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Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford. (Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire)
October 8th, 2021
Arguably the spotlight game of the weekend is a Big Ten showdown Saturday afternoon, when the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes host the No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions.
Let's take a deep dive into the matchup and come up with a wager or two.
Penn State’s quarterback, Sean Clifford, is a major reason Penn State is unbeaten, but Clifford had an iffy game last time out against Indiana.
While he threw three touchdowns, Clifford completed just 17 of his 33 pass attempts, with an interception and numerous errant passes. That can't happen against a ball-hawking Iowa defense this weekend.
When he is accurate, Clifford has a star in wide receiver Jahan Dotson, who torched Iowa last season. He hauled in eight passes for 84 yards and a pair of scores against Indiana and has caught six of Clifford’s 11 touchdown passes this season. Fellow wideout Parker Washington will also put pressure on the Hawkeyes secondary and may need to step up, if running back Noah Cain doesn’t improve on his 3.2 yards per carry.
After throwing 9 INT and completing 24 passes for 20+ yards in nine games last year, Sean Clifford has improved his QBR by ten points, already has 20 20-yard passes and has nearly a 4-to-1 TD to INT ratio (11-3)...— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) October 7, 2021
After throwing 9 INT and completing 24 passes for 20+ yards in nine games last year, Sean Clifford has improved his QBR by ten points, already has 20 20-yard passes and has nearly a 4-to-1 TD to INT ratio (11-3)...
The Penn State defense held Indiana scoreless and has allowed just 12 points per game this season, the third-best mark in the nation. However, both Wisconsin and Auburn found a way to run on the Nittany Lions, as each topping 180 rushing yards. Penn State will need to prevent Iowa from establishing its ground game.
If you looked at the offensive numbers for the Hawkeyes, you would not think they are unbeaten or a top-five team. Iowa ranks 119th in the nation in total offense, at 325 yards per game.
However, those stats don’t tell the entire story. Much of what Iowa does is predicated on its defense, which leads the nation in forced turnovers (16) and a +12 turnover margin. In its 51-14 victory last weekend at Maryland, Iowa forced seven turnovers.
When the Hawkeyes have the football, quarterback Spencer Petras has played solid. Over his last seven starts, he has turned the ball over just once. He has two quality true freshman targets on the outside, Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV, and running back Tyler Goodson is a home-run threat, both on the ground and in the receiving game.
Iowa defense this season:70 drives played58 points allowed15 takeaways 10 scoring drives (TD or FG)They ain't Georgia, but gosh.— Paul Hembekides (Hembo) (@PaulHembo) October 8, 2021
Iowa defense this season:70 drives played58 points allowed15 takeaways 10 scoring drives (TD or FG)They ain't Georgia, but gosh.
Iowa’s defense is one of two teams in the nation that give up fewer points than Penn State’s. The Hawkeyes have allowed just 11.6 points per game, and they have won every game this season by double digits.
Their special teams give them a huge advantage, as well. Reigning Big Ten Punter of the Year Tory Taylor has pinned teams deep when the offense fails to score.
Both offenses convert about a third of their third down attempts, and both rush for fewer than four yards per carry. They will both want to establish the run, against defenses that both rank in the top ten in yards allowed per play.
The difference will be turnovers and kicking. Iowa is 106-24 under head coach Kirk Ferentz when it wins the turnover battle, and the team that has won the turnover battle the last two years has won the game — including last year, when Iowa forced three in its 41-21 victory.
Hawkeyes kicker Caleb Shudak has made eight of his nine field goal attempts this year, with his only miss on a 50-yard attempt. Jordan Stout has made just two-thirds of his field goal attempts for the Nittany Lions, including just four of five inside 30 yards.
Spencer Petras is the 12th highest rated QB in CFBHe is 1 of 5 in top-12 with <2 intsHe’s got more big time throws (10) then Br. Young (9), Sp. Rattler (1), and Ma. Corral (7)And less turnover worthy plays (2) then all QB in top 25 except Ma. Corral (0) and Ca. McNamara (0)— Locked On Hawkeyes (@LockedOnIowa) October 5, 2021
Spencer Petras is the 12th highest rated QB in CFBHe is 1 of 5 in top-12 with <2 intsHe’s got more big time throws (10) then Br. Young (9), Sp. Rattler (1), and Ma. Corral (7)And less turnover worthy plays (2) then all QB in top 25 except Ma. Corral (0) and Ca. McNamara (0)
This game will likely be low scoring, a trend we have seen in nearly all of the games for both teams this season. Take Iowa, buy the spread down to 1.5 points, and pair it with Under 40.5 for a sam- game combo.
Score prediction: Iowa 20, Penn State 13
Our predictive engine is calling for Iowa to win straight-up and to cover the spread. The game will go Over 40.5 points.
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