Penn State Preview: Iowa

Jayson Oweh (28) and the Nittany Lions look for their first win of the season Saturday at Beaver Stadium against Iowa. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. on BTN. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: vs. Iowa, 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on BTN.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 297-76.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 56 degrees and mostly cloudy.

All-time series: Penn State leads 17-12 and has won the last six games.

Last meeting (2019): Penn State won a slugfest in Iowa City, collecting a 17-12 victory. The Nittany Lions led 17-6 late in the fourth quarter before the Hawkeyes mounted a touchdown drive to close the gap with less than three minutes in the game.   

Throwback classic (2007): Penn State ended a five-game losing streak to Iowa with a 27-7 victory at Beaver Stadium. We highlighted that game earlier in the week on the blog, and the article features insight from letterman Rodney Kinlaw.

The lead: Who starts at quarterback for the Nittany Lions is something that all fans are wondering. Will Levis subbed in for Sean Clifford last Saturday at Nebraska, nearly completing a comeback after the Nittany Lions fell behind by 21. Whoever gets the call will lead Penn State against an Iowa team that’s been hard to pin down. The Hawkeyes opened the season with losses to Purdue and Northwestern, but who have responded by upending Michigan State and Minnesota by a combined score of 82-16.

One thing’s for sure: Penn State needs to play better in the first half. Do that, and that should make the game more manageable for either Clifford or Levis, and the entire team.

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions create multiple turnovers and avoid giving up big plays. Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras has thrown four picks early on, so if the Nittany Lions’ can disrupt his passing lanes, that should help cut down on Iowa’s explosiveness.

Iowa wins if: the Hawkeyes can push around the Nittany Lions’ offensive line. That area has struggled throughout parts of the season, including allowing a sack last week during Penn State’s potential game-tying play. Iowa is third in the conference with an average of 2.75 sacks per game, so the line’s performance takes on extra importance Saturday.

Count on: a close game, if past results are any indicator. The last three games against Iowa have been decided by a total of 13 points.

Keep an eye on: Jayson Oweh. The star sophomore already has 27 tackles, the most for a Penn State defense end through the first four games of the season since at least 2000.

Trivia tidbit: Pat Freiermuth has caught a pass in 29 straight games, tying him for the nation’s best mark for a tight end.

Penn State Preview: Nebraska

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions head west this weekend, looking for their first win of the season at Nebraska. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: at Nebraska, noon kickoff (EST), broadcast on FS1.

Venue: Memorial Stadium.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 54 degrees, mostly cloudy with patches of sun.

All-time series: Nebraska leads 9-8, with the first meeting occurring in 1920.

Last meeting (2017): Penn State 56-44 at Beaver Stadium, where the Nittany Lions thoroughly outplayed the Huskers. Saquon Barkley set the program record for rushing touchdowns with 39, eclipsing Curt Warner. Barkley scored three times on the ground, as Penn State led 56-24 with about 10 minutes left in the game. Nebraska then scored three late touchdowns, including one as time expired.

Throwback classic (2002): Penn State bulldozed a Top-10 Nebraska squad 40-7 at Beaver Stadium, with Larry Johnson collecting his first 100-yard game and Rich Gardner electrifying the crowd with a pick-6 midway through the third quarter. Fans can look back on that game and hear from Gardner by visiting The Football Letter blog.

The lead: Off-field issues, which have largely been out of Penn State’s control, have dominated the early part of the conference schedule. Earlier this week, standout running back Journey Brown announced that he’s retiring from football because of a medical condition called hyperthropic cardiomypathy. Brown’s widely recognized among coaches and teammates as a team leader who’s always upbeat, positive, and inspiring. James Franklin called the news heartbreaking earlier this week, though he and many other Nittany Lions are confident that Brown will be successful in the future, whatever he chooses to do.

Additionally, Franklin said this week that he hasn’t handled not being around his family well, as his wife, Fumi, and their two daughters are not staying in State College for the foreseeable future, as a precaution to the COVID-19 pandemic. Franklin’s younger daughter, Addison, has sickle cell anemia and is immunocompromised.

All of this puts Penn State’s struggles on the field into perspective. In a season when there are challenges that nobody could have envisioned a year ago, there are plenty of reasons to support the team and everything they’re going through, on behalf of the University.

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions can get the ground game going with the running backs. Devyn Ford leads that group through three games, gaining 141 yards on 37 carries. Getting a big game from Ford, or collectively from that group, will be key for the Nittany Lions.

Nebraska wins if: the Cornhuskers get out to an early lead. That’s what Ohio State and Maryland did the last two weeks, forcing the Nittany Lions to play from behind.

Keep an eye on: Parker Washington. The Penn State freshman wide receiver has caught three touchdowns in the season’s first three games, giving Sean Clifford another reliable option in addition to Jahan Dotson.

Trivia tidbit: Nebraska and Penn State 1,800 combined wins. Nebraska (902) has four more than Penn State (898).

Penn State Preview: Indiana

Pat Freiermuth and the Nittany Lions will kick off the much-anticipated 2020 season Saturday at Indiana. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: at Indiana, 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on FS1.

Venue: Memorial Stadium.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 56 degrees with clear skies.

The line: Penn State –5.5

All-time series: Penn State leads 22-1.

Last meeting (2019): Penn State won 34-27 in Happy Valley.

Throwback classic (2016): Penn State continued its trend of coming from behind, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the second half en route to winning the Big Ten title. The Hoosiers had the ball late with a chance to tie, though Torrence Brown recovered a fumble in the end zone for the final 45-31 margin.

The lead: Football is back. Or more specifically, Big Ten football is back, and so are the Nittany Lions. Some of the many questions swirling around the team are: How will the rushing attack fare (presumably) without Journey Brown, who will reportedly might miss the entire season because of a medical condition discovered during the offseason. Will the defense suffer a setback without Micah Parsons? How sharp will the offense be, and will it look different with Kirk Ciarrocca coming in from Minnesota? What will it be like watching a game with no fans?

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions establish the passing game. Penn State’s depth at running back is well noted. The passing game, meanwhile, is a little more uncertain. Tight end Pat Freiermuth is actually the team’s lead returning receiver, though Jahan Dotson did start all 13 games last season. Along with Dotson, Cam Sullivan-Brown and Parker Washington are listed as the team’s three starting receivers, and how quickly that group can synch up with Sean Clifford will be critical.

Indiana wins if: the Hoosiers offense can keep Penn State’s defense guessing. Indiana is a fun team to watch. The Hoosiers score a lot of points, though they also are prone to allow a bunch, too, though their defense has shown signs of improvement. It’s difficult to see Indiana winning a fairly low-scoring game, so if the Hoosiers can score 35-plus, they have a chance to pull off the home upset.

Count on: Brandon Smith having an impact. He appeared in all 13 games last year as a true freshman, and is listed atop Penn State’s depth chart at outside linebacker. Smith checks in at 6-foot-3, 244 pounds, and has garnered plenty of praise from teammates and coaches. His trajectory is one reason why there’s optimism the defense won’t significantly regress with Parsons opting out, with the linebacker room featuring plenty of depth and talent.

Keep an eye on: the Penn State running backs in the receiving game. Getting them move involved catching passes out of the backfield has been something of a theme that emerged this summer, with players talking about how this year’s offense might differ with Ciarrocca.

Trivia tidbit: With Journey Brown expected to possibly miss the entire season, Penn State’s leading returning rusher is actually Clifford (552 yards on 116 carries).

Predictions

John Patishnock — Penn State 37, Indiana 27

Vince Lungaro — Penn State 27, Indiana 23