It has been a rough start for Penn State as they try to find a win against Iowa this weekend. The Nittany Lions are 0-4 for the first time since 2001. The first win of 2001 came against Northwestern in a come-from-behind victory forged by back up quarterback Zack Mills. Mills would become the starter for the next four years. Penn State won that fist game 38-35 and finished the 2001 season 5-6. The Penn State Nittany Lions have never started a season 0-5. Never. Before the football team in State College became the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions it did however go 0-5, but that was in the 1800s.
Penn State Tries to Find Win Against Iowa
Last week against Nebraska, at the time the two unbeaten of the Big Ten, Will Levis came in for relief of starting quarterback Sean Clifford. Clifford went five for eight with an interception and a fumble before being removed. Levis provided a spark for the Nittany Lions. Something that has been missing through the losing streak. He only had a 45.2 completion percentage but threw for 219 yards. He got the Penn State offense down the field just fine, however, the unit then stalled in the red zone. This needs to be fixed going forward, no matter who the quarterback is.
Penn State vs Iowa in Recent Years
Iowa is always a tough opponent. Even when Penn State is having a great season, Iowa is difficult. It is not a good time for the Nittany Lions to face off against the Hawkeyes. Last season Penn State beat Iowa by five points. The year before that by six points. Further, we all remember that 2017 was the miraculous walk-off touchdown from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson to win the game by one point. The Nittany Lions won big in 2016, 41-14. Before 2016 the two didn’t play each other until 2012. Iowa has not beaten Penn State since 2010, but it is historically a close game.
Nittany Lion Defense vs Run-Heavy Hawkeye Offense
The Hawkeyes started the season 0-2 before getting wins against Michigan State and Minnesota. They beat the Spartans 49-7 and the Gophers 35-7. This difference in their first two games and their next two was the efficiency of the run game. In the loss against Purdue, Iowa had 265 passing yards on 39 attempts and 195 rushing yards on 36 attempts. It was a pretty balanced attack that resulted in a loss. The second loss against Northwestern saw 216 passing yards on 51 attempts and only 77 rushing yards on 23 attempts. After this loss is when the rushing attack really found its groove. Tyler Goodson is who the Nittany Lions will have to try to contain on Saturday. So far this season Goodson has 375 yards rushing on 63 attempts with five touchdowns. In those two wins, Goodson gained most of his rushing yards for the season and four of his touchdowns.
That’s not all, the rushing attack for the Hawkeyes also has Mekhi Sargent to compliment Goodson. Sargent has four touchdowns of his own this season. Penn State will need to stop the run this weekend and force first-year starter Spencer Petras to throw the football. The sophomore has three passing touchdowns and four interceptions this season. Don’t let those stats deceive you though, Petra is very good at spreading the ball around. However, Iowa is still a run-heavy offense which could benefit the Nittany Lions on Saturday.
Penn State’s Struggling Offense
Clifford has definitely regressed since last season. The signal-caller has made some questionable choices through the first four games, but he is also hit a lot more this year as well. Clifford could be benched again this week, but nobody will likely know until Saturday. Whoever is the behind center this week needs to get the receivers involved more. This will be difficult though. The Hawkeye defensive front is very good and the Penn State offensive line is struggling. Having a new coach in Phil Trautwein and not being able to work directly with him has put the offensive line in a tough spot. Trautwein spoke to the media this week and stated that he was able to have five winter workouts with the unit and then attempted to show techniques that he wants them to use over zoom. This is not how he wanted to start as a coach at Penn State, but he tried to find creative ways to show the unit how to improve.
To have success on Saturday, the Nittany Lion offense needs to get the run game going. Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee showed breakout potential against Nebraska. Further, Jahan Dotson has to be targeted more. Dotson only had two receptions for 27 yards against Nebraska. Regardless, Penn State has to be better in the red zone. Iowa has a strong defense, not just the defensive front. The Hawkeye defense has eight interceptions through four games.
So, let’s recap; Iowa has a defensive front that can get in the backfield, the secondary forces interceptions, and isn’t allowing more than a touchdown in each of the last two games. Whoever is at quarterback will need to limit mistakes for Penn State and get the ball out quick.