IOWA: Blitz the Hawkeyes

PSU LB Gerald Hodges (6).

Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide the ultimate preview for the Nittany Lions' big road trip to Iowa City. Get the lowdown on this contest and more in our weekly feature.

Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's battle against Iowa.

The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing.

The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.

Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.

As an aside, in keeping up with the times, we are converting The Blitz from a pdf format to an online story.


KICKING OFF

ND: It's been a much needed week off for the Lions. The players able to focus on fundamentals while also getting their bodies some rest after the first half of the season. Iowa came up with a huge road win against Michigan State and is geared up to face the Lions in Iowa City. The Lions have not won in Kinnick Stadium since 1999, so this will be a significant challenge.

MH: The bye seemed to have come at a good time to get the team ready for the second half of the season. However, the players seem to be anxious to get back in action, which is just what the coaches want as they head on the road to play an Iowa team that is sky high after knocking off Michigan State.


DIRTY DETAILS

Who: Penn State at Iowa

When: Saturday, October 20, 2012, 8:00 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. local, 5:00 p.m. PT

Where: Kinnick Stadium at Iowa City, Iowa

Series: Iowa leads 12-9

TV: Big Ten Network

Line: Iowa by 3 points


OTHER BIG GAMES

ND: QB Geno Smith and West Virginia got a rude awakening in Lubbock last week as Texas Tech dominated the Mountaineers. This week, the newest member of the Big 12 will host Kansas State. QB Collin Klein has meant more to his team than arguably any other player in the country. But he played very flat last week against Iowa State and didn't have the same authority on his runs or throws. His run for a touchdown was enough to the shut the door on the Cyclones last week but he will need to be much more crisp against West Virginia. I like the Wildcats to win this game on the road. They have a good defense and that will give Smith and his receivers just enough trouble to come up short.

MH: An interesting showdown should be No. 6 LSU at No. 18 Texas A&M. LSU is coming off a tough loss to Florida with a follow-up big win over South Carolina. A&M also lost to Florida, so this should be an fun clash as the Aggies want to show they deserve to be in the SEC. This is a big opportunity to do so.


UPSET SPECIAL

ND: Last time, I felt the Gators would be able to knock off LSU and that proved to be correct. Well, after a terrible showing on the national stage, South Carolina now travels to Gainesville. I'm still trying to figure out why Steve Spurrier didn't call RB Marcus Lattimore's number more in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter. He won't make that mistake again. I also thought that Jadeveon Clowney looked flat and was completely neutralized. But, I like the Gamecocks bouncing back and knocking off the No. 2 Gators and giving the folks in Eugene, Ore., something to cheer about.

MH: This may seem a tad far-fetched, but I think Baylor has a good shot to knock off Texas. Both teams are coming off back-to-back losses to some ranked teams, but the Bears showed they can put points on the board. The question is, can the find some semblance of a defense?


PSU'S PLAYBOOK

ND: As we move into the second half of the season, the Lions are finally settling into their offensive identity, which consists of pounding the rock with Zach Zwinak and spreading the football out through the air. The real surprise this season has been the offensive line production. With many new faces and a group of guys that have struggled over the last couple of years, they have been able to shake that off and really do a great job of protecting Matt McGloin. When McGloin has time in the pocket, he is able to distribute the football to Allen Robinson, Kyle Carter, Matt Leman and Alex Kenney. The line has to come up big in this game, especially with this being a night outing on the road. The more the linemen can do to help McGloin get comfortable the better.

On the other side of the ball, the Lions continue to generate turnovers and get pressure on the QB. Jordan Hill is having a great season but the performance of all three Linebackers -- Gerald Hodges, Glenn Carson and Michael Mauti -- has overshadowed the performances of others. These three guys have been the anchor of this team and are playing as one of the best units in the country. This week, they will have a big challenge of shedding blocks and stuffing the run. The Hawkeyes will not perform well if the game ends up on James Vandenberg's shoulders ,so if the three amigos can shutdown the run, it puts the Lions in a great position.

MH: Penn State's offense has shown it has a nice multi-dimensional set of weapons. McGloin is playing well and has a variety of targets like Robinson, Kenney and Carter to go to when needed. He's spreading the ball around and making better and better decisions. I think the difference is really with where the run game is. After losing a slew of backs early on, Zwinak and Michael Zordich have provided a 1-2 punch to the ground game. I know fans are disappointed with Bill Belton thus far, but I still think he can emerge as a situational weapon for the offense as the season progresses.

In terms of the defense, the unit is playing fast, hard and aggressive. As expected, the front seven has stepped up and helped to alleviate concerns in the secondary. The key, as you alluded to Nirav, is getting pressure on that pocket and putting Vandenberg in uncomfortable situations.


SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE

ND: Iowa lines up with the same style of play as we've come to expect from a Kirk Ferentz coached team. Offensively, the Hawkeyes control the ball on the ground by relying on an offensive line that moves bodies and then they let RB Mark Weisman batter his way down the field. On the final drive during regulation vs. MSU last week, Weisman came up limping and he is a question mark this week. I will be surprised to see him on the field. The Hawkeyes were really hoping that Damon Bullock will be back in the lineup at running back this week, but he continues to suffer from the consequences of a severe head injury earlier this season. Unfortunately, he has been ruled out. Freshman Greg Garmon (from Erie, Pa.) looked very tentative against the Spartans, so the Hawkeyes could be in a world of hurt with their running game, which is so key to their offensive attack. Many hoped that the senior Vandenberg would to continue to grow into a great QB this season but that hasn't been the case. He has only two TDs this season and has thrown three INTs. Iowa is also 114th in the country in passing efficiency despite playing a pretty soft schedule with the exception of the Spartans. Vandenberg has really had an issue making the necessary throws while under pressure, so look for the Lions to exploit this fact, especially if the threat of the run game isn't present.

Defensively, the Hawkeyes were expected to drop off a notch because of a loss of talent and through the retirement of long-time defensive coordinator Norm Parker. But that hasn't been the case. They are doing a great job against the run and have been solid against the pass. They have outstanding players in each major part of the lineup. Joe Gaglione has four sacks and eight TFLs at his defensive end position. James Morris is second on the team in tackles and he mans the MLB position for the Hawkeyes. And you have Micah Hyde, who has seemingly been roaming the secondary for a decade. He is tall and physical. The Hawkeyes play a 4-3 defense and don't do anything fancy. They do have a blitz package, but they really try to use their front four to get pressure on the QB and let the rest of the guys make plays everywhere else.

Iowa had real advantage at kicker. Mike Meyer is 14 of 15 on FGs this year with a 50-yarder to his name.

MH: As you mentioned, there are some serious concerns with the Iowa ground game thanks to some recent injuries. However, Iowa has shown a knack for plugging in guys and leveraging the offensive line's ability to open holes. Vandenberg has struggled, and I doubt we see Ferentz put the game on his shoulders. I suspect we will see a series of short outs and check-down routes to just move the ball to complement the ground game. This will require the linebackers for PSU to step up and for the defensive ends to get pressure on the pocket.

The Hawkeyes like to bring pressure and also use multiple looks to throw quarterbacks off. Based on this, McGloin has to be on his game reading the scheme and making adjustments. The PSU offensive line has the ability to pick up the rush, but it can't allow Iowa to get a jump with its blitzing schemes. I know they don't blitz all that much, but I suspect we will see some packages used to keep the offense guessing.


MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY

ND: I am very excited to watch DE Deion Barnes in this game. The Iowa offensive line struggled at times with the faster ends of Michigan State and I think Barnes against the Hawkeyes tackles could be a matchup to really watch. Vandenberg really struggled with pressure and Barnes might be the guy to apply that pressure.

MH: I am anxious to see how McGloin handles Gaglione and the Iowa defensive line. He has to make some quick decisions and get the ball out if the offensive tackles struggle with the rush. I suspect we'll see the tight ends involved in this one to support McGloin and give him a variety of options in the passing game.


KEYS TO THE GAME

ND: Over the last several years, the Hawkeyes have completely dominated Penn State's offensive line. With Craig Fitzgerald's strength and conditioning program, the Lions should be better. But, their ability to protect McGloin from guys like Gaglione is going to be key to the offense's ability to move the football let alone score.

MH: This game comes down to consistency on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Lions have to protect the ball as they have and also spread the ball around to mitigate Iowa's defensive tendency to key up on the run game. Defensively they have to penetrate the pocket. That doesn't mean they necessarily need sacks, but they need some hurries and hits to keep Vandenberg on edge.


PREDICTIONS

ND: The injury to Weisman will allow Ted Roof to unleash the PSU Backers on Vandenberg, which will trigger some turnovers. The running game of the Lions and the use of the TEs down the seam will be the difference.

Penn State 28, Iowa 20

MH: Penn State should be rested and resolved to grab this road win. Iowa is coming off a big victory, but the Hawkeyes have some significant issues in the running and passing games to address.

Penn State 31, Iowa 23


Until next time,

Fight On State!

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