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First Look, Game 8: Penn State vs Iowa

Penn State prepares for a Saturday afternoon showdown vs. Iowa as its Big Ten football schedule passes the midway point. A pair of marquee conference programs — Michigan and Ohio State — are on a bye this weekend so the matchup between ranked opponents in Beaver Stadium takes center stage.

This begins a daunting three-game stretch for the Nittany Lions, who face a fellow ranked foe each week. Penn State, listed 17th in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, has won four straight games against Iowa, including a last-second thriller on the road last September.

Prior to this recent run, Penn State struggled in the series for several years. The Hawkeyes claimed victories in eight of nine clashes from 2000 through 2010, though only five of those wins were determined by a touchdown or less.

Their latest meeting presents a crucial point in the 2018 campaign for both programs. Iowa heads to Happy Valley riding a three-game win streak, while Penn State rebounded from a pair of losses to beat Indiana on the road last Saturday.

“We know who’s coming into our stadium,” Nittany Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye said Tuesday. “We know what they’re capable of doing. We played a four-quarter game with them last year. We’re expecting them to come out and give us their best effort, but I think we’ll be ready.”

Let’s take an early glimpse at Penn State’s next foe.

Opponent: Iowa
Nickname: Hawkeyes
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (20th season at Iowa; 149-98 record)
2018 record: 6-1 (3-1 in Big Ten)
Last Game: vs. Maryland (23-0 win)
Leading Passer: Nate Stanley (1,559 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 6 interceptions)
Leading Receiver:
T.J. Hockenson (424 yards and 3 touchdowns on 25 catches)
Leading Rusher:
Toren Young (403 yards and 2 touchdowns on 82 carries)
Defensive Standout:
DE A.J. Epenesa (7 tackles for loss, 6 sacks)
2017 record: 8-5 (4-5 in Big Ten)

All-time series between Penn State and Iowa: Penn State leads 15-12
Penn State’s biggest win vs Iowa: 61-21 in 1994
Iowa biggest win vs. Penn State: 24-3 in 2010

Last meeting: Penn State 21, Iowa 19 (Sept. 23, 2017, in Iowa City)

The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions survived a down-to-the-wire scare at Kinnick Stadium. Juwan Johnson caught a seven-yard pass from Trace McSorley as time expired, capping off a 12-play, 65-yard drive that started with 1:42 left. Saquon Barkley was sensational, producing 305 yards and two touchdowns on 40 offensive touches (28 carries, 12 catches). Shareef Miller was credited with a safety and the Penn State defense limited Iowa to seven points through nearly 50 minutes of game action. Hawkeyes senior running back Akrum Wadley scored twice from long distance in the fourth quarter to give Iowa a late lead. Quarterback Nate Stanley, who heads to Beaver Stadium this Saturday, completed 13 of 22 pass attempts for 191 yards and two touchdowns.

Last meeting at Penn State: Penn State 41, Iowa 14 (Nov. 5, 2016)

Barkley, then a sophomore, accounted for 211 all-purpose yards and scored twice. McSorley, a first-year Nittany Lions starter, connected on touchdown tosses to Barkley and Saeed Blacknall. Penn State surged to a 21-0 advantage and the margin after halftime was never fewer than 17 points. Tommy Stevens reached the end zone on a late run. The Nittany Lions totaled 599 yards, while Iowa managed 234. Current San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard threw a pair of touchdowns for the Hawkeyes. Penn State’s defense sacked him four times and forced an interception.

What the matchup means in 2018

This is the first of three consecutive ranked opponents ahead on Penn State’s schedule, presenting an opportunity for the team to define its season — for better or worse. The Nittany Lions have lost back-to-back games in Beaver Stadium (vs. Michigan State and Ohio State) for the first time since 2014, but upcoming home matchups vs. Iowa and and No. 20 Wisconsin (Nov. 10) — bookending a Nov. 3 trip to No. 5 Michigan offer shots at redemption.

A surprising Ohio State loss at Purdue cracks the door open just slightly for Penn State regarding any ambitions to reach the Big Ten Championship Game by way of an East division title. The Nittany Lions still need plenty of help elsewhere, and realistically would need to run the table in order to create any circumstance for a return trip to Indianapolis.

Iowa’s path to the conference championship is less convoluted, though a late-September loss to Wisconsin takes outright control away from the Hawkeyes. Iowa is one of four Big Ten West squads with one loss in conference action, along with Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Beyond this trip to Happy Valley, the Hawkeyes aren’t slated to face another opponent that is presently ranked.

Iowa last appeared in a Big Ten title game three years ago, dropping a 2015 showdown vs. Michigan State, who went on to appear in the College Football Playoff.

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