Penn State returns to action tonight in a primetime matchup at Iowa. Here are the keys to the game for the Nittany Lions:
Say Goodbye to the Bye:I know conventional wisdom says that the bye week gives teams a chance to rest and get healthy. But if you're Penn State, a team on a roll, I'm not so sure that the bye week came at a good time. It might be true that it gave the Nittany Lions extra time to prepare for Iowa and to fine-tune some things they needed to work on, but if I've won four in a row, I want to get back out there right away. Consider, as well, that Penn State scored 22 points in the fourth quarter against Northwestern, scoring three times in the final 9:49. At the time, the Nittany Lions were about as hot as you could be. Under those circumstances, two weeks is a long time to be off.
On the Road in the Big Ten: This is Penn State's first true road test in conference play. Nothing against Illinois, but the team just isn't that good and their fans know it. When Penn State went into Champaign three weeks ago, they dominated from the start. Yes, it was a road game, but it was nothing like what they'll experience tonight. The Hawkeyes are a quality team and this would be a huge win for them coming off their double overtime victory last week at Michigan State. Plus, it's Penn State. All 70,000-plus will be ready to go. Iowa has won 57 of its last 71 games at Kinnick Stadium, and Penn State hasn't won there since 1999. Still, the Nittany Lions are the best team to visit Iowa City so far this year.
On the Field: Both teams are 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten. Iowa's defense is ranked third in the Big Ten allowing an average of 17.2 points per game. Penn State's defense is ranked second (16.0 points per game). The two teams are tied atop the Big Ten in turnover margin. The Nittany Lions could get a big break tonight as Iowa running back Mark Weisman injured his ankle last week and may not play. The Hawkeyes don't have a proven back behind him, though they're a run-first team so you'd still expect them to try to establish the run. Penn State will once again rely heavily on its front seven. On the other side of the ball, it will be important for Penn State to establish momentum early. The Nittany Lions have outscored their opponents 52-0 in the first quarter this season. They like to play quick on offense, and quarterback Matt McGloin has excelled in that type of system. Part of what makes them successful playing with that tempo, though, is being able to run the ball effectively, so look for a steady dose of Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak tonight. Needless to say, Penn State must hold onto the ball. Finally, expect a physical matchup, and don't overlook special teams play, which for Penn State must improve.
Prediction: Penn State 23, Iowa 16.
Charles Costello is a lifelong fan of the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Sources:Yahoo! Sports Philadelphia Inquirer
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