No. 4 Penn State at No. 3 Iowa sets up as a day for defenses
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The last time Penn State and Iowa met at Kinnick Stadium, both were among the top three teams in the nation in scoring defense and the Nittany Lions won 17-12.
The setup will be the same Saturday when No. 4 Penn State returns to face the No. 3 Hawkeyes.
“I think everybody knows that’s the story line in this game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
Iowa (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) leads the nation with 12 interceptions, six coming in last week’s 51-14 win at Maryland, and 16 takeaways. They’re second in scoring defense at 11.6 points per game.
“That’s the thing that they’re doing right now that makes them special and it impacts their entire team,” Franklin said. “It helps defensive statistics, because they get off the field. It helps offensive statistics because they create short fields and scoring opportunities.”
Penn State (5-0, 2-0) is tied for 21st with nine takeaways and third in scoring defense at 12 points per game.
“Defensively, they’re aggressive with their approach,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “High-pressure team. A lot of movement. They’re giving up 12 points a game right now. That’s going to be a challenge.”
The Hawkeyes have had at least three takeaways in three of their five games. Six different players had interceptions in the win over Maryland. Cornerback Riley Moss leads the Big Ten with three, including two he returned for touchdowns in the opener against Indiana.
“I would not say that they’re simple,” Franklin said. “But you look on tape and who they are this year for the most part is who they were last year and the years before that, and their kids are sound.”
Penn State’s defense got its first shutout in two years in a 24-0 win over Indiana last week. The Nittany Lions are second nationally in red zone defense with opponents scoring on only 53.3% of their trips inside the 20-yard line.
Neither team is prone to giving up big plays. The Hawkeyes are tied for first with only 12 plays of 20 yards or longer against them. The Nittany Lions have allowed just 15 of those plays.
“It’s a challenge when you play them,” Ferentz said. “The one thing for sure, going back a long ways, if you’re not ready to play, it could be embarrassing, so you better get ready to play.”
Iowa is on an 11-game winning streak dating to last season. Penn State has won nine in a row since a 41-21 loss to the Hawkeyes last season.
“When you’re talking about two opponents coming together like this, and especially with us being on the road, the margin of error is going to be small,” Franklin said. “And it all adds up.”
FERENTZ’S HISTORY LESSON
Ferentz was an Iowa assistant under Hayden Fry the last time the Hawkeyes were involved in a top-five matchup. That was in 1985, when No. 1 Iowa defeated No. 2 Michigan 12-10 on a last-second field goal by Rob Houghtlin.
Ferentz told his players what to expect.
“The energy, when you walk in the stadium, it’s rare,” he said. “There’s certain games you can feel when you walk in the stadium, especially when the crowd gets in there. That part is really neat. You’ve got to be prepared for that.”
Iowa has its highest ranking since the 2015 team was ranked No. 3. The Hawkeyes have had just six top-five matchups in the history of the program. Penn State has played in 11.
“You’ve thought of these games ever since you were a kid,” Iowa defensive end John Waggoner said. “These are the games you want to play in.”
BIG GAME EXPERIENCE
Both teams have been in the Top 25 all season and already have played in big games. Iowa won 27-17 at Iowa State when both teams were ranked in the top 10. Penn State opened with a 16-10 win at then-No. 12 Wisconsin and beat then-No. 22 Auburn 28-20 at home.
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras’ numbers have improved the last three weeks. He completed 50% of his passes (24 of 48) the first two games. Since then he’s hit on 68.5% (61 of 89).
Penn State leads 17-13 but the Hawkeyes broke a six-game losing streak to the Nittany Lions last season. Ferentz, who grew up in Pennsylvania, is 9-8 against the Nittany Lions.
AP freelance writer Travis Johnson contributed from State College, Pennsylvania.
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