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All eyes will be on Iowa City Saturday as No. 3 Iowa takes on No. 4 Penn State, with postseason implications on the table. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect.
Iowa offense vs. Penn State defense
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras’ improved accuracy will face a major test against a talented Penn State secondary.
While the Nittany Lions’ secondary hasn’t experienced quite as much success as Iowa’s, it still has been one of the most productive in college football.
The 98.8 passer rating allowed is seventh-best in the FBS. For every one passing touchdown allowed, Penn State has recorded 3.5 interceptions this season.
Petras, meanwhile, has steadily improved his completion percentage from game to game.
He had a season-best 70 percent completion rate against Maryland after starting the year completing just 48.1 percent of passes against Indiana.
In the running game, it could be a long day for Iowa.
Iowa’s running game has shown improvements but, still is one of the least efficient in the Big Ten.
The 3.37 yards per carry remains second-worst in the conference. Purdue is the only team with a worse running game.
Meanwhile, Penn State has boasted one of the most efficient rush defenses in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions’ 3.21 yards per carry is fourth-best in the Big Ten, and the defense has not allowed a run of 25-plus yards this season.
Yes, Iowa running back Tyler Goodson is a very capable open-field runner, but people probably would’ve said the same about Wisconsin’s Chez Mellusi. His longest run against Penn State was for 19 yards.
Iowa defense vs. Penn State offense
The Nittany Lions have found most of their success offensively from throwing the ball.
That could be even more pronounced against the Hawkeyes.
Iowa has limited opposing running backs to 2.65 yards per carry, the third-best mark in the Big Ten, and is the only defense in the conference to not yet allow a run of 20-plus yards.
That will likely put the spotlight on an Iowa secondary that already has caught more interceptions in 2021 than in 2020 or 2019.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has improved since throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions against Iowa last year.
Through five games in 2021, Clifford has completed 67.3 percent of passes and thrown 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He hasn’t tossed multiple interceptions in a game since that Iowa game last year.
Clifford, Iowa head coach Ferentz said, “can make any throw that they ask him to make.”
“Besides that, he's a dangerous runner,” Ferentz said.
“I'm as impressed with No. 5 (Dotson) as anybody we've seen this year,” Ferentz said. “I say that with all due respect. We've played against some really good players so far, but he's outstanding.”
What’s at stake
The Hawkeyes have an opportunity to capture a signature win for their postseason resume. Iowa would almost certainly remain in the top three of the Associated Press poll with a win.
Iowa can absorb a loss and remain in the driver’s seat of a Big Ten West division that has struggled mightily this year. The next opportunity for a win that could impress the College Football Playoff selection committee might not come until the Big Ten Championship Game, though.
Iowa vs. Penn State prediction
Don’t expect a lightning-speed shootout between these two offenses. This is going to be a classic Big Ten battle between two great defenses.
Whether Iowa’s defense can continue to force turnovers will be important. Whether Iowa’s offense can continue to take advantage of those turnovers will be even more important.
Iowa 24, Penn State 21.
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