Defense must continue to hold down Nits’ fort
What unit needs to
carry the day
By Neil Rudel
We can make a case for both, which is what makes for a good topic.
In fact, I gave Cory the first pick this week, and he took offense. Shocker.
But I’m fine suggesting Penn State’s defense must stand up tall at Iowa for the Nittany Lions’ perfect record to still be intact late Saturday night.
Remember, Kirk Ferentz is a veteran, old-school defensive coach who is totally comfortable winning a game 6-4.
I call any of the 107,000 witnesses from 2004.
The series has almost never been an offensive shootout, and it will be surprising if it is this year.
Iowa’s offense is ranked dead last in the Big Ten at 320 yards per game, surprising for an unbeaten team, right?
But absent the big plays to Jahan Dotson, Penn State’s offense — without a consistent run game — hasn’t struck fear into the opponents as the Lions have averaged just 22.0 points per game against the peers on their schedule (Wisconsin, Auburn and Indiana).
That figures to be the total they’ll hover around Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa has one of the best defenses in the country, has forced 16 turnovers in five games and is fresh from picking off previously-unbeaten Maryland six times last week.
Also, rest assured the 276 yards after catch the Lions piled up against Villanova won’t happen Saturday.
Though Penn State’s passing game has vastly improved under first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who seems to have fixed Sean Clifford’s 2020 struggles, the Nittany Lions’ defense has definitely been the team’s most consistent unit.
Especially coupled with the work of punter Jordan Stout.
Nearly midway through this season, the Lions’ running game and a(nother) suspect offensive line have provided little reason to believe Penn State can dominate time of possession, which James Franklin listed as one of the keys to victory.
Penn State will need to be a running threat to force Iowa’s defensive front to crowd the box, allowing the Nits to better free Dotson and Parker Washington.
I’m not holding my breath. To expect the Lions’ offense to hang 30 points on the Hawks, in Kinnick, isn’t realistic.
Points should be on the low side (the over-under is 42.5, which means 21-20) so whichever defense plays the best will likely be the winner.
Offensive systems generally don’t function as well on the road, which reinforces the saying, “Defense travels.”
That’s why when the Nittany Lions touch down in Cedar Rapids, their defense should be first to exit the plane.
Rudel can be reached at email@example.com.