No. 4 Penn State faces Big Ten road showdown vs. a turnover-creating machine in No. 3 Iowa

JOE JULIANO
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Iowa defensive back Kaevon Merriweather (26) reacts after making an interception against Maryland on Friday night. The Hawkeyes already have 12 interceptions this season.

It's common for Penn State coach James Franklin to say in his postgame comments after a victory that he'd like to enjoy it "for a few hours" before moving on to prepare for the next test.

But with that next test being at No. 3 Iowa before an anticipated packed house Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Franklin likely reduced his celebration time after his team's ninth straight win.

"I think we all realize Iowa is a really good football team," Franklin said Saturday night after the Nittany Lions' 24-0 shutout of Indiana. "They always are, but they're playing on a different level right now and then going on the road is going to be challenging."

The Lions (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) stayed at No. 4 in the Associated Press poll this week while the Hawkeyes (5-0, 2-0) moved up two spots after an eye-opening 51-14 win Friday night at previously unbeaten Maryland that saw them force seven turnovers, including six interceptions by six players.

Iowa leads the nation with 16 takeaways, 12 interceptions, and a plus-12 turnover margin. The Hawkeyes have returned two interceptions — both by senior cornerback Riley Moss — and one fumble recovery for touchdowns. In all, they've scored 68 points off turnovers, 24 coming against the Terrapins.

Franklin said he was on a recruiting trip in the Philadelphia area Friday night and was unable to watch the Iowa game on television, but he followed it on social media.

"I have had a chance to see them a couple other times on TV," he said. "They're playing really good, and they're able to run the ball. They're playing great defense. Their defensive coordinator has been doing a really good job.

"What's amazing is, you've turned on the tape from yesterday, turn on tape from six years ago, you turn tape on from 12 years ago, they do what they do and they do it well, the fact that they're always in zone coverage and they always have eyes on the quarterback. They have these massive defensive linemen that are able to get pressure and bat balls down. They're a good team."

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who in his 23rd season is the longest-tenured head coach in the FBS, leads a team that has gone 27 consecutive games without allowing 25 points or more, best of any Power Five team, and has intercepted 76 passes since 2017, most in the nation.

Hawkeyes on a roll: The Hawkeyes have won 11 in a row, averaging 34.5 points during that stretch while giving up 12.8 per game. Junior quarterback Spencer Petras has been the starter for all 11, throwing 15 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.

But Iowa's calling card is its defense. It's ranked second in the FBS in points allowed (11.6 per game), seventh in total defense (271.4 yards per game), and 11th against the rush (87.0 yards). Jack Campbell, a 6-foot-5, 243-pound junior linebacker, leads the team in tackles, and 6-5, 264-pound redshirt freshman tackle Lucas Van Ness has four sacks..

The Hawkeyes are 118th in the FBS in total offense at 324.0 yards, but they average 33.2 points (44th).

Lions have had recent success at Iowa: It will be a tough test for the Nittany Lions, who have won three straight games at Iowa. They went on the road for their season opener and defeated Wisconsin, which was ranked 12th at the time. They have road games upcoming at Ohio State (No. 7 this week) and Michigan State (No. 11), plus a home game vs. No. 9 Michigan.

Franklin acknowledged the "Iowa Wave," in which coaches, players and fans wave to pediatric cancer patients at the university's Stead Family Children's Hospital overlooking the stadium at the end of the first quarter, but said that's the only pleasant part of trip for him.

"We've got a tremendous challenge on the road," he said. "There's not a whole lot I look forward to going to Iowa City. I am looking forward to the hospital, and waving to those children, but that's the only thing I'm looking forward to. It will be a tremendous challenge."