Things don’t get any easier for the Iowa football team this week.
After a rather lackluster offensive performance in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday, the 17th-ranked Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1) now host No. 10 Penn State (5-0, 2-0) in a night game.
That’s going from one of college football’s blue bloods to another in seven days.
That’s a tough stretch for any team in any season.
And Penn State is good — again.
Here are 5 Things about “Linebacker U.”
1. The coach
James Franklin’s success as a head coach is well documented.
In his previous eight seasons leading an FBS program — three at Vanderbilt and five at Penn State — he has taken his team to a bowl game. Every season.
His worst record — and only losing season — was his first, when Vanderbilt finished 6-7 after losing to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. The Commodores, by the way, were coming off back-to-back 2-10 seasons when Franklin took the reigns.
And with the Nittany Lions sitting at 5-0 heading into Saturday’s game, it looks like Franklin will be 9-for-9 in getting his team to a bowl game.
His record at Penn State is 50-21. After back-to-back 7-6 seasons in State College, Franklin is 36-9 the past three-plus seasons.
Franklin also was a pretty darn good player at East Stroudsburg (Pa.), graduating in 1995.
A four-year letterman at quarterback, Franklin etched his name on 23 school records during his career. As a senior, he set records in passing yards (2,586), total yards (3,128 yards) and touchdowns (19, including 14 passing). He was named national player of the week by Sports Illustrated after collecting 512 yards (362 passing, 150 rushing) in a win over Southern Connecticut State and also was nominated for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which goes to the best NCAA Division II player.
“He has had a great work ethic all of his life which has paid off in this opportunity to be a head coach in the Southeastern Conference,” East Stroudsburg Coach Denny Douds said after Franklin was hired at Vanderbilt. “... He was an outstanding quarterback for us and to this day, I think he ranks as the top dual-threat quarterback in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.”
2. The quarterback
Talk about filling some big shoes.
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Sean Clifford, a 6-foot-2, 216-pound sophomore, ended last season as the third-string quarterback behind the record-setting Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens. McSorley graduated and Stevens transferred to Mississippi State, basically handing the job to the unproven Clifford. He played in four games as a redshirt freshman, but did complete his first five passes. His first pass attempt — and completion — also went for a touchdown.
When Stevens announced he was leaving Penn State, Clifford assured his teammates he was more than ready to take over.
“If you don’t think I’m motivated right now then you’re tripping,” he told Audrey Snyder of The Athletic. “I’m more motivated now than I ever have been in my life. 100 percent.
“This is the most excited I’ve been for a season and for a team. I think we’re going to silence a lot of people who are doubting us.”
So far, so fantastic.
He’s 5-0 as a starter and has completed 66.7 percent of his 135 passes for 1,443 yards. He has 12 touchdown passes against just two interceptions. He also has rushed for 200 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and ranks 10th nationally — and first in the Big Ten — in total offense at 328.6 yards per game.
3. Double trouble
Penn State defensive ends Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney are among the best in the country.
A 6-5, 265-pound junior from Spotsylvania, Pa., Gross-Matos has 5.5 sacks in five games and that 1.1 per game average ranks 11th nationally. Toney, a senior from Philadelphia who is 6-3 and 243, is right behind his teammate with 5.0 total sacks or 1.0 per game. He ranks 12th nationally.
4. Balanced power
Penn State is getting the job done on both sides of the football.
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The Nittany Lions are second in the Big Ten and rank 12th nationally in total offense at 499.6 yards per game. They also rank third in the Big Ten and fourth nationally in total defense, allowing 240.4 yards per game.
Penn State also has collected 25 sacks as a team, a number that ranks fifth nationally.
5. The history
Football tradition doesn’t get much richer than in Happy Valley.
Penn State owns seven national championships, two under Bill Hollenback (1911 and ’12) and five under Joe Paterno. That list includes two consensus titles in 1982 and ’86. Penn State only has four conference titles, but the program played as an independent from 1892 to 1992 when it joined the Big Ten. It has four Big Ten titles, three under Paterno and one under Franklin.
Paterno, of course, is synonymous with Penn State football. He coached the team for 45 years, winning nearly 75 percent of his games. His 409 career victories are No. 1 in FBS history.
Paterno, however, was fired in 2011 during the child sex abuse scandal that sent assistant Jerry Sandusky to prison. The NCAA initially vacated 111 of his wins, but later reinstated them after another report questioned Paterno’s involvement in the Sandusky case.
“JoePa” died in 2012.
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