Penn State and Iowa will meet in a battle of Big Ten unbeatens on Saturday night in Iowa City, each looking to stay atop their respective divisions.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a bye and beat Northwestern 39-28 at Beaver Stadium last time out on the strength of a 22-point fourth quarter rally. After two losses to open the Bill O'Brien era, Penn State has reeled off four-straight victories and will look to keep the momentum going against Iowa.
The Hawkeyes, however, have their own head of steam after earning a 19-16 double overtime win at Michigan State last week. At 2-0, Iowa sits atop the Legends Division standings with Michigan, meaning the 4-2 Hawkeyes still have a lot to play for.
Here are some keys to the game for Penn State.
When Penn State has the ball...
-Penn State players made it clear this week that they intend to push the pace on offense after using their "NASCAR" sets to fuel the comeback against the Wildcats. Crowd noise at a rowdy Kinnick Stadium could complicate the Lions' ability to do that effectively, but if they can, they'll likely keep a Hawks' defense conceding just 17.2 points per game guessing, so it's probably a solid strategy.
-Running back Bill Belton is, by all accounts, as healthy as he's been in weeks after injuring his ankle against Ohio in the opener. If he can get involved, especially in the short passing game, it could go a long way toward freeing up wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter, two guys Iowa is sure to key on defensively. Zach Zwinak has shown he can carry the load at running back in rushing for 100 yards in the last two games, but Belton brings an explosive dynamic to the table. It will be interesting to see how much Penn State tries to use it.
-Both teams have done a good job of taking care of the football this season so the turnover battle will be even more critical than normal. One lost fumble or interception either way could make the difference, so quarterback Matt McGloin and Co. need to make sure they're the ones that avoid the big mistake.
When Iowa has the ball...
-With Iowa running back Mark Weisman's health in doubt, Penn State's front seven will likely be spared his bruising rushes. The Lions need to take advantage of this by halting the Hawkeyes' ground attack early and forcing quarterback James Vandenberg to take the game to the air. Penn State flustered the senior signal-caller a lot last year as the Lions outscored Iowa 13-3, so getting after him again will give defensive coordinator Ted Roof's group a significant boost.
-Penn State committed a pair of catastrophic miscues against Northwestern, muffing a punt and giving up a punt return for a touchdown to the Wildcats' Venric Mark. The Lions likely won't get away with similar errors on the road in a tough environment, so they need to bring their A-game to Iowa City this time around.
Penn State has never had much success at Kinnick Stadium. It's one of the toughest venues in the Big Ten, and though the Lions looked good in the 35-7 win at Illinois a few weeks ago, it doesn't compare to Iowa City. The last game Penn State played in a truly difficult road environment at Virginia, it lost 17-16. The Lions will have to bring a much better effort to the table to get a win this time.