No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions to clash with 3-0 Iowa Hawkeyes

By Travis Johnson, The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 20, 2017 at 1:11 PM
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With all the focus on Penn State's prolific offense and Heisman candidates, it might be easy to overlook the Nittany Lions' defense.

That could be a mistake as No. 4 Penn State (3-0) opens Big Ten play Saturday at Iowa.

For all the stats for him to ponder, one is most important to Penn State safety Marcus Allen: Takeaways.

"Get the ball back for our offense," Allen said. "However we get it done, that's how we're gonna get it done."

Penn State has generated nine takeaways, is plus-seven in turnover margin and has scored 49 points off turnovers, boosting its already-dangerous offense. The Nittany Lions picked off three passes last week in a shutout of Georgia State, and Allen, in his 42nd game, snagged the first interception of his career.

Now, Allen will look for another at Kinnick Stadium against a quarterback who has thrown just one this season -- Nate Stanley, who helped guide Iowa to a 3-0 in nonconference play.

Iowa will be trying to avenge last season's 41-14 loss at Penn State.

"We realize we have to play at our best and our highest possible level if we're going to be competitive in this football game," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That's where we're focused right now."

With Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, Penn State also has seen big contributions from tight end Mike Gesicki and receivers DaeSean Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins.

Barkley is second nationally with 218.3 all-purpose yards per game. McSorley was 18 of 23 with five touchdowns last week.

Wide receiver Brandon Polk and backup quarterback Tommy Stevens, who has been used as a runner/receiver at times, each caught touchdown passes last week and should play bigger roles moving forward.

"Offensively, one of our issues last year was starting out slow," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "We've been able to be better in that area."

The Hawkeyes avoided a major injury to their top back but lost another on Saturday in a win over North Texas.

Starter Akrum Wadley will play this week after leaving that game early, but his counterpart, James Butler, will be out until at least mid-October. Wadley will be joined by Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young as the Hawkeyes try to crack Penn State's defense.

The Nittany Lions have only given up one touchdown all season.

"We overworked Akrum a little bit in that (Iowa State) game," Ferentz said. "Our plan will be to use all three guys. And the good news is the other two guys did a good job Saturday. It was a good chance for them to get their feet wet and do some good things."

Although Penn State has handfuls of big plays under its belt already, its running game sputtered against Georgia State as Barkley managed just 47 yards on the ground in limited action. Ferentz is preparing for the dynamic back to have a bounce-back game.

"We're talking about Barkley being one of the guys that's going to be I would imagine a top five (NFL draft) pick," Ferentz said.

"I don't know all the seniors in the country, but my guess is he would have been pretty high last year. Akrum is a really good football player, too. But you look at their surrounding cast, their entire offense, man for man, 11 guys, there's a reason why they won the championship last year and why they had such a good year.

"There's a reason why they're in the top five right now. They're a team that's really loaded right now. They're playing well."

This will be Franklin's first visit to Iowa State, and the coach was asked several questions this week about getting his team ready in Kinnick Stadium's famous visiting locker room, slathered in a shade called "innocence pink." Penn State's last visit was in 2012, when the Nittany Lions won 38-14.

"I think it's awesome," Franklin said.

"I'm not going to make a big deal out of it with our guys. I'm actually going to talk to our guys about it being a really, really nice gesture by the University of Iowa to welcome Penn State, since our original school colors are pink and black, and what a wonderful gesture it is that they painted their locker room pink for us."

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