No. 7 Penn State plays No. 24 Iowa tomorrow. Both teams are undefeated. Both are in the top 25, and it will be Penn State’s annual White Out Game.
Nittany Sports Now chatted with Iowa insider Tom Kakert of On3Sports. Kakert has covering Iowa for 21 years and was in the Beaver Stadium press box when Iowa upset No. 5 Penn State in 2009’s White Out Game.
Does he envision something similar happening Saturday?
**Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Nittany Sports Now: Do you see a path for an upset for Iowa?
Tom Kakert: I kind of made the comparison to an NCAA basketball game that’s really famous, when Villanova beat Georgetown for the national title. That’s kind of the path that Iowa needs. Control tempo, they have to hit on a lot of plays, high-percentage plays, passes, and just have some good fortune.
It’s a field position game. They’re going to probably rely on punter Tory Taylor, who’s one of the best punters in the country, to hopefully keep the field-position game in play and make Penn State work for their yardage and points. The defense has always been “bend, but don’t break.”
Iowa wants to turn it into a grinder. They just do. A low-possession, grinder kind of game, and that gives them the old adage in boxing; a puncher’s chance.
NSN: Iowa has an experienced quarterback and one that’s beaten Penn State in Beaver Stadium before in Cade McNamara. How much does having a guy like McNamara, who not only has played in big games but has played in Beaver Stadium, albeit for a noon game and not a White Out, how much does that help for a team that really has to have everything go right to get a win Saturday?
TK: It’s just really massive for Iowa, because they have a guy who’s a really good leader, and he’s going to walk into the locker room and tell everybody in there “hey, I’ve won here, and I know what it takes to win here, and let’s go do that,” and that will give them some confidence. Now, I will say this, Cade’s been banged up. I mean, he had a quad injury, strained quad, a little over a month ago, we’re probably five weeks out now and that’s probably a six-to-eight-week injury to get healed up more fully. He says he’s getting better and better each week, but even last week when he took off on a little jaunt, he looked more like me, an old dude, than he did a spry guy in his early 20s. He just (had) a little hitch in his giddyup. So, I think there’s still concern there and he’s been very careful with his quad. He does not want to reinjure that because if he does, he’s probably going to be shut down for at least a month.
NSN: It’s hard to be much worse than Iowa’s offense was at times last year. Do you think this offense is better, and how much better if so?
TK: I do think they’re better. I think the offensive line’s better. They’ve done a better job protecting the quarterback this year. They’re running the ball a little bit better. Now, will they be able to run it on Saturday is a big question, but they got over 100 yards against a really stout Iowa State defense, 254 last week against Western Michigan, and they really got in a good groove. I’m going to be curious to see what they do this week, because, like I’ve said all week, last week may have been JV. This is varsity.
NSN: You mentioned Abdul Carter (as somebody who impresses you), what other players on Penn State’s team have impressed you from the outside?
TK: Kalen King the corner. I mean, their whole secondary’s just really good. They’re just really good players, playmakers. Carter’s ferocious. He’s a pro. I was reading some of the (Penn State) fandom is not thrilled with the production of Chop Robinson. But he’s a darn good player to me. The offense, two running backs (Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen), they’re just… I call them the best running back duo in the country.
NSN: Kirk (Ferentz) talked a lot about Drew Allar in his press conference. What have you seen from him?
TK: I watched them play Illinois last week. It was on in the press box before the Iowa game, so just watching him, you can tell why everybody thought he was one of the best quarterback prospects in the country. He’s getting better every week, and the Drew you see now is going to be better Week 12. I kind of think—and I may fully end up being wrong, but I’ve said this for a while— that Penn State’s the best team in the (Big Ten) East this year. I think (Michigan) is right there. I’m not sold on Ohio State as much this year. I think this might be an opportunity for James Franklin. There’s a lot of distractions up at Michigan, and Ohio State may just have a little bit of a talent drain this year in changing quarterbacks.”
NSN: What is your prediction for this year’s (Penn State-Iowa) game, and how has that prediction changed from what you thought coming into the season?
TK: I’ve probably upgraded Penn State more than anything. I thought it would probably be like a one-score game. Now, I’m probably looking at a Penn State double-figure win. 27-13, something like that. Maybe 27-10. I just think Penn State, I think they have this one circled. I know the fans do. (Iowa’s) offense is just limited right now with all the injuries, adjusting to playing without Luke Lachey. I think it’s just a bigger challenge for Iowa, and I’m just not sure they’re ready.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Iowa 10