It’s August, and that means we’re less than a month away from the beginning of the 2018 NCAA football season. No. 8 in our opponent previews is Penn State.
The last time Iowa beat Penn State in State College, Kurt Warner was leading the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh, the Yankees won the World Series and Kobe Bryant was NBA Finals MVP.
2009 was quite a while ago, huh?
That game, that messy, rainy, chest pain causing game will always be one of my favorite Iowa wins. Just rewatching this caused some goosebumps.
Iowa’s played at Happy Valley just two other times since that wonderful day, with the most recent trip a 41-14 loss in maybe the most horrific game of the team’s 2016 season (though I won’t fault you if you say the Outback Bowl).
The Hawkeyes are 12-15 against the Nittany Lions all-time and actually have a winning record in State College (7-6), though Iowa’s lost three of its last four there. Penn State is also on a four-game winning streaking in this series, with its last win obviously being the heartbreaking loss in Kinnick last season.
Oh, and fun fact, Iowa and Penn State play each other every year through at least 2021.
Penn State finished 11-2, winning the Fiesta Bowl over Washington, reaching a New Year’s Six bowl and finishing in the AP Top-10 for the second consecutive season.
James Franklin (36-17 at PSU) is in his fifth season as the Nittany Lions coach and has this team rolling. They’re consistently ranked in the top-10, they’re consistently in the national title picture and this is the best era of football for them in a long, long time.
The Nittany Lions’ only two losses last season were to Ohio State and Michigan State in back-to-back weeks. They did nearly lose to Iowa, beating the Hawkeyes 21-19 on a last-second touchdown that Amani Hooker nearly batted down. That game really is going to bother me for a long time.
With Saquon Barkley drafted second overall to the New York Giants, it’s now the Trace McSorley show for Penn State.
The senior quarterback threw for 3570 yards and 28 touchdowns while completing 66.5 percent of his passes. He did throw 10 interceptions, with three of those coming in the loss to Michigan State. McSorley’s only other multiple interception game came in the Fiesta Bowl, where he threw two against the Huskies.
Barkley is hardly the only thing the Nittany Lions offense will be without this year, as offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead took the head coaching job at Mississippi State. In his stead will be longtime Franklin assistant Ricky Rahne. The pair have worked together since Franklin’s days at Kansas State and Rahne joined the Vanderbilt staff in 2011.
Rahne has coached one game as OC (the Fiesta Bowl win over Washington) and with an entire offseason to work with, it doesn’t seem like this will be a major issue. But you never know!
Penn State also lost its top wide receiver in DaeSean Hamilton (53-857-9) and top tight end Mike Gesicki (57-563-9) and those won’t be particularly easy to replace. That said, the team’s second leading wideout, Juwan Johnson, will be back on the field this season.
Penn State does return most of its offensive line, however, which should help them quite a bit.
As we saw up close and personal in Kinnick, the Nittany Lion defense last season was pretty mean.
Penn State ranked nationally in the top-15 last year in a number of different defensive categories including fumbles recovered (15, T-4th), points per game (16.5, 7th), sacks per game (3.23, 7th), turnover margin (+12, T-11th) and rushing yardage allowed per game (118, 14th).
If there was a bit of a weakness, however, it was in the defensive secondary — a place where the Nittany Lions lost all four starters. Opposing teams averaged 211.5 passing yards per game, which ranked 47th in the NCAA and Penn State allowed three teams (Ohio State, Michigan State, Nebraska) to throw for more than 300 yards against them.
Penn State also lost quite a bit in its linebacking corps as starters Koa Farmer and Cam Brown are gone. Manny Bowen, who was suspended for three regular season games as well as the Fiesta Bowl, has worked his way back onto the team after an unspecified violation of team rules.
Lastly, Penn State returns nearly all its defensive line. They’re fairly young, but they’re talented and will continue to cause havoc on opposing offensive lines.
Penn State, once again, should be very good. They also should win this game.
But weird things seem to happen in this rivalry, and Kirk Ferentz has won 8-of-13 games against the Nittany Lions. It’ll be interesting to see how PSU’s defense develops over the first part of the season as well as who — or what — replaces Saquon Barkley’s offensive production.
This one shouldn’t be a blowout circa 2016, but it’s a little bit difficult to imagine Iowa pulling out a win in this game.