September 24, 2009
Keys to victory
Iowa running backs Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher got their first taste of the road when they traveled to Ames. On Saturday night, they will get their second taste of it in their first Big Ten game at Penn State. If Iowa hopes to sneak out of Happy Valley with a win, the two young running backs will play a big role in making that happen. We take a look at our weekly Keys to Victory for the Hawkeyes as they do battle with Penn State.
1.Black out the "White Out"
Ever since the Hawkeyes upset the Nittany Lions last November in Kinnick Stadium, the Penn State fans have had this game with Iowa circled on their calendars. While the Penn State players have taken a much more measured approach in their public comments, you can be sure that they remember very well how Iowa spoiled their possible BSC Title Game dreams. Throw in that story line with this game being the annual "White Out" game in State College and you have a wide atmosphere ready to burst. While Iowa has played several road games in tough places in the last year or more, they haven't seen 100,000 plus fans all dressed in white screaming at the top of their lungs. Iowa's players cannot let this crazy Game Day fueled crowd get in the game.
2.Freshmen stepping up
Adam Robinson has only seen Penn State's stadium on TV. Last year at this time, Brandon Wegher was playing for Sioux City Heelan in front of a couple thousand fans. On Saturday they will be lining up in the most hostile environment to date. If you thought Ames was tough a few weeks ago, that's nothing compared to what they will face this weekend. In the past two weeks, Wegher and Robinson have taken their turns at 100 yard rushers. This weekend, it gets even tougher, a lot tougher. The freshmen running back duo that has combined to rush for 382 yards and five touchdowns will need to play like they aren't freshmen if Iowa wants to have a chance to win this game.
Last year Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark came into Kinnick Stadium riding high and driving the Nittany Lions HD Spread offense. While they did put up 23 points on the Hawkeye defense, Clark struggled, completing 9 of 23 passes for just 86 yards. It should be noted that it wasn't the best conditions on that cold November day with swirling winds, but the Iowa defense had something to do with it. While Iowa didn't sack Clark, they sure made him uncomfortable in the pocket. This year Clark is off to a very good start with a new group of receivers, completing 67% of his throws for 760 yards and eight touchdowns. Iowa's pass rush picked it up last week against Arizona and they will have to raise it to another level this weekend against Penn State's offensive line to get pressure on Clark.
4.Start fast and finish strong
While Iowa has had plenty of success this decade in State College, posting a 3-1 record there since 2000. But, the other fact is that none of the players on this team were part of the last win at Penn State in 2004. For Iowa to have a chance to pull an upset for the second straight year against the Nittany Lions, they are going to have to come out strong. A repeat of last week's opening drive would be ideal for Iowa to try to keep the crowd out of the game. The Hawkeyes cannot afford early mistakes, again like last week and the pick six. Just as important is finishing strong. While Ricky Stanzi has struggled in the first half of games this year, he has picked up the pace in the second half and made the plays necessary.
5.Kicking it with the return game
Special teams have played a big role in several of the games in this series this decade. Go back to 2000 and Nate Kaeding kicking Iowa to victory at Penn State. In 2002, Kaeding again boomed in a 55 yard field goal at the end of the half and Iowa also returns a blocked extra point for two points. Then in the epic 6-4 battle in 2004, Iowa made two field goals and Penn State missed two field goals for the margin of victory. The kicking game will be critical for both teams in a game that is expected to be a defensive battle. Ryan Donahue has been punting at a high level all season, but Penn State's Jeremy Boone is averaging over 47 yards a kick. What it may come down to is which team can finally get a breakthrough in the return game. Both teams have been downright bad in the kickoff return game thus far and rank 10th and 11th in the conference. Out of the 120 FBS schools, Iowa ranks 109 and Penn State is 118. In the punt return game, neither school is setting the world on fire. Iowa is averaging 5.4 yards per return (79th nationally) and Penn State is averaging 2.6 yards per return (103rd nationally). If Iowa can get their return game going, it could be a real difference maker for the Hawkeyes.
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