Iowa football look ahead: Penn State has all those wonderful toys

Nittany Lions ready to defend Big Ten title

Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) pulls the ball out of the hands of running back Saquon Barkley (26) at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Penn. on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) pulls the ball out of the hands of running back Saquon Barkley (26) at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Penn. on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

James Franklin’s Penn State arrived in a big way in 2016.

The Nittany Lions beat Ohio State. That’s a big deal. The Buckeyes have now lost exactly two — two!! — B1G conference games in Urban Meyer’s five seasons as head coach. And then the Lions just kept going, finishing the season with two of the most memorable games anywhere in 2016.

Penn State mounted an incredible comeback against Wisconsin to win the Big Ten title game. In the Rose Bowl, the Lions left too much time on the clock for USC’s dazzling quarterback Sam Darnold and fell 52-49.

That’s where Penn State ended. The Lions started 2-2 and PSU athletics director Sandy Barbour had to stem discontent with a hopeful “vote of confidence.”

After the dreaded VOC it seemed like everything came up Penn State and Franklin.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that running back Saquon Barkley showed another layer of stardom with nearly 1,500 yards rushing and 18 TDs. Also, QB Trace McSorley settled into the position and became a weapon. At the end of 2016, the Lions showed they had the best collection of skill players in the Big Ten. It’s just weird not writing that about Ohio State, but credit where credit is due.

PSU vs. Iowa 2016: Rushing

For a more detailed breakdown of this game, click here.

Iowa people won’t argue this point. The 599 yards the Lions put up on the Hawkeyes in a 41-14 victory at Happy Valley in November was the second-most against an Iowa defense in Kirk Ferentz’s 18 years as head coach.

Ohio State still got the College Football Playoff bid. Penn State fans hated this, but the general consensus didn’t raise much of an eyebrow to this.

That’s a little meat on the bone for the 2017 Nittany Lions, isn’t it? By the way, PSU will travel to Ohio State on Oct. 28. The game is on Fox at 2:30. Depending what time the Hawkeyes kick, you’ll probably watch.


Where does he get all those wonderful toys?: That’s what Jack Nicholson asked his henchmen when he played The Joker in the 1989 Batman movie. You might not remember it. It was funny at the time.

So ...

Barkley — If you’re nutty enough to do Big Ten fantasy football, he’s the top pick. In the Big Ten preseason poll, Barkley was the runaway winner for offensive player of the year.

Barkley is a mix of strength and speed and quickness. He’s a weight room video on nearly every lift (he broke a power clean record this year — 405 pounds — that he shared at 395 with defensive linemen).

McSorley — He set school records in passing yards (3,614), total offense (3,979) and passing touchdowns (29). McSorley’s 31-to-8 ratio for touchdowns to interceptions is the best of any Penn State quarterback with 3,000 career passing yards.

Against Iowa? Between 40 rushing yards and 240 passing, McSorley averaged 8.75 yards a play.

Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead — In his first season at PSU, transformed an offense that averaged 23.2 points per game in 2015 to 37.6 points per in 2016.

Moorhead describes his offense as a “multi-tempo spread.” Big Ten defensive coordinators probably call it something else.

Franklin himself — This observation is from afar, but it feels like Franklin is more aware of his sideline enthusiasm. When he was at Vanderbilt, Franklin would come out set on volume 11. And then his team would take a few haymakers (Vandy often does in the SEC). And then Franklin would kind of clam up. This feeds into the team psyche, I don’t care what anyone says.


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Franklin seemed more metered in 2017. Six-game winning streaks will do that. But, after a 72-yard TD pass in the Rose Bowl, Franklin did give Moorhead a celebratory punch in the chest.

Maybe it’s still a work in progress.

Hawkeyes Look Ahead

Sept. 23 vs. Penn State

Time, TV: TBA

Week before: vs. North Texas

Week after: at Michigan State (Spartan Stadium), Sept. 30

On the horizon: vs. Illinois (at Kinnick, homecoming, Oct. 7, 11 a.m.)

Penn State Nittany Lions

Coach: James Franklin (25-15, fourth season at Penn State)

2016 record: 11-3, 8-1 in the Big Ten East Division (T-1st)

Scoring offense: 37.6 points per game (3rd in B1G, 21st nationally)

Total offense: 432.6 yards per game (2nd B1G, 49th nationally)

Scoring defense: 25.4 points allowed per game (8th B1G, 47th nationally)

Total defense: 367.9 yards allowed per game (8th B1G, 37th nationally)

Series: Penn State leads 14-12

Last meeting: So the positive side of this is that it set up the Hawkeyes’ best win of 2016. Without the 41-14 defeat at Penn State last season maybe the 14-13 victory over then-No. 3 Michigan at Kinnick the following week isn’t as sweet?

OK, that’s a stretch.

This was a historic blip for Iowa’s defense. The 599 yards felt like 5,999. The only players to receive a positive grade from Pro Football Focus were center James Daniels and defensive end Parker Hesse. That was it.

Iowa couldn’t contain McSorley in the pocket, so he made a lot of broken plays that went for big gains. McSorley’s NFL passer rating vs. the Hawkeyes was an otherworldly 141.6.

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