PENN STATE (4-2, 2-0) at IOWA (4-2, 2-0)
IOWA RUSH OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE RUSH DEFENSE
This is the marquee matchup. Or it could be the marquee. Penn State’s front seven is among the Big Ten’s best, led by draft-caliber players, DT Jordan Hill (6-1, 292) and linebacker Gerald Hodges (6-2, 237). Linebackers Michael Mauti (6-2, 232) and Glenn Carson (6-3, 235) also are experienced and talented. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof is well traveled. He won a national title as Auburn’s DC in 2010. Iowa’s last game against a Roof defense was the 2008 finale, a 55-0 Iowa victory at Minnesota. That wasn’t Roof as much as it was Tim Brewster. Roof bolted for Auburn after one year in Minnesota. Roof rides the talented trio of linebackers sometimes into passing downs against multi-receiver sets, but also will insert sophomore Mike Hull. Penn State is young, but Roof is playing it – using multiple looks, early down blitzes — as though the Lions are veteran. The big question for the Hawkeyes is RB Mark Weisman’s health. He suffered a sprained ankle last week at Michigan State. He was out of the walking boot Tuesday, but coach Kirk Ferentz said, “Realistically, you’re talking about a guy trying to be a running back, not a guy doing something otherwise. I think he would have a lot of progress to make to be able to play.” Advantage: Penn State
IOWA PASS OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE PASS DEFENSE
Whether it’s Weisman or true freshman Greg Garmon or sophomore Jordan Canzeri at running back, Iowa’s passing game needs to be something the Nittany Lions have to account for. Throw last week’s performance out the window. It was raining and, as it’s wont to happen when Iowa and Michigan State meet, the game boiled down to field position and ball control. QB James Vandenberg copped to some shoddy footwork on some misses last week, but he also argued the passing game is close, using the two screen passes the Hawkeyes set up as examples. It gets lost in the wake of the struggles, but wide receiver Keenan Davis is putting together a solid season. Ferentz said: “He’ll be part of our evolution offensively, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. He’ll be right in the center of that. He’s already helped us immensely.” Senior cornerback Stephon Morris is the star in PSU’s secondary. He’ll likely draw Davis, whose caught six passes in each of the last three games, the most productive stretch of his career. Advantage: Penn State
PENN STATE RUSH OFFENSE VS. IOWA RUSH DEFENSE
Penn State running back is headed in the opposite direction than Iowa’s. Sophomore Bill Belton should be full-go this week. He missed three games after suffering a high-ankle sprain in PSU’s opener. The former WR could give the Lions a speed element, especially when compared to the go-to workhorse back that Zach Zwinak has become. Zwinak is the “Weisman story east.” The 6-1 232-pound junior had three carries for 7 yards coming into this season. In PSU’s last three games, Zwinak has rushed for 94, 100 and 121 and three TDs. In five third- or fourth-and-short opportunities, Zwinak has gained first-down yards four times. Senior fullback Michael Zordich has 167 yards and 4.51 ypc. QB Matt McGloin has rushed for five TDs. Iowa’s front seven didn’t break against MSU’s Le’Veon Bell last week. Bell got 140 yards, but the Hawkeyes didn’t allow the giant RB to land a knockout punch and instead put the pressure on QB Andrew Maxwell to beat them. He threw the game-clinching interception. Iowa can make teams one-dimensional and will focus on the run tonight and play the “complete a bunch of passes to score” game. Advantage: Iowa
PENN STATE PASS OFFENSE VS. IOWA PASS DEFENSE
McGloin’s success this season — 12 TD passes, two interceptions and a Big Ten-leading 249.8 yards a game — is a direct reflection of first-year PSU coach Bill O’Brien, who installed an NFL offense (Patriots style, including a hurry-up package nicknamed “NASCAR”) and erased ambiguity. 1) Instead of the flip-flopping the Paterno staff did with McGloin and Rob Bolden, O’Brien made McGloin the No. 1 in June. 2) He made WR Allen Robinson, who entered 2012 with three career receptions, the main target. The 6-3, 201-pounder is tied for the Big Ten lead with 41. 3) There was no fiddling with redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Carter. He was made the starter and now he’s No. 2 among Big Ten TEs with 23 receptions. Iowa will get junior cornerback B.J. Lowery back from a foot/ankle injury this week. Can Iowa’s front four get pressure on McGloin? Maybe the comeback story mirror for McGloin is Iowa DE Joe Gaglione, who’s gone from tackle/end/rotator to No. 4 in the Big Ten in sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (8.0). Advantage: Even
It’s not that Penn State can’t kick field goals. It’s just that O’Brien has no confidence in kicker Sam Ficken, whose made just one of his last four FG attempts. Ficken is a product of Penn State’s penalized situation. The Jerry Sandusky child molestation case opened the door for players to transfer openly before practice began in August. Anthony Fera, an all-Big Ten-caliber kicker, left for Texas. Because it has no confidence in field goals, Penn State is No. 2 in the country in fourth-down attempts with 20. Punter Alex Butterworth can place it (10 inside the opponent’s 20), but he’s not a boomer at 36.5 yards a punt. Iowa’s punting duo of Connor Kornbrath and John Wienke is effective, with 10 fair catches and 11 punts inside the 20. Distance hasn’t been there, either. Iowa wants this to come down to the field goal. Mike Meyer is on a major role (14 of 15), earning midseason all-American honors from CBSsports.com. Can WR Jordan Cotton break a kickoff return for a TD and make it count this time? Cotton has emerged as Iowa’s No. 3 receiver, but he’s also a valuable special teamer on kick return and as a gunner on punt coverage. Jesse Della Valle leads PSU with 8.1 yards a punt return. Belton could factor on kick return. Advantage: Iowa
1) How nasty are you people? — Penn State defensive end Pete Massaro is a really tough kid. He’s torn ACLs in both knees. He suffered a shoulder subluxation against Virginia and missed three games. He called Kinnick Stadium and you Iowa fans “vicious” this week. He compared Kinnick to stadiums at Alabama and Ohio State. Wait, what? McGloin said you guys are going to “heckle” the Lions. You guys wouldn’t do that, would you? You’re not vicious and you wouldn’t heckle, would you? No way, not you guys. 2) The No Secrets Bowl — So, will the fact that Bill O’Brien and Brian Ferentz spent last season helping guide the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl mean anything in this game? No, no way. O’Brien and Brian Ferentz did what Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told them to, and that was concentrate on their jobs with the Pats. When you coach for Belichick, you’re coached on how to coach. There’s not a lot of room for talk of future staffs and what if you coached at Penn State and you coached OL at Iowa? 3) Weisman for . . . — It’s a simple equation: If the sophomore running back plays, Iowa’s chances of winning increase. If he doesn’t play, who’s Iowa’s running back this time? Iowa has averaged 6.37 ypc when it’s been ahead by a TD or less in games and 4.25 ypc when it’s trailed by a TD or less. That’s Weisman. Advantage: Iowa
IOWA WILL WIN IF . . .
Weisman plays and is capable and the Iowa defense sacks McGloin maybe three times. You know all the facts on Weisman. There’s a chance he plays, there’s a chance he doesn’t. We might find out how much gamesmanship Kirk Ferentz has in him. Why three sacks? That probably means McGloin will have faced consistent pressure. The Iowa DL is getting there.
PENN STATE WILL WIN IF . . .
McGloin takes command of tempo and the Lions hold Iowa to less than 100 yards rushing. McGloin is a tough nugget. He’s been left out to dry a bunch in his career. He’s battle-scarred and finally has the reins. You won’t break his will. Iowa lost to Central Michigan when it rushed for 215 yards. But in its worst loss — a 9-6 defeat to Iowa State that was close in score only — Iowa was held to 68 rushing yards. Weisman didn’t have many carries in that one, either.
PREDICTION: Iowa 23, Penn State 14