Very few college football fans and experts could have predicted at the start of the season the magnitude of this weekend's Big Ten matchup between Iowa and Penn State, perhaps even under the best-case scenario. But this may be the biggest matchup in this series we have ever seen, as Iowa (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) and Penn State (5-0, 2-0) are two top-four teams looking to remain unbeaten with an inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff.
The stakes have never been higher in this series, which has generally always had close competition and nailbiters. Iowa handled a struggling Penn State solidly last season in Beaver Stadium, but Penn State has come out victorious in its most recent trips to Kinnick Stadium. Buckle in for a stingy defensive contest in Iowa City this weekend.
No. 4 Penn State at No. 3 Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa -1
When Penn State Has the Ball
Sean Clifford has clearly been a far more competent and confident quarterback for the Nittany Lions this season. Clifford has been picked off just three times thus far, although only one could arguably be considered a mistake. Clifford will have to be extremely careful this weekend as he faces the toughest secondary he will see this season. Iowa leads the nation with 12 interceptions, including half a dozen last weekend against Maryland. Clifford spreading the ball around to Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, and getting the tight ends like Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson involved will be essential.
Penn State continues to try to get its running game going. It seemed some progress was made last week against Indiana, but gaining ground against Iowa is rarely easy.
When Iowa Has the Ball
The Hawkeyes are the Big Ten's least productive offense at just 320 yards per game. But it is an offense that capitalizes on good field position courtesy of the defensive efforts and forced turnovers. However, Iowa's offense must find ways to avoid leaving points on the board against Penn State. The Hawkeyes have scored just 10 touchdowns and six field goals on 19 red zone attempts through five games. Penn State's red zone defense has been really good this season, so the Hawkeyes must be more efficient once they get inside the Nittany Lions' 20-yard line.
Iowa should focus on attacking Penn State and grinding out yardage on the ground with Tyler Goodson. Wisconsin and Auburn each showed you can move the football on the ground against the Nittany Lions, but each team's reluctance to do so and choice to rely more on the passing game came back to haunt them. The Hawkeyes should not stray away from a successful ground attack.
Don't expect a shootout between Penn State and Iowa. Neither team has a defense that will allow for that, which makes this a defensive contest from start to finish. In fact, either team reaching 20 points could potentially be a reach the way these defenses have been playing. But 20 points is what it may take to win this game. It's a true toss-up between the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions, and the Iowa secondary may have one more interception to lead to the points necessary to score a massive victory.
Prediction: Iowa 20, Penn State 18
Podcast: Week 6 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread