Might Saturday’s clash between No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State be an early playoff elimination game? In a conference that usually saves its top-five matchups for Ohio State vs. Michigan or championship weekend, the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes will battle it out to see which team is the real contender for a surprise postseason berth.
This has been an underrated rivalry in recent years, with then-No. 4 Penn State needing a walk-off touchdown to escape Kinnick Stadium in 2017 and two ranked matchups the following years decided by a combined 11 points, both Penn State wins. Of course, the Hawkeyes ended two perfect Nittany Lions seasons at the end of the last decade, including an upset of No. 3 Penn State in 2008.
This year’s matchup is all about defense. Whether it’s points allowed (11.6 per game for Iowa, 12.0 for Penn State), yards per play allowed (4.11 for Iowa, 4.33 for Penn State) or defensive efficiency (Iowa ranks fourth in SP+, while Penn State is fifth), these are two of the best teams in the country at shutting down opposing offenses. That’s going to make every play feel tense, with missed scoring opportunities potentially being the difference in the game.
Don’t discount the talent on offense, though. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford is playing the best football of his career under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, while Jahan Dotson is making a strong case to be the first wide receiver taken in the 2022 NFL draft. Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras gets stuck with the “game manager” label, but he’s taken a step forward this season and is buoyed by a talented running back in Tyler Goodson.
Both fan bases are sure to recall Iowa’s 6-4 victory at Penn State in 2004, a game that featured two safeties and a pair of 27-yard field goals. Points might not be at such a premium Saturday, but, hey, you never know.