Iowa's Ferentz concerned about Penn State's potent offense

Iowa Stanley Football
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz (Charlie Neibergall, File)

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz had one simple thought as he watched the tape of Penn State’s Saquon Barkley taking a short pass in the flat deep in his own territory and dashing to an 85-yard touchdown last weekend.

“Two words: Oh, crap!” Ferentz joked Tuesday in a conference call with Penn State beat writers.

“There’s not much to say. I imagine that every superlative’s been used. I’m trying to think of a back like this other than obviously playing him last year. Just thinking about the backs that I’ve seen in my time in the conference, 28 years, I go back to [Ohio State’s] Eddie George. He was a different kind of guy but a pretty impressive guy.”

The Hawkeyes (3-0) welcome the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams. They have played decent defense to date against the rush, allowing an average of just 97 yards per game, but they have yet to encounter Barkley and Penn State playmakers such as quarterback Trace McSorley and tight end Mike Gesicki.

“He’s a powerful, strong, fast athlete but he’s a really good football player,” Ferentz said of Barkley. “Run, pass, you name it, he’s a threat. So he’s just a really impressive football player.

“Then part of it, too, he’s on a really good offensive football team and a good football team overall. Show me a weak spot on their offense, whether it’s their offensive line, their receivers. The tight end’s a huge threat. Their quarterback, he makes them go. So it’s like you’re playing 12 or 13 men out there. That’s the pressure that you feel defensively.”

One key to the game could be the fact that the two teams are at opposite ends of the FBS statistics in time of possession. Iowa is sixth in the nation at 35 minutes, 35 seconds, while the Nittany Lions are 125th (out of 129 teams) at 24:07.

“I think in general, no matter what era it was, what’s most important are points,” said Ferentz, who is in his 19th season at Iowa, making him the longest-tenured head coach in the FBS. “You look at statistics and it’s nice to have gaudy statistics. But the game’s about more points than the other team. I think the next step of that is, where are you coaching at? What does your team look like? What can it look like?”

In its 31-14 win Saturday over North Texas, Iowa held the ball for more than 40 minutes and ran 86 plays, 59 of them rushing attempts. Ferentz said the Hawkeyes’ top running back, Akrum Wadley, will return to the lineup against Penn State after sitting out the second half of the North Texas game with an ankle injury.

Penn State, meanwhile, has used its no-huddle offense to strike quickly. The Lions are second in the Big Ten and tied for 11th in FBS with a 47.0 points-per-game average.

“That’s a challenge that we’re facing,” Ferentz said. “This offense’s scheme is not the answer to everything, but when you’ve got the players like they’ve got, good luck defending. It’s really hard. So it poses all kinds of problems and challenges. There are no easy answers here.”