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The Pants Predicts: Iowa at Penn State

The Hawkeyes face their biggest challenge of the season Saturday night. Are they up to the task?

Penn State v Iowa
Will we get mad James Franklin again?
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

The Iowa Hawkeyes are poised to go into the lions’ den on Saturday night, literally, as they travel to Happy Valley to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions in what will be by far their biggest challenge of this young 2023 season. Both teams enter the matchup at 3-0 and ranked nationally.

However, Penn State brings with it much more cache and a top-10 ranking. Thus, the Lions are heavily favored in this one. After opening as 14-point favorites, the line has risen a bit to 14.5-points for Penn State according to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook. While the line has risen a bit, the over/under has steadily fallen to just 40 total points. That gives us an implied score of 27.25-12.75.

Here at The Pants, we’re expecting a bit of a closer game, though nobody is brave enough to predict an Iowa win. On average, we’re calling for a final score of 22-12. That would put us on the Hawkeyes getting the points, but pretty clearly on the under. Only one of us is taking the over this week and only one of us believes the Nittany Lions will keep up their streak of 30-point performances.

Here’s a look at our individual predictions for Saturday’s matchup.


I have absolutely no idea how good Penn State is at this point in the season. They looked pretty good against West Virginia, and I have no idea how good they are. They looked pretty average against Illinois, but when you turn the ball over 5 times it’s tough to win games.

I’m pretty confident Iowa won’t turn the ball over 5 times, though I am also pretty confident Iowa’s offense does not have the firepower to keep up with just about any team with a pulse right now. I suspect we see the Hawkeyes really try to slow this game down and turn it into a slog. I suspect we see weird things happen, because Iowa-Penn State, and ultimately the more talented team comes out ahead. But not before Iowa creates 1-2 turnovers and makes PSU fans really sweat.

Prediction: Penn State 20, Iowa 13

Glendale Hawk

Like JP, I don’t know what to make of PSU right now. On paper they are superior, but those numbers include stats from a blowout win over a bad FCS team (Delaware) and two comfortable (but less than impressive) wins against Illinois and West Viriginia (and the jury is still out on both of those teams. That’s not to say they are overrated, it’s just to say that, not unlike Iowa, the competition they have faced thus far doesn’t give me a clear indication of their prowess.

I don’t think Cade is going to pull a Luke Altmeyer and throw 4 picks, but I also don’t know if the passing game can recover quickly from losing Luke Lachey, and it is highly unlikely that we will run for 250+ yards against a stout Penn State front 7. Compile that with a white-out night game where there will likely be rain and a real grass field, and I think we’re in for an ugly, ugly, football game. I don’t know if Iowa’s defense has the horses to compensate for the under-performing offense at this point in the season, so while I think it’ll be closer than Vegas is predicting, I don’t think the trip home from the Keystone state will be a happy one. I really hope I’m wrong.

Prediction: Penn State 17, Iowa 10


Everything sets up for this game to be a comfortable Penn State victory. It’s a prime time white out game, the Nittany Lions appear to have one of the best teams in the country, and it’s a revenge game after Iowa has taken the last two contests including 2021’s top 5 classic. Iowa surprisingly struggled more than we’d like in the first half against Western Michigan and Cade McNamara looked about as rusty as you could imagine. Oh yeah, and we lost #1 tight end Luke Lachey to injury which removes one of Cade’s favorite targets.

But I’ve seen this movie play out before in 2008, 2009, 2016, and 2017. Those years where Iowa had no business competing with the “superior” team for one reason or another. Kirk Ferentz has that ability to reach into his bag of tricks and get his teams up for the biggest stages when the rest of the world counts them out.

Iowa needs to get on the scoreboard first like in the 2008 Penn State upset and the defense needs to keep this a low scoring affair like against Michigan in 2016. This will help subdue the white out crowd to limit their impact. If this game is within one score going into the fourth quarter Iowa has a legit chance to come out on top.

Prediction: Penn State 17, Iowa 14

Bartt Pierce

Considering Penn State’s “recent” addition to the Big 10, the two programs have a lengthy history. Penn State holds a 17-14 advantage in the series. Hayden went 2-4 against Joe Pa. Kirk Ferentz is 10-8. I have watched or listened to every game between the two teams going back to 1983. One thing I have learned about a Kirk Ferentz-coached team is that when you count them out, they have a solid chance of surprising you. That said, I don’t think this is a game we will win. Cade McNamara is a gamer, but his health terrifies me. The Hawks are down three very good skill position players due to injury. Our defense, which doesn’t typically allow big plays, has sprung some leaks. I think the Hawks are pretty good. We are not as good as I thought we’d be. If, big if, the Hawks can stay close through the first quarter we have a chance. It could get ugly. The Fainting Franklins hate us. That’s fine. The PJ Fleck of the East is not my cup of tea either. I still think the Hawks win the West.

Prediction: Penn State 30 - Iowa 10


I’m not about to pick Iowa to win this game - I think Penn State is just ahead of Iowa, White Out, Cade McNamara is still injured, and so on - but I’m also weirdly optimistic despite Iowa being down Luke Lachey, Kaleb Johnson, and Jaziun Patterson, plus McNamara’s injury persisting.

A few things work in Iowa’s favor. For some of the offensive worries, the ground game did show a sign of life last week. Yes, it’s Western Michigan and they’re bad. Iowa struggled with Utah State and portions of the Iowa State games but didn’t last Saturday. That’s a positive. And if there is a weakness in this Penn State defense, it’s the front seven. It would be nice to have a full stable of backs for Saturday, but Iowa can still make some hay there.

Despite a sluggish first half with the Broncos, Iowa’s defense was nails in the second half. They were described by some as looking annoyed with last week’s first half. If that group gets even close to last year’s levels, they can keep Penn State bottled up.

The weather looks dicey. Morning rain looks to be “steady” as the day progresses. It’s going to be a wet surface and that should slow Penn State down and make this a possible slog. That’s exactly what Iowa needs.

I still think Penn State edges this. Home game, White Out, and they’ve looked more capable overall than Iowa, despite the brief flash from Iowa here or there this year. If Iowa can get this in the mud and crucially, not turn the ball over, they’ll have a shot. But this will be close, but no cigar for Iowa in State College this year.

Prediction: Penn State 24, Iowa 17


Beating an excellent Penn State team in a whiteout game in Happy Valley would be a tall order if the Hawkeyes were at full strength on offense, and Iowa is far from that heading into this game. Without Luke Lachey to serve as Cade McNamara’s security blanket and Kaleb Johnson and Jaz Patterson to contribute in the running game, expect the Hawkeye offense to do what it does best in big games and struggle to score points. Iowa succeeds in breaking Penn State’s lengthy 30 PPG streak, but falls short in their first defeat of the season.

Prediction: Penn State 21, Iowa 10

So that’s how we see things playing out on Saturday night. How about you, Hawkeye fans? What is your prediction for Iowa’s showdown with Penn State?