STATE COLLEGE – Penn State coach James Franklin paid Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz a respected compliment earlier this week when he referred the to Hawkeyes’ 22-year coach as “the vet” of the Big Ten.
The Big Ten’s longest-tenured coach faces the East Division’s most senior coach Saturday when Iowa visits Beaver Stadium.
Iowa enters this weekend looking to extend its win streak this season to three games, while Penn State hopes to win its first contest of the season.
The Nittany Lions have won the last three meetings with Iowa by a combined 13 points.
“We’ve been fortunate to have some great games since I got here,” Franklin said. “Six games against the program, and they’ve been great games and we’ve been fortunate to find ways to get wins all different types of ways.”
Iowa opened the season with back-to-back losses to Purdue (24-20) and Northwestern (21-20). After those close losses, the Hawkeyes have strung together wins against Michigan State (49-7) and Minnesota (35-7).
With fast starts being an emphasis as Penn State enters the fourth week of the season, the Nittany Lions offense will be tested against a talented Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes ranked 17th nationally in total defense having allowed 314.3 yards to opposing offenses.
Iowa only yielded 286 and 312 yards to Michigan State and Minnesota, respectively. Iowa’s defense ranks second in the Big Ten sacks (11) and interceptions (eight).
After struggling thorough the first half during last week’s loss at Nebraska, Penn State’s offense strung together its most productive second half of the season. The Nittany Lions outscored the Nebraska, 17-3, in the final 30 minutes and ended with 501 yards of offense, 245 of which were earned on the ground.
“They’re a good football team, certainly better than their record right now,” Ferentz said earlier this week. “I do know this: They’ve recruited well and have been coached well. If you look at them statistically, they’re a very impressive football team but for whatever reason have come up short.”
Penn State changed quarterbacks in the second quarter of last week’s loss when Will Levis replaced Sean Clifford. Franklin this week said he hadn’t yet decided who will start against the Hawkeyes as he wanted to evaluate the two during practices throughout the week.
While Clifford entered the season as the unquestioned starter, turnovers have plagued his redshirt junior season. Through four games, Clifford has thrown six interceptions to go with two fumbles.
Levis was 14 of 31 passing for 219 yards and he ran for 61 yards on a game-high 18 carries against the Cornhuskers last Saturday.
“Will’s just a workhorse, like many guys in this programs,” Penn State defensive tackle PJ Mustipher said. “He just kept his head down and grinded every day, no matter what his role is. He has a great attitude about things. He’s a phenomenal leader.”
ELTON HAYES covers Penn State sports for CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.