm, earning Big Ten POW with 29 of 40 for 353 yards and three TDs in the season opener against Akron. Against Temple last week, Royster went for 134 yards and a TD.
Clark doesn’t have a relay team of NFL-caliber wide receivers this season. Junior Graham Zug was the team leader with 11 receptions heading into Temple, but left the game with an apparent head injury and is a maybe today. Also, the Lions have three new starters on the O-line, left guard Johnnie Troutman, right guard Lou Eliades and right tackle DeOn’tae Pannell. Against Temple last week, Johnnie Troutman replaced Matt Stankiewitch and 6-4, 309-pound sophomore gave PSU some punch with its best rushing performance of the season.
Iowa probably has an edge here. DE Adrian Clayborn vaulted into all-conference mode against Arizona last week, with three QB hurries, a sack and a forced fumble. DE Broderick Binns had a hurry and a pass broken up. DT Karl Klug played his best game of the season with a second-half sack.
On the other hand, Clark did take some hits against Temple. He was sacked twice and hit several times, even having his right arm and shoulder checked out on the sidelines at one point.
But Clark still is Clark. He currently leads the Big Ten in passing (253.3 ypg) and TD passes (eight) and is third in total offense (252.7 ypg) and pass efficiency (153.9). He averages 21.7 completions a game and has 14 TD passes in PSU’s last five games. And remember, his overthrow into the wind toward the north end zone at Kinnick last season, set the stage for Iowa’s biggest victory in at least three years. Penn State’s offense and Clark didn’t lose the Iowa City game last season. The Lions had more rushing yards, total yards, first downs and led in time of possession (35:52 to 24:08).
Royster compiled his seventh 100-yard rushing game last week, averaging 7.1 yards a carry. Penn State is 7-0 when Royster rushes for more than 100 yards.
The Hawkeyes’ best hope here is takeaways. Iowa is tied for the Big Ten lead with eight takeaways and a 1.00 turnover margin. Sophomore safety Tyler Sash leads the Big Ten and is tied for third in the nation and leads the Big Ten with four interceptions. It’s time to recognize the 6-1, 210-pounder’s basketball background. He was recruited by a handful of Division I-A basketball programs coming out of Oskaloosa High School. His ranginess and ball skills have translated to Big Ten football.
Where Iowa might be a man or two down on offense, defense is a full boat. Sophomore cornerback Shaun Prater returned from a two-game suspension last week and started.
Maybe it’s something, maybe it’s nothing, but Iowa’s safeties, Sash and junior Brett Greenwood lead Iow with 25 and 23 tackles, respectively. Iowa’s three linebackers — Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Jeremiha Hunter — follow the safeties, but the unit has been relatively quiet, at least compared to their track records. They accounted for 2.5 sacks, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Hunter does, however, own one of the two blocked field goals that save the day against UNI.
Clark and Royster give Penn State an edge, but Iowa’s D-line can flip this with a full day’s work.
Advantage: Penn State
The Nits experienced some shakiness last week against Temple. They lost an onsides kick, allowed two kick returns of 30-plus yards and generated just 28 yard of their own on kick returns and nearly had a FG blocked. The specialists are more than able. Punter Jeremy Boone has a live leg, averaging 47.4 yards on nine punts so far this season. Kicker Colin Wagner has made just two of four this season, but shook off a 1-for-3 start in the opener with a 27-yarder last week. The Lions might have to replace Zug on punt returns this week. He’s averaged 4.0 yards on three returns.
The Hawkeyes have been solid across the board on special teams. Punter Ryan Donahue is the star. He’s responsible for the Hawkeyes’ No. 4 national rank in net punting (42.86 yards per punt). Basically, when Donahue punts, it’s a 43-yard loss for the other team. An amazing stat. Only four of his punts have been returned for a grand total of 5 yards. Nine of his 14 punts have been downed inside the opponent’s 20. Kicker Daniel Murray had a good week against Arizona, drilling his only two attempts (20, 40 yards). PSU fans know he’s the man who beat them last season and they’ll let him have it. Iowa’s kick coverage allowed returns of 42 and 35 yards last week, the only blemish for special teams that has been plus this year for Iowa.
Iowa will have trouble with Penn State’s defensive line. Penn State’s offensive line will have trouble with Iowa’s front four. Iowa has a decided advantage in special teams and that should work to keep this close. Injuries will factor, especially on Iowa’s O-line. Bulaga got the NFL’s attention with his performance against PSU’s Aaron Maybin last season. Iowa has Stanzi, who’s started slowly but finished with flair. Penn State is driven by two proven, high-level performers in Clark and Royster. Proven performance and “White Out” give the Lions an edge in a close game.
Penn State 28, Iowa 24