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College Football: Nittany Lions Head to Kinnick on Upset Alert

(Video Provided by BTN)

Game Information: No. 4 Penn State at Iowa  6:30 P.M. CT  ABC

IOWA CITY, IA — The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions have looked almost unstoppable thus far and appear to be the team to beat in the Big Ten this season. They’ve averaged an impressive 47.0 points per game and have recorded shutouts in two of their first three contests. Penn State has won the past three meetings against the Hawkeyes, including a 41-14 beat down in State College last season, but Kinnick Stadium has become a place where top five teams have to come to die this past decade.

Back in 2008, then-Joe Paterno’s third-ranked Nittany Lions entered Iowa City with national title hopes on the line with a 9-0 record, but were stunned on a last second Daniel Murray 31-yard field goal to give the Hawkeyes a 24-23 victory. That’s almost identical to what occurred last year when Iowa upset No. 3 Michigan 14-13 on a Keith Duncan 33-yard field goal as time expired. Both night games with unranked Iowa teams pulling off upsets, it almost sounds like a perfect situation heading into Saturday night. It also should be noted that Iowa knocked off No. 5 Michigan State 37-6 back in 2010. That makes the Hawkeyes 3-0 at home against top five teams since 2008.

Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley stiff arms North Texas defensive back Nate Brooks at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

To pull off another upset, it all starts with stopping the nation’s most explosive running back in Saquon Barkley and putting pressure on quarterback Trace McSorley. Barkley has racked up 307 rushing yards, 241 receiving yards and five touchdowns in Penn State’s first three games.

A Josey Jewell led defense, which has allowed only 97.0 rushing yards per game, will clearly have its biggest test yet.

“They use him (Barkley) in a multitude of ways. He’s very, very tough to contain, run or pass,” stated head coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday. “We’re going to have to really work at it, and it’s going to take a great team effort to get that done.”

While Iowa looks to present problems against a Nittany Lion offense that has been clicking on all cylinders, the biggest question heading into Saturday is how the Hawkeyes’ backfield will fair without James Butler, who suffered an elbow injury in the third quarter against North Texas last week. Luckily for Iowa, Akrum Wadley will be back to head the backfield after leaving last week’s game with a minor ankle injury. Wadley will be joined by Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin, who both filled in against North Texas when both Wadley and Butler left the game. Kelly-Martin led the way with two touchdowns.

“We were worried coming out of the Iowa State game that maybe we overworked Akrum a little bit in that game,” mentioned Ferentz. “Our plan will be to use all three guys, utilize all three as well.”

With much of the focus on the Hawkeye backfield, the offense has also had early success with quarterback Nathan Stanley under center. Stanley, who will get his first opportunity to shine on the national stage, has passed for 10 touchdowns in his first three starts. He currently leads the conference in touchdown passes.

If Iowa hopes to knock off a highly-ranked Penn State squad, it comes down to slowing the game down and keeping their defense on the field. The Hawkeye offense combined for 57 first downs in the past two games, which is the highest amount of first downs in back-to-back games under Ferentz. Iowa uses its conservative play-calling to win the time of possession battle as well. The Hawkeyes are averaging just over 11 more minutes (35:35 Poss) with the ball per game than their opponent.

One thing Iowa cannot do is turn the football over. The offense has lost five fumbles on the season and that could prove to be costly for an offense that isn’t as explosive.

The Hawkeyes have to win the turnover battle, otherwise Penn State is going to capitalize on their mistakes and come away with a fourth straight win.

Prediction: Penn State 28, Iowa 20

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