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Giger’s Game Breakdown: Levis has to start – right? – but will Lions be focused vs. Iowa?

OFFENSE

PSU: I’m gonna steal James Franklin’s weekly Twitter idea with this below:

You get the idea. Levis has to start at QB instead of Sean Clifford. This should be obvious to everyone, including Franklin. I just cannot believe that Franklin would stick with Clifford, ignoring the entire fan base and media calling for a change. If he does so, and Clifford struggles again in another loss, then the heat on Franklin will be the greatest its been since 49-10 against Michigan in 2016. OK, so let’s assume Levis does start. How will he fare against a very good Iowa defense? Just because Levis moved the Lions’ offense well last week doesn’t mean that he’ll be able to do the same against the Hawkeyes. The running game was good at Nebraska, but again, that may not be the case here. Levis is gonna have to prove that he’s a quarterback who can pass the ball well from anywhere on the field, including in the red zone. Up to now, he’s proven he’s a good runner who can throw it between the 20s, only to struggle in the red zone. The main thing is Levis cannot turn the ball over, because that’s what Clifford did a ton of and is a big reason why Penn State is 0-4.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes have scored 84 points in their past two games — 49 against Michigan State and 35 against Minnesota. They ran for 235 yards against the Gophers, with Tyler Goodson gaining 142 yards on 20 carries and Mekhi Sargent 86 yards on only nine carries. QB Spencer Petras completed just nine passes last week, and yet the Gophers still scored 35 points. Petras is a typical Iowa quarterback, someone who’s not flashy or fast or anything of the sort, but he’ll manage the game and will make some plays with his arm when he has to.

Advantage: Iowa

DEFENSE

PSU: The Lions have been awful to start games, giving up huge plays, many going for touchdowns. The team’s tackling has been abysmal, particularly in the first half of games as the team has fallen behind. PSU did play much better in the second half last week at Nebraska, so we’ll see if that carries over. Defensive coordinator Brent Pry and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith had to miss time this week because of false positive tests. I guess we can assume they’ll be good to go in this game. The main thing the Lions must do is stop the run, something they’ll be lined up to do with a lot of helmets in the box. Iowa has surprised PSU in recent years with some big pass plays out of nowhere, so the Lions have to be ready for that, as well.

Iowa: Hawkeyes have allowed only 14 points total in their past two games and just 59 total in four games. Minnesota had 19 first downs and dominated time of possession last week against the Hawkeyes, 36:10 to 23:50. That would indicate the Gophers had some level of success. But they scored only seven points, and those came in the closing seconds, in large part because of two turnovers. Iowa is going to force Will Levis to throw the ball. It will focus heavily on stopping PSU’s run game, including Levis’ keepers, and rely on its strong defensive line to get pressure when Levis tries to throw. Penn State’s O-line has struggled protecting the QB on dropbacks this season, and that could be the case again today.

Advantage: Iowa

SPECIAL TEAMS

PSU: PK Jake Pinegar went 3-for-3 last week, so that surely as good for his confidence after missing three of his first four attempts this season. P Jordan Stout averaging 42.6 yards on 12 kicks. It’s interesting that PSU is 0-4 but has only punted 12 times all season. Seems like a low number, although it makes some sense because the offense has had so many turnovers. If this comes down to the kicking game, you just can’t feel overly confident in PSU’s chances.

Iowa: PK Keith Duncan is 4-of-6 on FGs, with a long of 47. The Hawkeyes have made some big kicks against PSU over the years, and Duncan is capable of continuing that tradition. P Tory Taylor is excellent, averaging 45.8 yards on 20 kicks. Iowa doesn’t beat itself on special teams. The program is usually very solid in all fundamentals, and it’s no different in the kicking game.

Advantage: Iowa

COACHING/INTANGIBLES

PSU: James Franklin and the PSU program suffered national embarrassment Friday morning with the ESPN story detailing allegations in Isaiah Humphries’ lawsuit. Are those allegations true? We have no idea. But it doesn’t matter in the court of public opinion if they’re true, because many people will form bad opinions about Franklin and PSU just off the accusations. The players and coaches had to deal with the distraction Friday — maybe not with a lot of physical actions but certainly with some emotional turmoil — and that kind of thing the day before a game can do one of two things: either bring the team together for a strong performance, or hurt the team’s focus, thereby causing a poor performance. I just can’t give Penn State the benefit of the doubt here, not after what we’ve seen from the program so far in starting 0-4. I think the distraction will be too great, plus I think Iowa is just a better team.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes have dealt with their own serious legal turmoil, as some former players have sued for $20 million citing racial discrimination. Coach Kirk Ferentz has faced a ton of criticism over the ordeal, but he has kept his job, so far. The team has found a way to put the off-field issues aside and play very well the past two weeks with blowout wins. The Hawkeyes’ two losses were by 4 points and Purdue and 1 point at home against Northwestern. So, will this be another close one for Iowa, or another blowout?

Advantage: Iowa

PREDICTION

Iowa 30, Penn State 17: I initially thought this game would be closer, say Iowa by 7 points, but I believe the events that played out Friday will hurt the Lions. The Hawkeyes have a good defense and will be going up against an inexperienced QB in Levis who has yet to prove he can be a quality passer. Putting all of these things together, I can see the Hawkeyes taking it to PSU with a double-digit win.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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