It’s doubtful there’s much of market for Pollyanna to talk Iowa Hawkeyes football to you today, being overly optimistic and whistling a cheerful tune.
The guess here is that people want at least the smolder of fire and brimstone after a loss like the 10-3 defeat Iowa absorbed at Michigan Saturday.
When there’s big attention and big money and even big dreams attached to these teams, a 3-point performance is impossible to sell no matter the location or the name of the opponent.
When you build your offense not on future NFL skill-position players, but rather, on the backbone of its blocking training and strength training? You better not abandon your run game and also become highly susceptible to the blitz, no matter the opponent.
So, the sky was gray in Eastern Iowa on Sunday morning and with good reason. Based on what we’ve seen, Michigan will be no better than the third-best team Iowa will play after Wisconsin and Penn State, and I’d take Iowa State over the Wolverines by a smidgen on a neutral field.
Wisconsin trampled Michigan’s defense (359 rushing yards, 35 points) a few weeks ago. That combined with the way the Wolverines eventually stifled every one of the Hawkeyes’ drives in Ann Arbor has to make you wonder if Wisconsin and Iowa aren’t separated by more than the Mississippi River.
Enter Penn State, a team that called Michigan’s eight quarterback sacks against Iowa and raised it by sacking Purdue a school-record 10 times Saturday in its 35-7 cruise.
Enter Penn State, ninth nationally in yards per play at 7.22 and second nationally in fewest yards allowed per play at 3.60, tied for fifth in scoring with 47 points per game and second in scoring defense, allowing a mere 7.4 points per outing.
Here’s where Pollyanna jumps in, reminding you we’ve seen this movie before and we always seem to be surprised by the plot.
Three years ago, the Hawkeyes got walloped 41-14 at Penn State and appeared poised to get embarrassed at home by second-ranked, 9-0 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium the following Saturday. Las Vegas agreed, making the Wolverines a 21-point favorite. If you had a money line bet on the Hawkeyes, you should still have some of your winnings left because you made out big-time when Iowa won, 14-13.
Two years ago, Iowa State had a 17-7 home loss to Texas that was as maddening as Iowa’s loss at Michigan Saturday because ISU was terrific defensively that night. With a trip to No. 3 Oklahoma next, the Cyclones looked like certainties to become road kill. They were 31-point dogs. They won, 38-31.
Let’s toss another silver lining onto the moment’s gray cloud. Penn State hasn’t played a game this season resembling the one ahead this Saturday. Its lone road game was against Maryland. Pushing around Idaho, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Purdue at home aren’t exactly like playing Iowa in Kinnick, at night.
“I’m really excited where we’re at,” Penn State quarterback Sam Clifford said after the Purdue win. “We’re in a very, very good spot.”
Yeah, that good spot was Happy Valley. Now the Nittany Lions are going on the road against an Iowa team that ought to be angry and a crowd that definitely will be fiery. And we’ll see what’s what.
Ultimately, though, this game is on the national undercard though it’s on prime time on ABC. The Hawkeyes had their chance to make it Saturday’s headliner, and couldn’t run with it. Literally.
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