IOWA CITY – A clock-watching Iowa football team hopes to play keep away Saturday night against fourth-rated Penn State.
The Hawkeyes believe the best defense against a talent-rich Nittany Lions’ attack in the 6:30 p.m. Big Ten opener at Kinnick Stadium may be keeping the Penn State offense off the field.
“Anything we can do to work the clock and keep the ball in our hands is only going to help us," quarterback Nate Stanley said. “We’ve put some good drives together this season and in this game, being able to do that is going to be important."
That approach has already benefitted the Hawkeyes this season.
In last week’s 31-14 win over North Texas, the football was in Iowa’s hands for 40 minutes, 45 seconds including more than 21 of the 30 minutes in the second half.
“Those long drives when you’re just chipping away at an opponent, they wear the other defense down. You can sense that on the field," Iowa offensive lineman Boone Myers said. “It’s a way we can help keep the playmakers from the other team on the sidelines, too."
Penn State will challenge Iowa with plenty of playmakers, from quarterback Trace McSorley to preseason all-Americans Saquon Barkley at running back and Mike Gesicki at tight end the Nittany Lions have big-play, quick-strike potential whenever they touch the football.
“We’re capable of putting points on the board at any time," Barkley said. “We’ve got all sorts of guys who can make big plays."
As Stanley has settled in at the controls of the Hawkeye offense as a first-year starter, the sophomore has orchestrated a series of lengthy scoring drives which have led Iowa to a 3-0 start.
Iowa has had nine scoring drives of 75 yards or more in its first three games and has reached the end zone on five times on drives of 85 yards or more.
That includes a 16-play, 87-yard drive during the second half of the North Texas game which ran 8 minutes, 50 seconds off the clock.
“When you put a drive like that together, it’s a great feeling," receiver Nick Easley said. “You keep pounding away at the defense, making plays and moving the chains. It’s what we work all week to be able to do."
This week, that will be as important as it has been at any point this season.
Having an effective ground game is where it begins, something Iowa was unable to accomplish a year ago in Penn State’s 41-14 rout of Iowa at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions limited the Hawkeyes to 30 rushing yards on 26 carries.
“That’s not Iowa football," Myers said. “We have to find a way to turn those numbers around."
That is a collaborative effort.
And, the Hawkeyes don’t expect it to be easy.
“With all due respect to the teams we’ve played so far this season, we haven’t played a team like Penn State yet," Iowa center James Daniels said. “They’ll challenge us, but we will have to be ready to work together as a team to achieve our objectives."
That includes working the clock and holding onto the football, both in terms of maintaining possession and in reducing turnovers.
“You can’t give the ball away and hope to win against great teams," Easley said. “We know we have to do a better job with that. It’s the start of the Big Ten season and we have to be on top of our game."
Stanley believes that starts with a ball-control approach on offense that will help limit what the Penn State offense can accomplish.
“We’d like to be able to establish the run game and be able to hold the ball," Stanley said. “Obviously, they have a pretty high-powered offense. Obviously, if we could keep guys like McSorley and Barkley off the field, that’s going to be a pretty big advantage for us."