By Thomas Frank Carr
The Nittany Lion faithful made life miserable for the Ohio State Buckeyes two weeks ago and helped contribute to their 24-21 defeat. Bringing that same energy and more importantly, volume, will be a huge advantage for Penn State at home in another prime-time game. It’s cliché to say but the noise disrupts an offense’s ability to communicate and make signals.
- They Are Who We Thought They Were
There are certain teams that will seemingly never change. When you think of the Iowa Hawkeyes, you think of big bruising offensive and defensive linemen with gritty skill players and just enough speed to get the job done. This is that exact Iowa team. They’re built the same way that they always have been under Kirk Ferentz. Head Coach James Franklin says that this isn’t a surprise,
“Iowa is what you would expect when you have a coach and a coaching staff as tenured as theirs. They’re not changing. You put the film on this year, last year – according to Coach Limegrover, five years ago – they have tweaked some things in who they’ve been, but not much. This is who they’ve been on offense…they’re going to line up and try to run the ball down your throat. A pro-style offense. They’re going to be aggressive on defense and they’re going to be really good up front.
- Five Percent
What will it take for the Penn State offense to go from good to great?
About five percent.
Quarterback Trace McSorley’s overall completion percentage for the season is 55 percent. The generally accepted line for a quarterback to be considered accurate is a 60 percent completion percentage. Franklin sees that as an area that can improve,
“I think we want to get back up into the mid-60s or higher. I think that’s something that’s important for us. We talked about third downs, something that’s going to be important for us in those statistics. That’s where a lot of your passing numbers are going to come from because you’re going to predominantly throw in third down and long situations. Improving our completion percentage would help us.”
There are a plethora of factors that go into a quarterback’s completion percentage. From pressure, to dropped balls, to the scheme itself; a quarterback is dependent on the entire offense to flourish. That being said, there are still ways to look at this number and make some sense. Franklin points to the number of deep balls the team has thrown this year,
“The other thing you have to remember is how many shots we’re taking down the field, how many defenses we’re playing that are playing in your face, press man on the outside. I mean, last week, if you watched that game, almost every rep, every defender was eight yards or under.”
That is true, and McSorley has done an admirable job being judicious with the shots taken downfield. However his underneath throws are where some ground can be made. Throws 15 yards and in are where a quarterback must be deadly accurate. If McSorley can improve his completions to this part of the field, this offense will go from good to great in a hurry. It’s a lot to ask from a young starter to grow up so quickly, but McSorley has handled every challenge so far.
- Healthy Dose of Speed
This game would be a much more comfortable affair if some of Penn State’s key offensive weapons were in a healthier state. Receiver Deandre Thompkins missed last week’s game vs Purdue and tight end Mike Gesicki is doing the best he can while running on one foot. The team still has a bevy of weapons in Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall and of course Saquon Barkley. However Thompkins had established himself as the team’s best deep threat and consistent receiver before a shoulder injury vs Ohio State. Gesicki is a matchup nightmare vs linebackers due to his speed and height.
The offense will to set a pace that Iowa can’t match on Saturday. If Penn State doesn’t connect on it’s deep shots and the passing game continues to stutter, the game could play right into Iowa’s hands. Their strength is at defensive line and linebacker so expect a long night for Barkley and Co. on the ground.
- Battle in the Trenches
It feels as if the Nittany Lions are going through a series of trials on their way back to national prominence as a program. First they have to beat the teams they should beat, then they have to blow them out. Then they have to test a top tier team. Then, like Hercules, they must slay the 12 headed Hydra. Next up in their 12 labors will be defeating a team in the mold of Michigan, a type of team they have struggled against this year,
“You probably get sick of me saying this, but it’s an up front game, an up front conference.They (Iowa) do a good job with that. That’s how they’re built. We have taken great strides in that area. That’s going to be our challenge our Saturday, our defensive line being able to hold up against their offensive line.”
In two games versus Pitt and Michigan, the Nittany Lions gave up 667 yards rushing. The next great task for Penn State is to stop the run effectively against a team built in the mold of the two teams that beat them early in the year. Having a full complement of linebackers doesn’t hurt either.
On the other side of the ball it will be a chance to see how far along the offensive line has come. To tackle Bendan Mahon, the key to their development has been a new face,
“I think the biggest change this year, I’m sure you’ve all noticed from how we’ve been playing, everyone has really bought in and gelled. That all has to do with Coach Limegrover and everything he’s brought to the table. He believes in all of us, we believe in him. There’s a trust between all of us and him.”
That trust has built an offensive line that has only allowed 16 sacks so far this season. They’re a far cry from 10 in one game now.