We’re to the mid-point in the 2021 season and the Iowa Hawkeyes are set to embark on an historic journey. Regardless of how this season ends, Iowa finds itself the answer to a college football trivia question this weekend as the #3 Hawkeyes host the #4 Penn State Nittany Lions in the first Big Ten game between two top-5 teams that does not feature one of Ohio State or Michigan.
Such a big time matchup comes with lots of eyeballs and lots of question marks. As you might expect, The Pants is a bit conflicted on how this one will play out.
The line has moved around a bit, but as of this writing, the official DraftKings Sportsbook line is Iowa -1.5 with the over/under down to 40.5.
As a group, The Pants is taking the Hawkeyes despite giving up the points, but it’s close. Our consensus prediction is for Iowa to pull this one out 19-16. The total of 35 puts us on the under. It’s worth noting six of the nine staffers are on Iowa straight up, but two of us have this one decided by more than one score.
Here’s a look at each of our individual predictions for this week.
I want to believe. I really do. I’m an optimist at heart and I’ve been in on Brian Ferentz and Spencer Petras at times when I probably shouldn’t have been. But I’ve also been an Iowa fan long enough to know that just when you start to expect good things, that’s when they turn bad. That’s exactly what I’m expecting from the Hawkeyes on Saturday.
This Iowa defense is tremendous and I suspect they continue to do great things. But Penn State has some athletes that will challenge the Hawkeyes in new ways and likely get near 20 points without much help. And this game feels primed for some help from the aforementioned Petras. I see the Hawkeye offense struggling a bit here with Petras throwing an untimely pick late in the game with a win within reach to set up another late score for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State 20, Iowa 17
Typically a rocking Kinnick Stadium means pain for opposing teams. That hasn’t been the case for Penn State the last few times we’ve gone toe-to-toe with them. The Hawks have lost three straight home games to the Nittany Lions, two of which have been close; one of these was a walk-off. Penn State is a very, very good football team. Jahan Dotson is the real deal at wide receiver. I still have nightmares of what Purdue’s David Bell has done to us. Phil Parker is a magician, but I’m afraid no rabbit will be pulled out of Phil’s hat.
Penn State 24, Iowa 20
Iowa looked as good as possible at Maryland and had everyone partying last Friday night. This week presents a much bigger task with a salty Penn State defense arriving in Iowa City. Both teams have a lot of question marks and have lacked consistency on offense, but have remained undefeated thanks to their defenses. Penn State is one of the few teams in the conference that can rival Iowa with their secondary.
I’ve mentioned several times that I just don’t see Iowa losing to any team with inferior line play, and this is one where I think they are fairly equal. I’m siding with Iowa’s defense in this one with a side of Kinnick Krazies drinking out of black and gold beer mugs. To this date, Penn State has refused to commit to the run game, and that is not a winning formula against the Hawks. Iowa does need to be prepared for a few trick plays from Penn State as an effort hit chunk plays against one of the best defenses in the nation.
Iowa 23 - Penn State 18
Penn State in years past has given Iowa fits with their ability to run the ball, but they come into Kinnick with a completely different offense. Clifford is a much improved QB from last year, but still has his flaws. Last week he was chucking up tons of prayers against Indiana, and those are throws that the Hawkeye defense feasts on. I’ve been a homer all year and until it bites me, I ain’t quitting. GO HAWKS!
Iowa 17 - Penn State 13
Expect a low-scoring game as two of the three best scoring defenses square off in a battle with significant conference and playoff implications. Iowa’s offense should struggle to move the ball at times, but has shown itself capable of reliably putting together one or two excellent scoring drives in any given game. Meanwhile, the battle between the Iowa secondary and the Penn State receiving corps would very well decide the game—if Hankins, Moss, and crew can hold Jahan Dotson in check, they should be able to take away the big play element from the Nittany Lion offense and force Sean Clifford to play game-manager in order to move the ball. I’m betting that Clifford, against a defense as disruptive as Iowa’s and playing in what promises to be one of the craziest environments Kinnick Stadium has seen in a long time, will make a few critical errors that will ultimately decide the game in Iowa’s favor.
Iowa 16, Penn State 14
This is, without question, the biggest Iowa football game in the past two decades (at least) and for the stage to be set inside Kinnick... You couldn’t write a better script than this.
That said, Iowa comes into this game with distinct advantages on both sides of the ball. On defense, Iowa is able to contain quarterbacks well and utilize good play recognition in the secondary to undercut routes and force quarterbacks into second guessing what they see. With a guy like Sean Clifford, both of those things will be an issue in this game; expect more than one turnover out of this Penn State offense.
On offense, Iowa is a team that thrives at getting teams out of their run fits and wants to do so in order to move the ball. On the other hand, Penn State is a team that at times can be sloppy in regards to run fits due to hyper aggressiveness with blitzes and a strong emphasis being placed on just getting after the passer. Look for Iowa to have success running the ball in this game en route to a convincing win with the college football world watching.
Iowa 24, Penn State 13
This one simply comes down to turnovers for me. Penn State’s wins over Auburn & Wisconsin were in large part a function of turnovers which fell into their lap by way of a botched reverse pass and 2021’s inaugural Mertzening.
Iowa will construct their gameplan, once again, around not making mistakes on offense and keeping everything in front of them on defense. Caleb Shudak & Tory Taylor shine in a 60-minute field position battle. PSU keeps the Hawks out of the end zone and notch a big play of their own but it isn’t enough to come away with the win.
Iowa 12, PSU 10
Unfortunately, Iowa’s streak of playing coaches who have never bested Kirk Ferentz before ends here. Fortunately, Iowa is on its way of building up a small streak of wins against James Franklin before he bolts to USC.
Iowa 27, PSU 17.
I have no clue who will come out on top of this game. Can the Iowa offense do enough against a very tough defense? Or, can our defense put us in good enough position to win? I think this is the week the well runs dry. It will be close, but I think Penn State pulls away late and the Hawks struggle to succeed in attack mode late in the game and Petras throws an untimely INT to seal the deal.
Penn State 17, Iowa 10
That’s how we see this one playing out, what’s your prediction for this epic showdown in Iowa City on Saturday? Let us know your final predictions in the comments below!