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Monday Notebook: Iowa Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fourth-ranked Penn State Football has turned its complete attention toward the upcoming Big Ten opener. Following a 56-0 shutout against Georgia State, the Nittany Lions are set on Iowa.

Saturday marks Penn State's ninth trip to Iowa City in program history and the first since 2012, when the Nittany Lions captured a 38-14 win on the road. While Penn State has won its last three consecutive meetings against the Hawkeyes, including last year's 41-14 decision at home, Iowa has won four consecutive night games at Kinnick Stadium, in addition to all five of its last Big Ten openers.

Penn State has won two of its three Big Ten openers under the direction of head coach James Franklin, having last opened its conference slate at Iowa in 2010. 

Before diving into Iowa week, take a look back at a few remaining Georgia State highlights and how they shaped positioning in this week's NCAA stats release.

Punt Returner DeAndre Thompkins
Penn State's special teams improvements have been without a doubt exciting to watch. From Saquon Barkley on kick returns to DeAndre Thompkins' resurgence as a punt returner, fans are finding their way to the edge of their seats in anticipation for what either one of these two will do next.

"I couldn't be more pleased," Franklin said postgame. "Obviously having Saquon [Barkley] as a return man on kickoff was a great way to start the game and then obviously, DeAndre [Thompkins] has just been fantastic as a punt returner, even tonight, where their scheme was to use the low angle punt, which are hard to get returns on."

Against Georgia State, Thompkins returned three punts for 44 yards including a 27-yard return in the third quarter. On the year, Thompkins is averaging 20.2 yards per punt return, which ranks seventh in FBS and second in the Big Ten. Bolstered by Thompkins' 202 punt return yards in 2017, Penn State's punt return unit is averaging 17.92 yards, good for ninth in FBS and second in the Big Ten. 

Air Defense
Penn State grabbed three interceptions against Georgia State for the first time since notching three at Maryland in 2015. Stretching its streak, Penn State has secured at least one interception in three consecutive games for the first time since the middle of the 2015 season (vs. Maryland; 3, vs. Illinois; 1, at Northwestern; 1).

Ranked fifth in FBS and first in the Big Ten with six interceptions on the year, Grant Haley is leading the way with two on the year. New to the group was senior Marcus Allen and true freshman Tariq Castro-Fields, who both recorded their first career interceptions. 

"I feel like it's my birthday," Allen joked postgame. "I've been working on this for a long time. I always try to just be myself and I know that getting interceptions is something that helps my team. That's why I work so hard on it. It's an accomplishment for me and my team." 

Strengthening Defense
Penn State utilized opportunities to rotate in a variety of new faces throughout its defense against the Panthers. Among several highlights, defensive end Daniel Joseph tallied his first career tackle, tackle for loss, sack and fumble in his second career appearance on the field.

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With at least nine tackles for loss in all three games this year, Penn State has totaled at least 10 tackles for loss in two of its last three outings. Against Georgia State, eight different Nittany Lions notched one tackle for loss with two more registering a half of a tackle for loss. In this week's NCAA stats release, the Nittany Lions remain atop the FBS and conference standings averaging 11.3 tackles for loss per game. 

Helped out by the pair of shutouts this year, Penn State's defense is also allowing just 4.7 points on the year, good for second in FBS and tops in the league.

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