UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fourth-ranked Penn State (3-0, 0-0 B1G) hits the road for the first time this year, traveling to Iowa (3-0, 0-0 B1G) to open its 25th season of Big Ten football Saturday.
Traveling to Iowa City for the first time since 2012, the Nittany Lions head into unfamiliar territory in a second consecutive outing under the lights, with kick off slated for 7:30 p.m. inside Kinnick Stadium.
Penn State punctuated its nonconference slate with its second shutout of the season last week, taking down Georgia State 56-0 to mark the first time the Nittany Lions have registered a pair of shutouts in a single season since 2007.
Running back Saquon Barkley continued to impress, totaling 142 receiving yards against the Panthers, including an 85-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Trace McSorley. With the second-most receiving yards by a running back in a game Penn State history, Barkley etched his name into the record books with 804 career receiving yards.
From defense to special teams, the Nittany Lions have continued to execute in all three phases. Having surrendered just 14 points to date, Penn State enters the weekend with a 19-1 touchdowns scored to touchdowns allowed ratio.
"On special teams, I just think we have been fantastic," Franklin said. "Our coverage units and our drive start differential from our offense compared to our opponent's offense has been a dramatic factor in games. Pleased with what's going on."
Turning the focus toward the Hawkeyes, the Nittany Lions are focused on the imminent challenge.
"That place is going to be rocking Saturday night," Franklin said. "Their sidelines are very tight. Their fans are going to be right up against you. We want to get our players prepared for that.
We've got to get ready for the noise."
Outside of an unknown atmosphere, Penn State isn't overlooking history either.
"Coach Ferentz, during his tenure, has one of the more consistent teams in all of college football," Franklin said. "You look at what they have been able to do not only against Penn State in our last 10 games but also against ranked opponents. You're talking about a blue-collar team that takes a lot of pride in their fundamentals, their techniques, being sound and playing hard. Really, in some ways, similar to our history and our traditions."
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. Barkley Nearing
Seemingly every week Barkley's name has been found in the same sentence as the phrase, record breaking. Following a career-high performance against Georgia State, Barkley is now 196 yards shy of 1,000 career receiving yards and just 121 yards from eclipsing 3,000 career rushing yards. Should he reach both marks, Barkley would be the first Nittany Lion in program history with the pair of milestones. Earlier this week, Ferentz noted he was well aware of just how many different types of challenges containing Barkley would present.
"They use him in a multitude of ways," Ferentz said. "He's very, very tough to contain, run or pass. We're going to have to really work at it, and it's going to take a great team effort to get that done. He's one of several guys that you have to really be concerned about. They've got good balance."
2. McSorley Still
McSorley enters Saturday's matchup tied for the second-longest active streak in FBS with 18 consecutive touchdown passes, dating back to 2016. With nine touchdown passes on the year, McSorley is ranked second in the Big Ten, having also thrown at least two or more touchdown passes in each of the last six consecutive games.
Ranked third in FBS in turnover margin and second in scoring defense, there's no denying that Penn State's defense is executing at a high level. This week though, Franklin noted that the Nittany Lions are giving up a few too many yards, which could present a real challenge Saturday.
"I think [running the football] is what Iowa prides themselves on and being really physical up front," Franklin said. "Coach Ferentz is one of the more well-respected line coaches in the country from his NFL time, and his teams have always been great up front. It's a little bit different. You're not facing a team that's a spread team or an RPO team. They are more of a traditional offense, like a Michigan, like a Michigan State, like a Stanford. Iowa is going to get up and they are going to line up and they are going to try to pound you from multiple personnel groups."
What to Watch For -
1. Stanley at Quarterback
Leading the Big Ten with 10 touchdown passes on the year is Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, slotted just ahead of McSorley in the standings. With 10 touchdown passes in the last three games, Stanley's streak is the best 3-game stretch for the Hawkeyes since 1987.
2. Leader of the
Both Franklin and special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff noted that Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell is the commanding leader and presence among the Hawkeye defense.
"He has a knack for seeing things before they happen, he has a knack for being in the right place," Huff said. "Obviously, he has played a lot of football in this league and the things that you see on film, you can see his veteran prowess kind of take over in games."
With a team-high 28 tackles on the year, the AP Preseason First Team All-American ranks third in the conference, having previously led Iowa in the category in each of the last two consecutive seasons. Jewell also leads the Hawkeyes with two sacks on the year, slotted second on the team with 2.5 tackles for loss.
3. A Potential Game-Wrecker
Earlier this week, Franklin named senior running back Akrum Wadley as one of the better running backs in the country. Although Wadley and running back James Butler both left the game early in Iowa's most recent outing against North Texas, there's no doubting Wadley's impact in particular. With 258 rushing yards and an average of 4.3 yards per carry in 2017, Wadley is coming off of a 1,000-yard rushing season in 2016, with 2,021 career rushing yards to date.
The Final Word -
Penn State heads to Iowa set to play its second consecutive night game since 2014. Under Ferentz's direction, Iowa owns a 9-3 record under the lights at Kinnick Stadium. Among the three losses in the record though, the Nittany Lions are the most recent team to come away with a win, having topped the Hawkeyes, 38-14, at night in 2012.
Aside from the night games though, the Hawkeyes also enter Saturday's matchup with wins in three consecutive home outings against top five teams.
"You think about last year and after they came and played here, the next week was a night game," Franklin said. "I remember watching it last year and they upset over Michigan, who I think was No. 5 at that point. It's going to be a tremendous challenge, there's no doubt about it, and we're looking forward to it."