CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Here's my take on today's game: It will be Illinois 1994 all over again. Stay with me for a second. We've already had Southern Cal '94 (this year's Oregon State win), Michigan '94 (the Ohio State win) and Ohio State '94 (the Wisconsin blowout). I think the Hawkeyes will present a similar challenge to the Illini in 1994. And Penn State will need to summon a late drive to squeak past pesky Iowa on the road.
Despite the victory, this scenario, however, could hurt the Lions in the polls (see: Indiana 1994). Penn State is taking a beating from the pundits because of the Big Ten's perceived lack of strength. The only way to appease some of the voters would be if the Lions blow out their three remaining opponents. It's really a lose-lose situation. Should be interesting to watch play out.
As for why I think Iowa will give the Lions fits, I think you have to look at its defense first. The Hawkeyes employ a vanilla scheme and don't blitz much or masque their defense with tricky looks. But they line 'em up and play you tough straight on. Obviously, head-to-head this favors the Lions, especially on the ground, but I think it'll hurt Penn State in its passing game. Quarterback Daryll Clark had his worst game of the season two weeks ago against Ohio State and was eventually knocked out of the game with a concussion. He'll start today, but it should be interesting to see if he'll wipe the cobwebs away with a few key early throws. I bet the coaches run him early, too, just to show Iowa that he's not afraid to take a hit. But through the air he's going to have problems against a secondary that is third in the nation in interceptions with 16.
The Iowa offense, meanwhile, is led by running back Shonn Greene. The junior, at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, is built like Ohio State's Beanie Wells, but is playing better at this time. The Lions shut down Wells, but that's because the Buckeyes did almost nothing to keep Penn State from stacking the box with eight to nine defenders. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi will run some play action and that will have to keep the Lions linebackers honest.
The weather will certainly play a factor at Kinnick Stadium. Right now it's flurrying here in Cedar Rapids. Iowa City is about 30 minutes away. There calling for snow showers come game time. The field at Kinnick is grass. We'll see early in the game if footing is a problem. I'm not sure if a wet field hurts either team. Usually the home team has that advantage. Penn State is 4-0 on the road this year and has won in hostile places like Madison and Columbus. Iowa City should be tame by comparison. However, I think Iowa manages to keep it tied into the third quarter. The Hawkeyes take the lead midway through the fourth on a field goal. And the Lions are forced to go the length of the field to either tie or go ahead. Clark leads the way with running back Evan Royster. They move down to the one-yard line with the seconds ticking away and fullback Dan Lawlor plows ahead for the game-winning score (a la Brian Milne in 1994).
Prediction: Penn State 21, Iowa 17