Iowa football: 5 keys to kicking Penn State while its down
Iowa (2-2) will look to extend its winning streak to three games when it travels to face winless Penn State (0-4) on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CST/BTN).
Iowa has followed two narrow losses (24-20 at Purdue, 21-20 vs. No. 19 Northwestern) with two blowout victories (49-7 vs. Michigan State, 35-7 at Minnesota).
It’s been quite the 180, and now Iowa has a renewed sense of purpose heading into the second half of the B1G slate.
Here are 5 keys for Iowa to win in dominating fashion against the Nittany Lions:
1. Don’t give Penn State early life
Penn State is 0-4 for the first time since 2001. The Nittany Lions will be fired up at home to snap their losing streak, so it’s key for Iowa to set the tone from the onset.
On paper, this matchup looks heavily stacked in Iowa’s favor. Iowa has won its past two games by an average of 35 points, while Penn State has struggled to establish any kind of identify.
That being said, the Hawkeyes can’t get overconfident and forget the habits that helped them turn their season around, the biggest of which is bringing intensity from the opening kickoff.
Iowa jumped out to 35-0 leads against Michigan State and Minnesota. Iowa needs to pounce on the Nittany Lions in similar fashion. Don’t play down to the competition, because the longer Penn State hangs around, the more confidence the Lions will have to pull off an upset.
2. Get a breakthrough performance from Spencer Petras
Iowa’s revival has come despite uneven play from its new starting quarterback. Petras has tallied 759 yards, 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Three of those interceptions came in Week 2 against Northwestern.
Petras completed 9 of his 18 passes with a touchdown and an interception against Minnesota. It was another up and down showing. Petras completed 5 of his first 6 passes, then hit a rough patch before connecting on his last 3 throws.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 14, 2020
Petras is confident he can get himself on track.
“I think every week I’m improving and getting more comfortable,” he said. “The one thing I’ve got to continue to eliminate is turnovers. That really hurts the team. I had one today, which was a really bad decision. But, you know, those are going to happen. You’re going to make bad decisions. But I think just like our football team, we’re getting better week to week, and I think I’m doing the same thing.”
Penn State’s shaky secondary offers Petras the perfect opportunity for a breakthrough. Penn State has allowed 37 passing first downs, 7.88 yards per pass, and 9 touchdowns.
Petras has shown flashes of being able to make impressive throws but also has had bouts of inaccuracy and impatience in the pocket.
Count on Petras to finally put it all together on Saturday.
3. Continue to run rampant
The Iowa rushing attack has been excellent this season and there’s no reason why its stellar play can’t continue against Penn State.
Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent are each averaging over 6 yards per carry. Goodson has 375 yards and 5 touchdowns on 63 carries, while Sargent has amassed 208 yards and 4 touchdowns on 33 carries.
The dynamic duo combined for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns against Minnesota.
America, learn this name: Tyler Goodson. ✍️
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 14, 2020
Penn State has allowed 30 rushing first downs and 6 rushing touchdowns, while giving up 129.5 rushing yards per game.
Behind strong offensive line play, Goodson and Sargent will be too much for Penn State to handle.
4. Allow no TDs on defense
Coming off back-to-back weeks of allowing just 7 points, the Iowa defense will ratchet it up even more by not letting Penn State reach the end zone.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has been under duress all season. Clifford has thrown 6 interceptions and been sacked 14 times. Backup Will Levis, who might start, sparked a rally last weekend but also is prone to inaccuracy.
Iowa currently has an 11-game streak of at least 1 interception and that will be extended. Riley Moss or Jack Koerner will snag a pick to keep the streak alive.
Iowa leads the nation with 61 INTs since 2017 👀
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) November 15, 2020
Iowa defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg is coming off a terrific 3-sack performance against Minnesota to earn B1G Defensive Player of the Week honors.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) November 16, 2020
The Iowa defensive line will get plenty of pressure on Clifford and/or Levis, forcing erratic decisions.
The Penn State running game will be neutralized as well. Penn State doesn’t have a rusher with over 50 carries who averages over 4 yards per touch.
Add it all up and Iowa won’t allow a touchdown for the first time this season.
5. Trust Keith Duncan to hit FG from 50+ yards
Iowa kicker Keith Duncan has been pretty reliable in his limited action. Duncan has connected on 4 of his 6 kicks.
Duncan has made 3 of his 4 attempts from 20-39 yards, while converting his lone kick from the 40-49 yard range. Duncan tried his first attempt from 50+ yards against Minnesota but it was no good.
This week, though, Duncan will boot a 50-yarder for his season high. The long conversion will provide Iowa with additional momentum to snap a 6-game losing streak against Penn State.