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NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State will look to get back on track with the Hawkeyes after a blowout loss in 2020.

Quick 2020 Recap

Iowa got off to a rough start with tight losses to Purdue and Northwestern. However, they turned things around in week three with a 49-7 thrashing of Michigan State , and would not lose the rest of the way. The six-game winning streak included a victory over Minnesota by four touchdowns, a 20-point beatdown at Penn State, and a 28-7 win against Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes 2020 season was cut short due to COVID, as the regular season finale against Michigan and the Music City Bowl against Missouri were both canceled.

Offensive Player to Watch: RB Tyler Goodson

Goodson is reminiscent of former Hawkeyes running back Akrum Wadley, who as you may recall, nearly single-handedly took down Penn State in 2017. The sophomore is returning after a terrific 2020 campaign, where he rushed for at least 92 yards in five of the last six games of the season. Goodson is an explosive back that is always a threat for a big play, whether it be in or out of the backfield. He will challenge to be the best running back in the Big Ten in 2021, and will be someone Penn State will need to limit his prouctivity to leave Kinnick with a victory.

Defensive Player to Watch: DE Zach VanValkenburg

Iowa always has at least one defensive end who causes major headaches for the Nittany Lions offense, and this season will be no different. VanValkenburg is returning for his fifth season and will be looking to impress NFL scouts ahead of the 2022 draft. In eight games, VanValkenburg managed 8.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks, with an impressive 30 tackles from the defensive end position. He also led the nation with four fumble recoveries, as well as one forced fumble. Penn State will need to find a way to slow him down to get the offense clicking.

Major Changes for 2021

Everything is steady in Iowa City and Kirk Ferentz returns for his 23rd year as head coach. His tried-and-true brand of football is about the most consistent thing you’ll find on any campus. The biggest changes will be the loss of talent at wide receiver and defensive line. The Hawkeyes lost their leader in receiving yards and touchdowns in Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandom Smith, who was third on the team in receptions and receiving yards. The losses along the defensive line could sting even more, with three of last year’s starters no longer with the program. This includes the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in Daviyon Nixon, and Chauncy Golston, an All-Big Ten selection who was a third round draft pick for the Cowboys.

Penn State Wins If

The key will be keeping the quarterback upright. If Iowa’s front seven can be kept out of the backfield, the offense will be able to click from the start. If not, it will be a long afternoon (or hopefully not, evening) as Iowa will hang around and put themselves in position to win by making plays in the second half. The Nittany Lions will also need to beat the Hawkeyes at their own game by playing smart football and not allowing them to capitalize on needless mistakes.

Iowa Wins If

The big key for Iowa will be stifling the Penn State offense like they have the past two visits to Kinnick (although Penn State won both match-ups, either could have gone the other way), especially by making the Nittany Lions settle for field goals. Other than that, Iowa will always have a chance by playing fundamentally sound football like they have for decades under Ferentz – don’t beat yourself with costly penalties and turnovers, keeping the defense honest with a balanced attack, pressuring the quarterback with a four-man front, and just playing disciplined football for 60 minutes, and waiting for good things to happen.

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