In 2004 No. 25 Iowa beat Penn State 6-4. Yes, Iowa scored six points on two field goals, while the Nittany Lions managed two safeties in the contest. That score from 2004 accurately shows how close and low scoring Penn State vs. Iowa games usually are. Since 2000, the largest scoring margin between Penn State and Iowa is 27. The lowest being one. Iowa has beaten Penn State eight times since 2000 and the two teams have only matched up 13 times. Now it is time to take a closer look at Penn State vs. Iowa through the years.
Penn State’s Struggles Against Iowa
Through the last 13 contests between the Nittany Lions and the Hawkeyes, the average scoring margin is 11 points. Only four games have been decided by 20 points or more. Penn State is 3-1 when the margin is that high. The issue is, though, Penn State and Iowa are notorious for strong defenses and a commitment to the run. This style of play often keeps scores low and games close. From 2000-2004 the Nittany Lions lost every game against the Hawkeyes by 12 points or less. This includes the 4-6 loss where defense was the highlight.
The Early 2000’s
Penn State would not beat the Hawkeyes until 2007 and that is the mid-2000’s. The early 2000’s were spent losing to Iowa in close games. This is what I like to call, “the dark period”. It was a rough five years for the Nittany Lions, finishing with just one winning season.
The millennium started with Penn State finishing the season 5-7, the first losing season in Happy Valley since 1988. When Iowa came to Beaver Stadium in the first weekend of November, the Nittany Lions still had a chance to salvage the season and finish over .500. Two overtimes later and Iowa was leaving University Park with a win, their second of the season. Penn State quarterback Rashard Casey threw for over 300 yards that day and was the Nittany Lions’ leading rusher with 67 yards. Future Penn State great Larry Johnson was held to -1 rushing yards. Looking at those numbers, it is hard to believe that just two years later Johnson would finish third in Heisman voting.
The next four years would continue on with much of the same. In 2001 Penn State started the season 0-4 with a loss by six points to Iowa thrown in there. The 2002 season was the only bright spot in those first five years, but that too included a seven point loss to Iowa. The 2002 contest had the most points scored in the last 13 match-ups with Iowa coming out on top 42-35. Larry Johnson again was held to just 68 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. Johnson would go on to be first in the NCAA with 2087 rushing yards that season.
The End Of The Early 2000’s
Finally, the losing streak was topped off with a 4-6 loss in Beaver Stadium. It was a game of defense. The Hawkeyes only allowed 147 total yards of offense from Penn State and caused five turnovers. The Nittany Lions gained their only points off of two safeties and caused two turnovers. Further, future NFL kicker and current San Francisco 49er, Robbie Gould missed two field goals. This was not his finest moment, but he bounced back. Before Gould became a Nittany Lion and super-reliable NFL kicker, he was my childhood coach.
The Mid-2000s Looked A Little Bit Better
Penn State and Iowa did not play each other in 2005 and 2006. Some may speculate that this contributed to the great seasons that the Nittany Lions started having. Those individuals are wrong. When the match-up resumed in 2007, Penn State finally got the best of Iowa. The game was the first of the four that have been decided by 20 or more points. Over the next three seasons three games would be decided by 20 or more and Iowa and Penn State would draw 3-3.
Lions Find Success, But Not Against Iowa
Every Penn State fan remembers the 2008 season. The Lions went 11-2, losing to USC in the Rose Bowl to get the second loss on the season. The first and only other loss that season; Iowa. Iowa beat Penn State by one point in 2008. That loss ruined a perfect Penn State regular season. Another game won on defense. The Hawkeyes held Penn State quarterback, Darryl Clark, to 86 passing yards. Penn State had the lead entering the fourth quarter and lost on a game-winning 31-yard field goal with one second left on the clock. Shocking, I know. It turns out that holding a fourth quarter lead is a long-running struggle for the Lions.
The 2008 season would start a three-game losing streak against Iowa. Penn State would not beat the Hawkeyes again until 2011, my freshman year at Penn State. In another close one, Penn State came out on top 13-3. The win came behind two Anthony Fera field goals and a touchdown pass from Matt McGloin. The Iowa defense, while holding Penn State to 13 points, allowed running back Silas Redd 142 rushing yards. The most rushing yards allowed by Iowa in this on-going defensive battle since the 2007 Nittany Lion win. Penn State won the 2012 match-up as well. The first Penn State-Iowa contest under a head coach that wasn’t Joe Paterno.
Penn State vs. Iowa through the years has proven to be a defensive battle, often low scoring, and close throughout. After a three year hiatus, the Nittany Lions are nursing a two game win streak against the Hawkeyes.
After a walk-off touchdown thriller to avoid the upset a season ago, Penn State looks to continue that win streak on Saturday. To do that, the wide receiver group needs to make big strides. Last week at Indiana Trace McSorley had a completion percentage of 52.8. If you watched the game, it was mainly due to wide receiver drops. In response to possible shortage at the position this week and the ongoing issue, James Franklin stated in his weekly press conference that all three true freshman receivers have been practicing as starters early this week.
There has been an even bigger issue on third down. Franklin also addressed this, stating that the whole team needs to be better on third down. The offense and defense have both struggled on third down this season. Penn State entered the contest against Indiana ranked 82nd in the country on third down conversion rate and were 80th in the country on third down defense. This is a big area of concern going into a game against a strong Iowa team.
Coming into Saturday, Iowa is 6-1. The Hawkeyes are scoring an average of 30.6 points per game, but if you look at their schedule there haven’t been many tough contests. While the Big Ten West is arguably weaker than the stacked Big Ten East, Iowa is a notoriously tough team. Look at the above analysis, Penn State has only beaten Iowa five out of the last 13 attempts and that was with a few very solid teams.
Keys To Saturday
For Penn State to come out on top on Saturday the receiving group needs to improve. Franklin’s general concern right now is that, “Trace [McSorley] is carrying too much of the load on offense.” He stated this in his weekly press conference. McSorley responded by saying in true captain fashion, “I want to do whatever I need to do to help the team win. To me, I really haven’t felt like I’m shouldering too much of the load.” If you look at the numbers though, he has been putting the team on his back, but that is what a leader and a captain does. McSorley has never shied away from a challenge and even though Iowa has only allowed a team to score more than 30 points once this season, don’t count McSorley out.
In addition, the defense has to limit the big plays. The Hawkeyes are averaging 231.9 passing yards per game this season, but aren’t doing that by getting away from the run game. Iowa averages 41.3 rushing attempts per game, compared to 29 passing attempts on average. Stopping the run and making Nathan Stanley win the game with his arm will be huge, especially when the quarterback has six interceptions on the year.
Penn State vs. Iowa will air on ESPN at 3:30 pm ET.