Purdue Penn St Football

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford passes over Purdue linebacker Ben Holt in the second quarter the Nittany Lions' 35-7 win last Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

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Four things the football teams from Iowa and Penn State can do to position themselves for success in Saturday's 6:30 p.m. game at Kinnick Stadium:

Penn State (5-0, 2-0)

1. Arrive in attack mode

Penn State's defense leads the nation with 25 sacks and 52 tackles for a loss, providing an idea of the disruptive approach the Nittany Lions prefer to bring to the field on defense.

Yetur Gross-Matos, a 6-foot-5, 264-pound junior and Shaka Toney, a 6-3, 243-pound junior, create most of the havoc.

They rank among the top five in the Big Ten with 5.5 and 5 sacks respectively and a part of an aggressive line that features plenty of rotation based on down and distance.

Those fresh bodies have spent the 5-0 start to the season helping the Nittany Lions limit opponents to one rushing touchdown.

2. Wing it

Trace McWho?

Sophomore Sean Clifford has answered any questions Penn State had at quarterback with a solid start to his starting tenure on the heels of Trace McSorley.

The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Cincinnati native leads the Big Ten in passing, completing 66.7 percent of his 135 passes. He has covered 1,443 yards with his 90 completions, throwing 12 touchdown passes and being intercepted twice.

Clifford averages a Big Ten-best 328.6 yards per game, including 288.6 passing yards per game. He's also a running threat, averaging 4.6 yards on 43 carries.

This will be Clifford's first road test in a hostile environment. Penn State's other road game this season was at Maryland.

3. Be a one-man band

KJ Hamler is to Penn State what a healthy Rondale Moore has been to Purdue.

The 5-9 sophomore has averaged 20.7 yards each of his team-leading 19 receptions this season and has been on the receiving end of four of Clifford's touchdown passes.

He's also been the Nittany Lions' most productive return man, averaging 19 yards on three kick returns -- his chances limited by a defense which is giving up 7.4 points per game. He has also averaged 6.1 yards on 15 punt returns.

Hamler, who averages 78.8 receiving yards per game, is part of a solid group of receivers that includes tight end Pat Freiermuth and Jahan Dotson. Freiermuth has 15 catches and Dotson 12 for the season.

4. Make yourself at home

Penn State has won its last 11 games against teams from the Big Ten West Division, including a pair of games against Iowa decided on the final play the past two seasons.

If needed, the Nittany Lions will send a kicker getting his first chance to kick in his home state onto the field.

Sophomore Jake Pinegar was a teammate of injured Iowa cornerback Riley Moss at Ankeny Centennial. In his second season as a starter, Pinegar has connected four of his five field goal tries this season with his longest coming from 38 yards.

The Nittany Lions haven't been bashful about attempting deep keeps. Jordan Stout has hit two of the three field goals he has attempted from beyond 50 yards this season.

Iowa (4-1, 1-1)

1. Remember Plan B

After getting sacked eight times last week and preparing to face a defense which leads the nation in sacks, Nate Stanley is preparing for more of the same.

Michigan created all sorts of issues for Iowa last week by moving defenders late in the pre-snap process, leading to plenty of problems against the blitz.

While others in the Iowa offense are looking to shore up consistency in blocking responsibilities -- including a healthier Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs at the tackle spots -- Stanley said he can help himself by throwing the ball sooner and understanding when he needs to simply throw the ball away.

2. Establish the run

Stanley was sacked for losses of 65 yards, negating all but one of the 66 yards Iowa backs ran for against Michigan.

That's not a winning number in the Big Ten, even against a defense which matches the work of the Iowa defense in allowing one rushing touchdown this season.

Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Tyler Goodson have worked their way up to the top of the Hawkeye running back depth chart and expect all three to continue to see time in a rotation that isn't all that different from what Penn State will deploy with Journey Brown, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford seeing snaps as well.

Iowa ranks second in the country with an average possession time of 35 minutes, 41 seconds and the Hawkeyes ability to maintain that level of ball control on the ground and through the air will help Iowa's chances.

3. Remain stingy

Penn State and Iowa rank second and third in the country in fewest points allowed this season.

No opponent has scored more than 13 points against the Nittany Lions defense and 17 points Iowa State scored against Iowa are the most allowed by the Hawkeyes.

This has a chance be another defensive battle, with Penn State surrendering 7.4 points per game and Iowa allowing 8.8.

Both teams have allowed just one rushing touchdown through five games this season and Iowa will need to dial up that type of intensity and effort again this week if the Hawkeyes hope to earn their first win at home against a rated opponent since beating third-ranked Ohio State 55-24 in 2017.

4.  Find secondary strength

The probable return of Kaevon Merriweather and possible return of cornerback Matt Hankins to the mix in the Hawkeye secondary is well timed.

Penn State's passing attack will test an Iowa secondary which has been led by Pennsylvania native Geno Stone while giving up an average of 168.6 yards per game.

Merriweather and Hankins will provide additional rotation and sub package possibilities against the Nittany Lions, allowing Iowa to create looks it has been unable to create because of multiple injuries on the back end of the defense.

Iowa opponents have completed 58.5 percent their pass attempts this season.

This article originally ran on qctimes.com.


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