Blue White Illustrated's staff makes its picks as the Nittany Lions get set to tangle with Iowa this weekend at Kinnick Stadium. Who do we think has the edge? Learn more, here!
Nate Bauer - Blue White Illustrated Editor (2017 Record: 3-0)
Iowa's historical success in night games at Kinnick Stadium under Kirk Ferentz (9-3), including an upset of No. 2 Michigan last year, might be in the back of Penn State fans' minds this week.
It shouldn't be.
Certainly, every team can have a different identity and usually does each year. Last year’s Penn State team struggled on the road early in the season, falling at Pittsburgh and at Michigan in the first two trips of the year, then ultimately also coming up on the wrong end of a thrilling 52-49 Rose Bowl game, also away form Beaver Stadium.
Part of the deal with a team having that type of identity, one that has some tough times on the road, or one that constantly needs to come back in order to win games, is that it can be accompanied by an evolution. If anything, last year’s Penn State team was a trial run; an opportunity to learn from experiences and grow from them in order to become a more complete, mature team this year.
So far this season, albeit against relatively toothless competition, some of those evolutions have been on full display. Penn State is getting takeaways at a furious pace. The Nittany Lions are starting more quickly and taking care of business rather than finding themselves in early holes. Special teams and the return game have in particular been weapons.
And, specifically, as it relates to Iowa, I think this game just sets up as a relatively bad matchup for the brand of Hawkeyes football that I've grown used to seeing. For this iteration of Penn State football, one that sees an offense score bunches of points quickly, its biggest vulnerability is against teams that can do the same. Iowa does not and seemingly cannot play the same game of explosive football, and a huge time of possession gap is of no concern to Penn State.
Granted, you never know what can happen for new teams in a new year in an unfamiliar environment, but the matchups favor Penn State heavily here.
Penn State 35
Tim Owen - Blue White Illustrated Assistant Editor (2017 Record: 3-0)
When the season began and I made my preseason predictions, I had five different games circled as possible losses. No way was Penn State going to lose all of them, but I also didn't see them winning all five. With a team that has a target on their back like the Nittany Lions, one slip-up against a team in the Big Ten and the first blemish arises.
Iowa was one of those games that I had circled. And while I believed – and still do – that PSU holds a significant battle in most of the matchups, it's just one of those games that makes you feel a little uneasy. An 11 a.m. kickoff at Northwestern later in the season is like that; a nighttime game in Kinnick Stadium is like that even more. Add in some salt from last year's 41-14 whopping at Beaver Stadium, too, and that target on PSU's back? The Hawekeyes have that in focus.
There's just something different about this one and while it's not enough for me to go completely against a 13-point spread and side with Iowa, we've seen before how anything can happen out there. In a matchup like this, where PSU legitimately has the firepower to hang 50 and not look back, or it could find itself in a dogfight throughout, I don't feel comfortable calling it either way.
What I am more certain will happen, though, is this: This is the week that Penn State's streak of 14 points in each of first quarters ends. It was an impressive run to start the season, but I anticipate a slower start in Iowa City. It's not solely because I think Iowa's defense is more stout than what PSU has seen so far. Rather, PSU has benefitted from early turnovers and I don't see those coming as easily against the Hawkeyes, at least not right away. In the end, however, I believe those will be be the difference.
Whichever team wins the turnover battle wins the game. Since PSU has a +2.33 through three games, while Iowa is minus-0.33, I'm taking the NIttany Lions.
Penn State 40
Ryan Snyder - Blue White Illustrated Recruiting Analyst (2017 Record: 3-0)
Penn State will face its first away test of the 2017 season tomorrow night in Iowa City.
Last year, the Nittany Lions put together arguably their most complete performances of the season against the Hawkeyes, winning easily, 38-14. In reality, it was even more lopsided than the score suggested, as PSU led 38-0 before Iowa scored its first touchdown, and even that came on kick return.
While that should give Franklin’s squad plenty of confidence, that score will also give Iowa plenty of motivation. As many of you know, you should never underestimate the revenge factor in sports. That’s especially true in college football.
With that said, the Nittany Lions got a preview of what to expect just two weeks ago when they hosted Pitt. On offense, the Panthers were forced to play smash-mouth football due to a lack of solid quarterback play and Penn State faired pretty well, holding Pitt out of the end zone until late in the game. Iowa has better skill players and they’re at home, but there were more positives in that Pitt performance than some fans will admit. I expect Brent Pry to use a similar game plan tomorrow night.
But if Penn State’s going to win this in the manner fans expect, the offense will have to score early and often in the first half. No, I don’t expect Iowa to put up 30-plus points, but I do expect them to grind down PSU’s defensive line with multiple drives that last at least five or six minutes. I’d be surprised if the time of possession is as lopsided as it was against Pitt, but that will once again be a theme to watch closely.
Fortunately for Penn State, they have a major advantage on offense, so even if the Hawkeyes do keep this close throughout the first half, I expect Joe Moorhead to make the right adjustments and pull away in the second half.
Penn State 31