The Morning Call

Se­condary con­cerns

If Li­ons want to notch sea­son’s first vic­tory, these 2 matchups are key

- By Parth Upad­hyaya and Jon Sauber Sports · College Sports · American Football · Animals · Wildlife · Pennsylvania State University · Iowa · Beaver Stadium · Nebraska · University of Nebraska-Lincoln · Michigan · Michigan State University · Minnesota · Ohio · Ohio State University · Maryland · Northwestern University · Spencer · Beaver

Penn State’s 0-4 start this sea­son is tied for its worst start in pro­gram history, and things aren’t ex­pected to turn around when Iowa vis­its Beaver Sta­dium on Satur­day. The Hawkeyes — com­ing off­back-to-back wins — are fa­vored by2.5 points. Bu­tif PSUwants to earn its first win of 2020 and sal­vage what’s left of its sea­son, it will need to dom­i­nate its matchups.

Here are two key matchups to Satur­day’s game (3:30 p.m., BTN) that we think will di­rectly de­ter­mine the out­come:


Penn State head coach James Franklin said as late as Wed­nes­day that he hadn’t de­cided who would start at quar­ter­back be­tween red­shirt ju­nior Sean Clif­ford and red shirt sopho­more Will Le­vis. Le­vis seems like the likely op­tion to be QB1 — at least against Iowa — be­cause of his good de­ci­sion-mak­ing when he was subbed in for Clif­ford dur­ing the fi­nal two-plus quar­ters against Ne­braska last week­end. The6-foot-3, 222-poundquar­ter­back fin­ished 14-for-31 pass­ing for 219 yards and added 61 rush­ing yards in an ef­fort that al­most al­lowed Penn State to come back from a 24-3 deficit.

But re­gard­less of who gets the nod, win­ning the bat­tle against the Hawkeyes’ se­condary will be key to the Nit­tany Li­ons’ chances of win­ning their first game of the sea­son.

Through four games so far, Clif­ford has thrown six in­ter­cep­tions to go with­ninepass­ing touch­downs. Those mis­cues have of­ten buried Penn State early into a hole. The Nit­tany Li­ons have given up 33 points off turnovers this sea­son, anda­gainst the Corn­huskers, Clif­ford’s first-quar­ter in­ter­cep­tion and se­cond-quar­ter fum­ble cost Penn State 10 points.

Iowa has av­er­aged two in­ter­cept ions per game( tied for No .2 in the coun­try) through its first four con­tests. In the Hawk eyes ’49-7 rout of Michi­gan State on Nov .7, they forced Spar­tans quar­ter­back Rocky Lom­bardi to throw three in­ter­cep­tions. And last week in a 35-7 win over Min­nesota, the Hawkeyes picked off Golden Go­phers quar­ter­back Tan­ner Mor­gan twice.

Aside from cap­i­tal­iz­ing on other teams’ er­rors, Iowa has madeit gen­er­ally dif­fi­cult for op­po­nents to move

the ball through the air over­all. The Hawkeyes rank No. 33 in the na­tion in pass­ing yards al­lowed per game, giving up 201.5 per con­test. They’ve also al­lowed op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs to com­plete only an av­er­age of 54 per­cent of their passes — good for 18th in the coun­try.

Whether it’s Le­vis or Clif­ford who gets the start for Penn State on Satur­day, the Nit­tany Li­ons’ quar­ter­back will have to be smart with­the­foot­ball. If ei­ther quar­ter­back tries to force things, Iowa’s st­ingy se­condary will make him pay. And as a re­sult, it will be hard for Penn State to give it­self even a slight chance of pick­ing up a win.

— Parth Upad­hyaya


Pen­nS­tate has strug­gled de­fen­sively this sea­son and has been gashed over and over again by big plays.

Ohio State wide re­ceiver Gar­rett Wil­son took a jet sweep 62 yards on the first play of the Buck­eyes’s win over the Nit­tany Li­ons, set­ting up an easy touch­down shortly there­after. Mary­land wide re­ceiver Rakim Jar­rett scored twice against Penn State from 42 and 62 yards out, while the Ter­rap­ins scored all five of their touch­downs from at least 35 yards out. Ne­braska wide re­ceiver Zavier Betts took a fly­sweep­from quar­ter­back Luke McCaf­frey 45 yards for a touch­down last week against Penn State.

All three of Penn State’s last three op­po­nents made big plays to score and put the Nit­tany Li­ons down early. Their lack of dis­ci­pline and poor tack­ling has al­lowed these plays to hap­pen and has opened the door for teams to con­tinue try­ing to gash the de­fense un­til it proves it can make stops.

This week, that means Iowa should look to get the ball in the hands of se­nior wide re­ceiver Ih mir Smith-Mars et te. The se­nior has been a big play threat for the Hawk eyes for four years and espe­cially came on last sea­son, when he had a play of at least 20 yards in 10 of the team’s 13 games.

He’s only played in three of Iowa’ s four games be­cause he was sus­pendedafte­r be­ing ar­rested for oper­at­ing a ve­hi­cle while un­der the in­flu­ence, but he showed some of what he’s ca­pa­ble of when the team took on North­west­ern. He caught seven passes for 84 yards in that game. He also has three rush­ing at­tempts this sea­son as the Hawkeyes try to find ways to get him the ball.

New start­ing quar­ter­back Spencer Pet rash as a strong arm, but can strug­gle with ac­cu­racy, mak­ing it more im­por­tant for the Hawkeyes to scheme ways for Smith-Mar set te to get the ball in space. When he’ s in space, he’ s one of the best play­ers in the Big Ten at mak­ing play­ers miss or just blow­ing right by them.

The Nit­tany Li­ons have been bad at pre­vent­ing ex­plo­sive plays this sea­son and the se­nior wide re­ceiver is the ex­act type of player who can give them trou­ble from that per­spec­tive. If he’s able to break a big play or two — espe­cially early in the game — it will be dif­fi­cult for Penn State to keep pace with a strug­gling of­fense.

 ?? REEGER/AP BARRY ?? Penn State quar­ter­back Will Le­vis played well dur­ing the fi­nal twoplus quar­ters against Ne­braska last week­end. He fin­ished 14for-31 pass­ing for 219 yards and added 61 rush­ing yards.
REEGER/AP BARRY Penn State quar­ter­back Will Le­vis played well dur­ing the fi­nal twoplus quar­ters against Ne­braska last week­end. He fin­ished 14for-31 pass­ing for 219 yards and added 61 rush­ing yards.

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