No. 7 Penn State Football hosts No. 24 Iowa in the Nittany Lions‘ annual White Out Saturday night.
In his weekly press conference, Penn State head coach James Franklin noted that Penn State has played Iowa, one of the strongest teams in the Big Ten western division more than any other opponent over the past decade. “Random, Random”, Franklin remarked “We love that and appreciate that”, in a similar tune to Franklin’s comments on Penn State starting Big Ten play on the road for 13 out of the last 14 years.
While both teams enter the game undefeated, one of the two familiar cross-divisional rivals will leave Saturday having taken a significant hit in the team’s Big Ten championship aspirations.
While Penn State Football enters the game after seeing playmakers Daequan Hardy and Coziah Izzard return from injury last week against Illinois, Iowa enters the matchup substantially impacted with injuries on offense.
With Iowa already down 35 percent of the Hawkeyes’ offensive production, here are the matchups that Penn State must win to escape the White Out with a victory.
Franklin on Iowa: Played Iowa more than anybody in the West. Just like opening Big Ten play on the road, “We love that and appreciate that”. It’s “random, random”.
— Penn State FB Thoughts (@PSU_FB_Thoughts) September 19, 2023
Penn State Football vs. Iowa Key Matchups
Penn State defensive line vs. Iowa offensive line
Michigan transfer quarterback Cade McNamara is a familiar opponent for Penn State, as he started against Penn State for Michigan in 2021, going 19 for 29 for 217 yards and three touchdowns as the Wolverines won 21-17.
In his return to Happy Valley, however, McNamara no longer has the Big Ten championship supporting cast that he had at Michigan in 2021.
Coming into Happy Valley this weekend, McNamara will be missing his top passing target in Luke Lachey and the Hawkeyes top two running backs … To take advantage of this, Penn State’s defensive line must get into the backfield and not allow McNamara and Iowa’s backup running backs to get comfortable.
If Penn State Football can stop Iowa’s running game and make McNamara try to beat the Nittany Lions through the air, Penn State should have a significant advantage over the Hawkeyes.
Although Iowa’s offensive line is typically a strong spot on its offense, the Hawkeyes gave up four sacks last week to Western Michigan Without McNamara’s top target in Lachey in an offense that already struggles to throw the ball, if Penn State can put pressure on McNamara in the backfield, the Hawkeyes margin of victory would be very narrow against a strong Penn State secondary that intercepted 3 passes as a part of a five-turnover game against Illinois last week.
All of this starts up front with the defensive line so Penn State will need to see its highly regarded ends in the backfield all night to put the pressure on McNamara and Iowa’s offense.
Penn State running backs vs. Iowa front-seven
Penn State has yet to get its running game operating at the level the Nittany Lions were operating at in 2022.
In a game that could see bad weather play a factor, Penn State must get its running game going. Penn State needs its backfield tandem to grind out yards and help take pressure off of sophomore quarterback Drew Allar.
Against the stout Hawkeye defense, the more pressure that can be taken off of Allar to win the game through the air, the better the margin for victory for Penn State.
Penn State and Allar have been exceptional at avoiding turnovers this season, as Penn State is one of two teams not to turn the ball over this season.
If Penn State’s running backs can help Penn State grind out long drives, take pressure off of both Allar and the defense, and potentially break a first explosive run this season, Penn State should be able to control the game Saturday.
Only 2 College Football Teams haven’t had a turnover yet this season.
– Penn State
– Oregon pic.twitter.com/fAO9BNpOeS
— College Football Report (@CFBRep) September 20, 2023
Mike Yurcich vs. Phil Parker
Phil Parker is highly regarded around college football for his defensive mind as it always seems the Hawkeyes have one of the top defenses in college football, regardless of the Hawkeyes’ offensive play.
James Franklin noted during his weekly press conference, “they do what they do and they do it extremely well”. Franklin mentioned that the Iowa tape doesn’t really change over time and the defense does not look significantly different than it did five or ten years ago, but that the defense always plays well.
On the other side, Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has been seen as hot and cold from Penn State fans, sometimes wowed by Yurcich’s creative play calling, like the return of the T formation and the third string running back Trey Pott’s touchdown pass against Illinois, and at other times frustrated by conservative play calling. This weekend’s matchup presents an opportunity for Yurcich to show his prowess in game planning by out scheming Phil Parker and putting Drew Allar and Penn State’s offense in a position to succeed against the strong Iowa defense.
Look for Yurcich to mix in the running game early to take pressure off Allar early and allow Allar to make easy reads on high percentage throws to get comfortable against Iowa’s zone defense.
If Penn State wants to earn a win against Iowa Saturday, Yurcich must out scheme Parker’s defense and put Penn State in a position to put plenty of points on the board and take pressure off of Penn State’s defense after last week’s defensive masterclass against Illinois.
Franklin on Iowa defense: “They do what they do and they do it extremely well.”
— Penn State FB Thoughts (@PSU_FB_Thoughts) September 19, 2023
On paper, Penn State is more talented than Iowa this season, especially accounting for the injuries for the Hawkeyes for this matchup.
However, with weather potentially playing a factor Saturday night and an Iowa defense that always keeps the Hawkeyes in the game, Penn State will face a tough test to remain unbeaten this week.
If the Nittany Lions can come away Saturday with a victory, the schedule gets a bit easier for the next few weeks before a pivotal matchup with Ohio State on October 21 as Penn State heads to Northwestern and then gets a bye week before facing UMass at home.