Iowa contest should be a ‘measuring stick’ for Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 05: Saquon Barkley /

Penn State invades Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium Saturday night for the Big Ten opener for both teams.  How the Nittany Lions fare could be a barometer for the remainder of the season.

Penn State has received significant press coverage due to its No. 4 ranking in both the AP and Coaches polls.  Certainly the high-praise has been warranted. The Nittany Lions have been clicking both offensively and defensively.

Saquon Barkley, while finding running lanes tough to come by, has been stellar in open space.  Per, he ranks second nationally with 218.3 all-purpose yards per game.

Also second nationally, the Penn State defense has allowed an average of only 4.7 points per game, including two shutouts.

Despite all the gaudy personal and team statistics, one question still remains…who has Penn State actually beaten so far?

Even the most ardent Nittany Lions fans would have a hard time maintaining Pitt was a true measuring stick for this Penn State squad, especially after the Panthers were annihilated at home last week by Oklahoma State 59-21.

The two Pitt bookends, Akron and Georgia State also did nothing to give Penn State resounding national credibility.  Yet there are the Nittany Lions, undefeated and looking as primed as they ever have under head coach James Franklin.

This week presents a match up against Iowa and it 70,000-plus faithful.  The deafening sounds generated from venerable Kinnick Stadium are so loud that according to PennLive’s Greg Pickel, James Franklin has resorted to playing music at decibel levels louder than Beaver Stadium.

National title aspirations also make a habit of dying in the crisp Iowa night — ask Michigan last year or Penn State in 2008.  No matter the situation, the Hawkeyes have always made it difficult for opposing teams, especially highly-ranked teams, to leave Iowa City with a victory.  This week should be no different which is why it is a good barometer for this Nittany Lions squad.

Iowa will not be fancy, nor do they have many flashy players – running back Akrum Wadley and linebacker Josey Jewell are all-conference caliber players.  What Iowa does as well as any Big Ten team is play within themselves and head coach Kirk Ferentz’s system.

The “ground-and-pound” offensive style that Iowa employs allows Wadley to two-step between the Hawkeye’s hulking linemen.  Iowa uses this approach to their advantage.  The Hawkeyes can bleed the game clock in the second half because opposing teams get worn down.

Currently, Wadley is eighth in the Big Ten with an average of 86 rushing yards per game.  Wadley and the rest of Iowa’s running backs has taken pressure off first-year starting quarterback Nate Stanley.  However, don’t fall asleep on Iowa’s passing game.  Stanley leads the Big Ten with 10 touchdown passes.  The key for Stanley is taking the throws opponents give him and taking care of the football — evidenced by a lone interception thus far.

On the other side, Penn State’s defense has practiced a “bend-but-don’t-break” philosophy, only allowing one touchdown to Pitt.  They have, however, struggled stopping opponents, running game.  Teams are averaging 126 rushing yards per game against the Nittany Lions.  Iowa is sure to exploit this area of the Penn State defense.  No doubt defensive coordinator Brent Pry has been preparing his defense for the ball-control Iowa offense they will face.

Next: Penn State at Iowa Preview

Penn State has won the last three games against Iowa, including a 41-14 thrashing last year in State College.  While Iowa maintains that revenge isn’t on their mind, it certainly is a dish best served cold.  To borrow part of an expression from ESPN’s Chris Berman, “No one circles the wagons” quite like Kirk Ferentz.  His team will be ready for the vaunted Nittany Lions offense.  How Penn State handles the crowd and adversity will become a measuring stick they can use the rest of 2017.