Lions a road underdog at Iowa
Iowa's success against Penn State is well documented.
As much as any team in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes have been the Nittany Lions' nemesis, especially since PSU ended a nine-game losing streak to Michigan in 2008.
Since 2000, Iowa has won eight of its nine meetings with the Lions. What has been particularly frustrating for PSU is how close most of those games have been: six of them have been decided by seven points or less, including a pair of overtime losses (2000 and 2002) at Beaver Stadium, and the infamous 6-4 Hawkeye win in Happy Valley in 2004.
The last two meetings have been tough to swallow for the Lions. In 2008, PSU had finally broken its string of losses in Columbus by knocking off Ohio State and was riding an unbeaten record when the Hawkeyes pulled off a 24-23 upset in Iowa City on a last second field goal, handing the Lions their lone Big Ten loss and keeping them out of the BCS title consideration.
PSU was poised for revenge last season when hosting Iowa at Beaver Stadium, but a blocked punt by the Hawkeyes paved the way for a 21-10 win over Lions.
Those two games were with Daryll Clark at quarterback for the Lions. Tonight they face the 17th ranked Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in a 7:06 p.m. kickoff with true freshman Rob Bolden behind center.
The Lions have also struggled in their Big Ten openers over the years, with a 7-10 mark overall and 4-5 on the road. This will be the third time PSU has opened conference play against Iowa, with the Hawkeyes winning both previous lidlifters.
Given their recent track record against the Hawkeyes, it's no surprise the oddmakers have installed the Lions as a touchdown underdog for tonight's tilt, which is being televised nationally by ESPN.
Joe Paterno still maintains a winning mark overall against Iowa (11-10), but it's hard to ignore the success of Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz against the Lions, with seven wins in nine outings.
"I can tell you, Iowa has been a good, solid football team that has played extremely well against us," said Paterno during his weekly press conference (www.gopsusports.com) when the question of Iowa's mastery of the Lions arose. "I think Kirk's done a great job.
"I think when he (Ferentz) plays Penn State, there's a little bit something there because he is a Pennsylvania kid (an Upper St. Clair grad) and his father-in-law (Gerry Hart) and I were high school teammates together, but they just do a great job. They recruit well. Their kids play hard. They're disciplined. You've got to beat them. They don't beat themselves."
Both teams enter the contest with 3-1 records. Iowa has breezed past Eastern Illinois (37-7), Iowa State (35-7) and Ball State (45-0). Its lone loss was a 34-27 setback at Arizona on Sept. 18.
The Lions remain a work in progress. They have bounced back from a 24-3 loss at top-ranked Alabama with wins over Kent State and Temple, although they trailed the Owls at halftime and needed the leg of kicker Collin Wagner, a 96 yard TD drive and shutout defense in the second half to overcome Al Golden and company.
The Lions finally generated the type of running game they will need to compete in the Big Ten last week, with Evan Royster rushing for a career-high 174 yards. PSU is 13-0 when Royster surpasses the century mark in rushing.
Still, the PSU offense suffered a blow up front when right tackle Lou Eliades sustained a season-ending ACL tear in his knee. Chima Okoli was converted from defense during the spring and now is charged with providing pass protection for Bolden against a hard-rushing Iowa defensive front, led by end Adrian Clayborn, who caused PSU plenty of problems a year ago, particularly with the blocked punt.
"(It's going to be a) tough job against those defensive ends," admitted Paterno. "They're good. Especially that one kid (Clayborn), he's about as good as any there is ... everybody in the country who has played against them has had troubles, and he (Okoli) hasn't had that kind of experience over their on offense."
Paterno noted the Lions can't expect to run the ball down Iowa's throat, so Bolden will need to perform as he did on the lone TD drive against Temple, where he hit some key third down completions to Graham Zug and Robert Brown.
When it comes to experience, the Hawkeyes have a big edge at signalcaller with Ricky Stanzi, who has completed two-thirds of his passes (66 of 99, 999 yards) with nine TDs against just one interception. Bolden is 68 of 113 for 823 yards but has three TDs against five interceptions.
Stanzi is 21-5 as a starter and while he has 25 career interceptions, he has become more efficient and still maintains the ability to rally the Hawkeyes late in games.
"I think he's (Stanzi) turned out to be one of the better quarterbacks in the country," said Paterno. "Very accurate with the football. Doesn't scramble a lot, but when he scrambles he's very effective. He doesn't give up a lot of yardage, and he's a good leader. And he's got guts. He takes a lot of chances. I like the kid. I think he's a heck of a player."
Stanzi's top targets have been wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (17-270, 3 TDs), tight end Allen Reisner (14-185, 1 TD) and wideout Marvin McNutt (10-182, 2 TDs).
The Hawkeyes' ground game is led by sophomore Adam Robinson (70-385, 6 TDs). Jewel Hampton had rushed for 114 yards and two TDs before getting injured in the Arizona game, cutting into Iowa's depth at running back.
Clayborn and safety Tyler Sash are both pre-season All-America candidates for the Hawkeye defense. Senior middle linebacker Jeff Tarpinian leads Iowa with 32 tackles while lineman Mike Daniels has three sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses and was named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week.
NITTANY LINES - Despite Iowa's recent success, the series between the schools is tied at 11-11. The visiting teams has won 14 of the 22 games ... Lions enter tonight's game ranked 22nd by the Associated Press and 20th by USA Today. There are currently six Big Ten teams ranked in the top 25, with PSU and Iowa joined by Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State. If incoming member Nebraska is counted, that makes seven ... Wagner was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after kicking 5-of-6 field goals vs. Temple to tie the PSU school record ... Bolden has passed for over 200 yards in each of the Lions' three wins, making him the first true freshman with multiple 200-yard games in school history ... the Lions finally surrendered a QB sack last week, making them the last team in the nation to do so. Bolden has demonstrated poise in the pocket ... LB Nate Stupar had seven tackles and a key interception vs. Temple, while safety Nick Sukay had two pick-offs. Linebackers Michael Mauti and Chris Colasanti each had seven stops ... PSU has a 35-22 all-time record in night games, including this season's loss to Alabama ... PSU has scored 11 times on 15 trips in the red zone this season, with 6 TDs and 5 field goals. The Lions only hit paydirt once against Temple ... For Penn State's game with Indiana at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 20, the host Redskins of the NFL have announced they will donate five percent of the ticket sales, up to $150,000, to Penn State's student dance marathon organization, THON, the largest student fundraiser in the country, which has raised millions of dollars for the Four Diamonds Foundation and pediatric cancer research.