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IOWA CITY — You have a good idea about the task at hand for the Hawkeyes this week.
Iowa (3-0) plays host to No. 4 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. Yes, it’s the Penn State that rolled the Hawkeyes 41-14 last year in State College. The Nittany Lions return the twin pistons — running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley — that ran through Iowa’s defense. They also return a lot of a defense that held Iowa to 30 rushing yards (lowest output since 26 against Michigan State in 2013) and just 234 total yards.
Iowa center James Daniels crystallized those thoughts Tuesday.
“Not all Big Ten teams have athletic front sevens like Penn State,” Daniels said. “Teams we played last year, like Penn State and Michigan and Florida, those were the only three teams that had D-line and linebackers who could move and have the speed and strength like Penn State does (this year).”
That’s saying a lot. How do you deal with that?
“Fundamentals,” Daniels said. “You have to focus on your fundamentals every play. With everyone D-lineman they have, if you’re too high on one play, they’re going to throw you and make the play. You really have to focus on your fundamentals every single snap.”
That’s an Iowa offensive lineman talking about Penn State’s defense (which allows just 3.57 yards per play, sixth in the nation).
Here’s Iowa’s head coach talking ... let’s see, how not to overstate this ... that thing that happened at Beaver Stadium last year.
“The only thing we might have been all right with last year would be the coin toss, and I’d have to look that up,” Ferentz said. “We probably lost that, too. There wasn’t much out of that tape we can take.”
For the record, Iowa did win the toss. After that, Penn State put up 599 yards against the Hawkeyes, the second most against a Ferentz team in his 19 seasons (Wisconsin put 604 on the Hawkeyes in 1999).
Keeping in mind the core of Iowa’s defense is pushing speed where it wants speed to go, the 599 yards and the recency of that result still say a lot. How do you deal with that?
“We’re not all the fastest guys, especially the linebacker crew,” senior linebacker Josey Jewell said. “You have to choose the right angles to kick them out to the right people or cut the ball off to bring it in to everyone else.”
Ferentz said true freshman quarterback Peyton Mansell is playing the role of McSorley for Iowa’s scout team.
“Are you kidding me?” Ferentz said perhaps semi-jokingly. “He’d be at our end if he did. He wouldn’t be simulating — he would be our guy.”
And we give you a LeBron James reference.
“That would be a tough one here,” Ferentz said, continuing the “scout team” Barkley thought. “That would be like somebody here imitating LeBron, right?”
That’s another team. Ohio State wears LeBron James cleats and those are coming to Kinnick on Nov. 4. This is Saquon Barkley, who’s fourth in the nation with 182.7 yards from scrimmage per game. Ferentz generally doesn’t go out on these types of limbs, but he said Tuesday he believes Barkley is a top five NFL draft pick.
How do you deal with that?
“It’s very important, gang tackling,” linebacker Bo Bower said. “It’s important every game, but they try to run outside or throw a screen, you have to rally to it. Any kind of play, you’ve got to rally to it, especially when it’s in space. That will be very crucial this game.”
This game will be sophomore free safety Amani Hooker’s first start. He replaced junior Jake Gervase last week and is listed as the No. 1 going into the Lions. Going into the Lions.
How do you deal with that?
“We have to make sure our eyes are in the right spots,” Hooker said. “We can’t bite on play-action, we can’t bite on pump fakes. We have to play our keys.”
Has Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley done enough to convince you that he’s over the nervousness that hindered his performance in week 1? No, this week he probably can’t afford to miss long passes to open receivers, a strange problem for a passing game that was beached most of last season.
Stanley has led the Hawkeyes to 28 points in the final two minutes before the ends of halves and games. His 10 TD passes are the best three-game stretch for an Iowa QB since 1987.
Still, this is Stanley’s first night start, first Big Ten start and, oh hey, that’s the No. 4 team in the nation that didn’t notice the Hawkeyes’ presence on the field last season.
How do you deal with that?
Do you remember that 16-play, 87-yard drive that Iowa put together last week against North Texas? Remember that it took 8:50 off the clock?
That’d be one way of dealing with Penn State. One of those would probably go a long way for the Hawkeyes on Saturday night.
“We’d like to be able to establish the run game and be able to hold the ball,” Stanley said. “Obviously, they have a pretty high-powered offense. Obviously, if we could keep guys like McSorley and Barkley off the field, that’s going to be a pretty big advantage for us.”
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