Despite the talk about how historical Saturday’s matchup with Penn State is, the fact of the matter is that Kirk Ferentz is very familiar with hosting top-five teams at Kinnick stadium. Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan have all visited Iowa City while undefeated during his head coaching tenure. Another chapter to this storyline will be written on Saturday when fourth-ranked Penn State (5-0) comes to town.
The difference this year? Your Iowa Hawkeyes are ranked third in the nation and are favored to win. Iowa cracked the top-four after an Oregon loss last week, paired with the Hawkeyes’ harsh pummeling of previously unbeaten Maryland. Now, two teams with Big Ten title aspirations will meet on Saturday to decide who remains unbeaten. Here is how Iowa can improve to 6-0.
Keys to Victory
The strength of Iowa Football under Ferentz has long been the presence of an elite defense. This year, however, not only is Phil Parker’s group the strength of the team, you could make a case that Parker’s unit is the best in the Big Ten. The secondary has been nothing short of dominant so far, showing up in a huge way last week in College Park. Conversely, Penn State has not run the ball as effectively as they have in recent years. Instead, the offense has relied on getting the ball in the hands of its star receiver, Jahan Dotson. If Iowa can disrupt the connection between him and Sean Clifford, Penn State will have problems moving the chains consistently.
Offensively, Iowa will be tested by looks it hasn’t yet seen this fall. The Hawkeyes have played some solid defenses up to this point, but nothing like Penn State. As stated earlier, you could make a case for Iowa being the best defense in the conference. Penn State could make the same case for its defensive dogs. Can the Iowa run game average over three yards per carry? If the offense can generate at least a respectable rushing attack with Tyler Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin at the forefront, this team will be in a good position to come out victorious.
In addition, Iowa’s passing game does appear to finally be opening up, which could be the difference in a close game. Spencer Petras is coming off his most impressive game as a starter for Iowa. Against a seemingly stout Maryland defense, Petras threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Additionally, he completed 70% of his passes, much higher than his previously moderate season completion average of just under 60%. Sam LaPorta is still his favorite target, but freshmen wideouts Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV have burst onto the scene as of late. It seems that Petras is now riding a degree of comfortability and confidence in the pocket, which bodes well for the Hawkeye offense moving forward.
But who are we kidding? Saturday’s showdown is likely to end up being a low-scoring, close battle. This means that Iowa will win the game if it wins the turnover battle, runs the ball effectively, and eliminates explosive plays by the Penn State offense, as well as by its special teams unit. If they do all three of those things, the Hawkeyes will ultimately find themselves in a prime position to be 6-0 and become a team that no one wants to play moving forward.
Whether you will be watching from a packed Kinnick Stadium or on the big-screen Saturday, it doesn’t get any better than a top-four matchup in Iowa City. And if Iowa can repeat its first three performances against Power Five teams this season, the rest of October and November will be quite the ride.