No. 4 Penn State travels to No. 5 Iowa in a top-five Big Ten showdown at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. on FOX. This is the best conference crossover matchup on the 2021 schedule.
Penn State (5-0) is looking for a third victory against a ranked opponent under coach James Franklin. Quarterback Sean Clifford leads a balanced offense, and the Nittany Lions allow 12 points per game. The Nittany Lions haven’t lost since last season’s 41-21 loss to the Hawkeyes.
Iowa (5-0) continues to roll with a defense that has produced 16 turnovers with a +12 turnover ratio. The Hawkeyes also have the same grind-it-out offense with quarterback Spencer Petras and running back Tyler Goodson. Longtime coach Kirk Ferentz might have his best team yet, and this is a chance to prove it.
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With that in mind, here is everything bettors need to know about the matchup between the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes:
Penn State vs. Iowa odds
- Spread: Iowa -2.5
- Over/under: 41.5
- Moneyline: Iowa -128, Penn State +104
Three trends to know
— Penn State is 4-0 ATS against FBS opponents this season. Iowa is 4-1 ATS this season, and that includes a 2-0 ATS record as a single-digit favorite.
— Iowa is 7-8 S/U against top-10 opponents at home under Ferentz. That includes a 17-12 loss to No. 9 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 12, 2019.
— Penn State is 2-8 S/U and 5-5 ATS as a road underdog under Franklin since 2014. The line has bumped up a point from its open at -1.5.
Longest current FBS win streaks
Three things to watch
— Sean Clifford’s hot hand. Clifford averages 289.7 passing yards with nine TDs in Penn State’s last three games, a hot stretch where he’s getting the ball to Jahan Dotson (446 yards, 6 TDs) and Parker Washington (331 yards, 2 TDs). Clifford threw two interceptions in last year’s loss to Iowa, however, and Riley Moss leads the Hawkeyes with three interceptions. Clifford cannot be loose with the football against that talented Iowa defense.
— Which running game has success? Both teams are averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry, and both run defenses are nasty. That said, neither Penn State nor Iowa can abandon the run. Tyler Goodson rushed for 78 yards and a TD, and the Hawkeyes limited Penn State to 1.8 yards per carry in 2020. Noah Cain and Keyvone Lee need to put the Nittany Lions in favorable third-down situations.
— Third downs. That’s because neither team is good on third down. The Nittany Lions have converted 35.9% of their third-down attempts, and the Hawkeyes have converted 36.2% of their third-down conversions. The pressure is on both teams to keep Clifford and Petras, who is coming off his best game of the season in a 51-14 victory against Maryland, out of third-and-long situations.
Stat that matters
It really does come down to turnovers. The Nittany Lions committed four turnovers in last year’s loss, and the Hawkeyes have feasted on those mistakes in five victories this season. Penn State has a +6 turnover ratio, however, and their defense has been just as capable around Arnold Ebiketie, who has three sacks, and standout safety Jaquan Brisker.
Penn State vs. Iowa prediction
The last two meetings in Iowa City between these teams were old-school slugfests. Iowa led 7-5 at halftime in 2017, and Penn State led 7-6 at halftime in 2019. The Nittany Lions won both of those matchups in the fourth quarter, and this could follow a similar pattern. Petras and Clifford will make mistakes, but the Nittany Lions will get just enough out of the running game in the second half to set up a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Final score: Penn State 22, Iowa 21