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5 keys for PSU vs. Iowa: Time to get physical

October 19, 2012 - Cory Giger
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Five things to look for as Penn State goes for its fifth straight win and first at Iowa's raucous Kinnick Stadium since 1999.

SUBHD: No. 1: Let's get physical

Iowa is by far the toughest team physically the Nittany Lions have faced, so they have to be prepared for a rugged, hard-hitting game on both sides of the ball. It will be a good test of the new strength and conditioning program we've heard so much about since Bill O'Brien brought in Craig Fitzgerald.

Like a boxer who continually throws body blows, Iowa's goal is not to land a knockout punch, but instead to wear teams down and take advantage late in games. Penn State is typically able to do that against the likes of Temple, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue and other annual opponents not named Ohio State, Wisconsin or Iowa.

Tired players make mistakes. Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes count on that from their opponents, so the Lions have to be prepared to get punched in the mouth, avoid big mistakes and keep their composure playing in a very hostile environment where the fans are right on top of the field and do a great job of making opposing teams feel very unwelcome.

SUBHD: No. 2: No short fields

Iowa's offense is, to put it nicely, not very good, and quarterback James Vandenberg has been disappointing, averaging just 189 yards per game with only two TDs.

The Hawkeyes also likely won't have standout running back Mark Weisman, who's doubtful with an ankle injury. Iowa has had numerous injuries at the running back spot, and the former walk-on Weisman (four straight 100-yard games) was the nation's most surprising player.

This isn't the kind of offense that's going to string together a lot of first downs and put together 75-yard scoring drives. Penn State must force Iowa to do that in order to win, which means the Lions can't give the Hawkeyes good field position with turnovers or costly penalties that push them backwards.

Punter Alex Butterworth, who's still a work in progress but has shown signs of improvement, needs to have a good game to help control the Hawkeyes' field position.

SUBHD: No. 3: Rev it up

Penn State's NASCAR offense has been very successful, and while Bill O'Brien doesn't want to use it all the time, it would be a good idea to kick it into gear early on and help the Lions get a lead.

The speed of the no-huddle offense can help offset the physicality of Iowa's defense and help wear down the Hawkeyes.

SUBHD: No. 4: PK comparison

Iowa's defense is much like Penn State's in that it toughens up when teams get into scoring range, so field goals could be at a premium.

Hawkeye place-kicker Mike Meyer is very good (14-of-15 overall, 4-of-5 beyond 40 yards), while PSU's Sam Ficken has not been (3-of-9).

The Lions already have lost one game in large part because Ficken couldn't deliver. This could be another one if he struggles again.

SUBHD: No. 5: Player to watch

With his running game likely to be ineffective, Vandenberg will need a big night for the Hawkeyes to give the Lions trouble.

Iowa has a big, strong offensive line, and if it gives Vandenberg time to throw, he's experienced enough to pull off a strong performance and pick apart the PSU secondary.

We could see more blitzing from Penn State to try and get to Vandenberg, who's not very mobile.

Prediction: Penn State 17, Iowa 13

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.

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