No. 4 Penn State faces a major test in its first road game of the season when it visits fellow unbeaten Iowa on Saturday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams. The Nittany Lions steamrolled through their first three opponents at home by a combined score of 141-14, and their bevy of offensive stars shined brightly in last week’s rout of Georgia State.
Trace McSorley threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns while running back Saquon Barkley amassed 226 total yards - including a career-high 142 through the air - and the defense pitched its second shutout. Barkley is averaging 8.1 yards per carry, 21.9 per catch and 26.8 per kickoff return, presenting the Hawkeyes with a unique challenge that has coach Kirk Ferentz scrambling for superlatives. “I’m trying to think of the last time we played a back like this,” Ferentz told reporters. “I’m thinking of the backs I’ve seen in my time in the conference. ... He just does so many things well. He’s a powerful, strong, fast athlete. He’s a really good football player. Run, pass, you name it, he’s a threat. He’s just a really impressive football player.” The Hawkeyes also have a workhorse at running back in Akrum Wadley (60 carries, second in the Big Ten) and Nathan Stanley’s 10 TD passes are first in the league, one ahead of McSorley.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Penn State -12.5
ABOUT PENN STATE (3-0): McSorley is 10th in the country in passing efficiency (184.1), has increased his completion percentage (67.1) nearly 10 points from last season, is gaining six yards a carry and now has even more support in the form of versatile backup Tommy Stevens, who has passing, running and receiving scores through the first three games. “What’s nice about [Stevens] is he can play like a receiver, he can play like a running back, he can play like a quarterback, and we’ve used him in almost all of those ways,” coach James Franklin told reporters. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that it creates stress on a defense.” Franklin also has to be pleased with the emergence of big-play receiver Saeed Blacknall, who was held without a catch in the first two games but had 64 receiving yards and a score against Georgia State.
ABOUT IOWA (3-0): Since throwing an interception on the Hawkeyes’ second drive of the season, Stanley has thrown his 10 TDs without a pick and is completing 61.4 percent of his passes. Wadley, who had 234 yards through the first two games before sitting out much of last week’s 31-14 win over North Texas with an ankle injury, has been practicing and is expected to play Saturday. Iowa ranks 12th among Big Ten teams with 3.8 yards a rush, a troubling trend given the fact that it was outgained 359-30 on the ground in last year’s 41-14 loss at Penn State.
1. Hawkeyes WR Nick Easley is tied for third in the Big Ten with 16 receptions while Wadley ranks second with 25.3 yards per catch.
2. Nittany Lions WR DaeSean Hamilton has 170 career receptions, nine shy of the school’s all-time leader (Deon Butler, 2005-08).
3. Penn State has won three straight meetings after losing eight of the previous nine.
PREDICTION: Penn State 31, Iowa 23