For the last nine quarters, Penn State has been in some sort of funk and the Nittany Lions now face Iowa at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in a game where they try to look to end their two-game Beaver Stadium losing streak. Our weekly roundtable is under construction (WE'RE BUSY!) so in lieu of a roundtable, I am going to do a variation of it on my own.
In our Roar Lions Roar roundtable last week before the Indiana game, we were asked if Penn State's identity this year was the team that dominated the majority of the Ohio State game or more along the lines of the Michigan State game. I responded saying that I believed Penn State was closer to the team they showed against Ohio State, but I worried about the team's confidence. After Penn State's game vs. Indiana, I am not so sure anymore. I still believe this team could beat anyone remaining on their schedule, but am also now worried they could lose three more games. If there was a scope of possibilities heading into the season, Penn State is playing to the lower end of that now.
Were the preseason expectations with this team unreasonable considering all of the players they needed to replace?
I still believe Penn State's preseason ranking was fair. They were leading Ohio State in a game they let get away. As we saw last week with Ohio State, good teams lose games, but Penn State lost two in a row and had an underwhelming performance at Indiana so confidence seems shaken. There were concerns on defense heading into the season, but the thought was the offense would carry the load, and that wasn't the case against Michigan State. Major questions remain and they sure don't look like a top-10 team now, but there isn't a team on their schedule that will take them lightly.
Can Penn State fix some of the problems they've had this season when they take on Iowa?
Like a snowball rolling downhill, Penn State has made a ton of little mistakes that have compounded into bigger issues. We've discussed the dropped balls plenty, and I don't believe those are going away anytime soon. James Franklin talked about some of the younger receivers getting a shot, which could help, but this issue seems to be part of who they are. Problems like these don't generally get fixed in the middle of the season. The weather doesn't look very good for Saturday and that doesn't bode well for the receivers. Penn State will need to establish the run and actually stick with it this week, because they seemed to get away from it against Indiana.
On defense, we may start to see some younger players getting more time, but regardless, this is still an inexperienced group that is thin at some spots. One of my biggest concerns is the defense has been on the field an awful lot so far this year, especially over the last three games. With games against Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin remaining, the offense must sustain drives to give this defense a break or they will be running on fumes in November.
Can Penn State regain the confidence they seem to be lacking against Iowa?
This would be a much easier question if Rutgers were the opponent, but it's an interesting one. Trace McSorley has never seemed to lack confidence and it doesn't seem he's lacked it thus far in 2018. Regardless of the drops, he's still seems to trust his receivers. James Franklin mentioned in his press conference this week that he's worried that McSorley is carrying too big a load, but that's what we've come to expect.
Each season a coach becomes the ire of the fans and Ricky Rahne has become that coach. I am a little more patient than the tweets I read each week during Don't @ Me, but I think some of the criticism is fair. The 19 second drive late in the game against Indiana was brutal, but I am not opposed to throwing the ball late in the game because that is what Penn State does. Passing three times was a little extreme for my taste, but the Iowa defense will be a good test for Rahne on Saturday. I believe the entire staff is pressing a little too much in the face of some adversity and am hopeful they can tune out the noise and call a smart game against a disciplined defense. That would go a long way in regaining some of the confidence lost.
Iowa is going to play the same game they have played since Penn State joined the Big Ten so don't expect any surprises. In 2016, after Penn State upset Ohio State, they went to Purdue and played a blah first half before pouring it on in the second half. The next week, Iowa came to Beaver Stadium in a game that would test Penn State to see if they had really turned the corner. The Nittany Lions came out firing on all cylinders and beat the Hawkeyes 41-14. 2018 and 2016 are hardly comparable, but if Penn State can get a quick score (and actually stop Iowa on their first drive) they could get Iowa into an uncomfortable situation. Confidence is funny because it takes a while to build, but can be lost in an instant. It's hard to believe they will come out and blow out the Hawkeyes, but they could try to re-establish their seemingly lost identity.
The first punt will bring a chorus of boos, so what's the final prediction for Saturday?
Am I talking to myself? Maybe! Either way, I expect this to be a hard fought game considering the weather and the opponent. Iowa is like a decent $13 bottle of wine. It's not too expensive and ages about the same, but as the night (in this bad metaphor, the season) goes on, that wine gets better. Iowa thrives in close games, but I think the home team will have an advantage in this one. Penn State will survive, but the questions will remain as they head to Michigan next week.
Penn State 29 Iowa 21
In case you're looking to kill some time before the game, I offer you this.