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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Riding a four-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0) return to action following their bye week with a primetime clash against Iowa (4-2, 2-0) inside Kinnick Stadium (8 p.m., BTN).
The Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes will collide for the 25th time on Saturday night. Penn State and Iowa are two of the four Big Ten teams who have not lost a conference game this season. After Saturday night, the two teams will not meet again until 2015.
The Lions posted a thrilling 22-point fourth quarter in a 39-28 victory over Northwestern two weeks ago. Down 11 heading into the fourth, senior quarterback Matt McGloin engineered two 80-plus yard touchdown drives to fuel the Lions to their fourth-straight win. Iowa enters the week off of a dramatic double-overtime victory at Michigan State. Welcome to the gameday preview for Penn State's first night game of 2012.
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. Since the day he arrived on campus, head coach Bill O'Brien has said that he wants to play fast. The Nittany Lions practice with tempo every day of the week, and the NASCAR no-huddle package has been a big part of Penn State's success in 2012. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin is commanding the Lion offense with superb confidence when the team is in NASCAR mode. Look for O'Brien to continue the trend of playing fast on offense against a physical Iowa defensive unit. McGloin often looks for "chunk" plays in the passing game when the Lions are in NASCAR, but the key area to watch is the third down conversion rate. Stringing together completions and positive gains on running plays are very important to Penn State's offensive success when it plays with tempo.
2. Despite running back Mark Weisman's uncertain status for Saturday night's clash, Iowa's offense is a run-first unit that likes to set up play-action passing with an effective ground game. The Nittany Lion defense is expecting a physical approach to Iowa's offensive gameplan, but that plays right into the strength of Penn State's defense. The Nittany Lion front seven is a big reason why Penn State has won four-straight games heading into this week's clash. Led by Jordan Hill up front and Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson in the linebacker corps, the defense will be looking to limit Iowa's running game on first and second down to force quarterback James Vandenberg into third-and-long passing situations.
3. Penn State has made a significant turnaround in turnovers since the opener against Ohio. The Lions lost three turnovers and forced zero in week one. Since then, Penn State has forced 12 turnovers (eight fumbles and four interceptions). Similarly, Iowa has been very good at forcing turnovers, as well. Both teams top the Big Ten in turnover margin. Especially in a night game with a boisterous crowd, the Lions can ill afford a turnover on offense that could give the Hawkeyes a cheap score or a short field. Keep an eye on the turnover battle.
What to Watch For - Iowa
1. Iowa running back Mark Weisman has been Iowa's big-play weapon on offense during the past four games. Weisman has rushed for eight touchdowns during the past four outings. He leads the team in rushing with 631 yards and a 6.3 yards per carry average. Nonetheless, Weisman's status is up in the air for Saturday's game after suffering a sprained ankle in last week's win at Michigan State. If Weisman is unable to play, senior quarterback James Vandenberg will need a strong outing for the Hawkeyes. Iowa is a run-first, physical team, but Vandenberg's ability to make plays on third down and the play-action game are two key areas for the Hawkeyes against the Nittany Lion defense. Freshman Greg Garmon, who has 36 yards this season, is listed atop the depth chart at running back.
2. Iowa's defense has evolved into a very consistent group during the 2012 season. Through six games, the Hawkeyes have surrendered 17 points or fewer in five games, and they have allowed fewer than 350 yards in five of six games. Led by senior Joe Gaglione, Iowa's defensive line has been a strength for the defense. Gaglione has made eight tackles for loss, four sacks and forced two fumbles. Additionally, Iowa has allowed just five rushing touchdowns in six games. The Hawkeyes want to dictate the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing of the Nittany Lion offense. Keep an eye on linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who leads the nation in tackles per game (13).
3. Kinnick Stadium will be amped up for the primetime game on Saturday night. Additionally, the Hawkeyes received a big boost with the win at Michigan State last week. With that being said, Iowa will be looking to capitalize on that momentum early with a quick start. One key stat to keep in mind for Iowa - the Hawkeyes have collected at least one takeaway in five of the six games in 2012 and 70 of the last 81 games overall.
Kickoff: 7:05 p.m. CT
TV: BTN - Eric Collins (PBP), Derek Rackley (Analyst), Jon Jansen (Sideline)
Radio: Penn State Sports Network - Steve Jones (PBP), Jack Ham (Analyst), Loren Crispell (Sidelines)
Stadium: Kinnick Stadium (70,585) - FieldTurf
Coaches: Bill O'Brien - 4-2, 1st season
Kirk Ferentz - 100-68 (112-89 overall), 14th season at Iowa (17th overall)
The Series: 25th meeting
The Final Word:
The Nittany Lions kickoff a stretch of three road games in the next four weeks with a stiff challenge under the lights in Iowa. Kinnick Stadium is a very difficult place to play, but the Nittany Lions are well prepared for the hostile environment. Music was blasted at practice every day this week for the Nittany Lions to get acclimated with silent signals at the line of scrimmage. Penn State has been tremendous during the first quarter in 2012 (out-scoring opponents 52-0), and the Lions want to continue that trend on Saturday night. Both teams are expecting a physical night of football, putting a big emphasis on stopping the running game. Additionally, turnovers will play a critical role in determining the outcome of Saturday's game. Both defenses have been very good at forcing miscues this season, and they are both tied for the Big Ten lead in turnover margin (+1.17). As we mentioned earlier, keep an eye on Penn State's offensive tempo against a physical Iowa defense. The Lions have six one-game seasons remaining in 2012. The second half of the season begins in primetime on Saturday night. Tune in to BTN at 8 p.m.
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