No. 17 Iowa looks for offense vs. No. 10 Penn State
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If No. 17 Iowa is going to topple unbeaten No. 10 Penn State on Saturday night in Iowa City, it will need to find its offense.
The Hawkeyes' offense didn't do much worth mentioning last week against then-No. 19 Michigan, unless one includes negatives. In that case, Iowa did about everything possible in a 10-3 loss.
Quarterback Nate Stanley absorbed a lot of criticism for throwing his first three interceptions of the year, but he didn't get much help from his teammates. The offensive line allowed eight sacks, and the team managed exactly 1 yard rushing thanks, in part, to 65 yards lost on those sacks.
And the case can be made that the Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0) are better on defense than the Wolverines.
They have surrendered only 37 points in five games, posting a 59-0 shutout at Maryland on Sept. 27 and not allowing more than 13 points in any game.
Penn State overwhelmed Purdue last week in a 35-7 home victory, establishing a 28-0 first-quarter lead and devouring the short-handed Boilermakers' offense. The Nittany Lions permitted only 104 total yards and eight first downs, recording 10 sacks.
Penn State leads the nation with 5.0 sacks per game. Yetur Gross-Matos has 5 1/2 sacks, while fellow defensive end Shaka Toney has five. Sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons has a team-high 27 tackles, including six for loss.
"Bunch of guys making plays, bunch of guys doing some really great things," Penn State coach James Franklin said of the defense.
Franklin wasn't quite as complimentary of the offense, which didn't do a whole lot after the first quarter. It will have to display more consistency in this one against the best defense it has faced so far. The Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1) are allowing only 8.8 points per game.
Defense wasn't their problem at Michigan. They permitted just 267 yards and 13 first downs to the Wolverines, and a roaring sellout crowd at Kinnick Stadium figures to accentuate Iowa's efforts to stop quarterback Sean Clifford.
"It will be great to get back in Kinnick, especially for a night game," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Night games are always pretty electric at our place."
Clifford will have to watch for Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who has two sacks and is a potential 2020 first-round draft pick.
Coming off a 398-yard, three-touchdown performance at Maryland, Clifford hit 20 of 29 passes for 264 yards and three scores against Purdue. Through five games, he's hitting exactly two-thirds of his 135 attempts, averaging an impressive 16 yards per completion to lead the Big Ten.
Of course, most of those stats were racked up against overmatched opposition, not a team that ranks third nationally in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. The Hawkeyes are giving up only 254.2 yards per game and have allowed only one rushing touchdown in five games.
The Nittany Lions own a 16-12 series lead, including a 30-24 victory last year at home, getting a Nick Scott interception at the goal line with 3:18 left in the game.