Yes, turnovers, field position, defenses, kickers and punters will be instrumental in Saturday's game between No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State. But for those who think first-to-14 wins, consider this.
What if the more aggressive, confident offense — the one not afraid to throw into the 19 interceptions for which these teams have combined — has the edge? And which offensive coordinator is behind that offense?
Let's get to the bottom of that.
No. 4 Penn State (5-0) at No. 3 Iowa (5-0)
- When: 4 pm ET Saturday
- Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City
- TV: Fox
- Streaming: fuboTV
- Betting Line: Iowa is a 1.5-point favorite, according to SI Sportsbook
- Series History: Penn State leads 17-13
- Last Meeting: Iowa 41-21 in 2020 at Beaver Stadium
- Streaks: Penn State has won nine straight games; Iowa has won 11 straight
So which offense has the edge?
In his first year at Penn State, Mike Yurcich has installed a creative, up-tempo offense that mixes personnel and formations, zeroes in on mismatches and plays to quarterback Sean Clifford's strengths. Brian Ferentz, Iowa's fifth-year coordinator, has had a similar impact.
Iowa has outgrown its reputation for stodginess and six-tight-end sets, though tight end Sam LaPorta leads the team in receptions (22). This offense doesn't chase the deep ball (quarterback Spencer Petras is 7 of 18 on throws of 20 yards or longer, according to Sports Info Solutions) but can move well behind LaPorta and running back Tyler Goodson. Ferentz isn't afraid of trick plays and the occasional Wildcat (neither is Yurcich).
But Iowa's offense has benefitted significantly from its opponents' 16 turnovers. The Hawkeyes' averaging scoring drive length is 45.4 yards, and nine of their 25 scoring drives have covered 39 or less. In their blowout of Maryland, the Hawkeyes turned seven turnovers into four scoring drives of 29 yards or less.
Penn State's defense and special teams, meanwhile, are forcing opponents into an average starting field position of the 24.8-yard line. If that continues Saturday, Yurcich can exploit the field-positions benefits by calling an aggressive game.
Neither team should be afraid of taking chances offensively. In fact, Penn State coach James Franklin said he wants Clifford to check out of running plays more often when the holes aren't there and he has a throwing option.
Yes, this will be a defense-and-field-position game. But Brian Ferentz and Yurcich will play the real chess match, with Petras and Clifford as their strategic pieces.
Penn State Players to Watch
Running back Keyvone Lee: Is Noah Cain healthy? Franklin said the starting back will be "full go" Saturday, but if he's not, Lee must be ready. Lee has been Penn State's best yards-after-contact back this season (99 of his 174 have come after contact) and has a team-high eight broken tackles, according to SIS. That's the kind of back Cain was for Penn State at Iowa in 2019, and they'll need another Saturday.
Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher: Mustipher squares off against Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum in one of the game's best individual matchups. They will be two of the best players on the field, as the 320-pound Mustipher has been the core of Penn State's defense, and Linderbaum is considered the nation's best center. Looking for an edge? Check out their high school wrestling results: Mustipher won two Maryland heavyweight titles, and Linderbaum was a medalist in Iowa.
Punter/kicker Jordan Stout: Stout's impact can't be understated. In the field-position duel, Stout ranks third in the conference in punting average (48.46 yards) and has 11 punts of 50+ yards. Behind Stout's kickoffs, Penn State is the only Big Ten team that hasn't allowed a kickoff return this season. And in the field-goal game, Stout said the unit fixed some early season issues before the Indiana game, in which he made a 50-yarder.
Iowa Players to Watch
Quarterback Spencer Petras: Petras' offenses have produced 32.3 points per game in his 13 starts, the most by an Iowa quarterback since Heisman finalist Brad Banks (36.5) in 2002. Petras has a 15/3 touchdown-to-interception ratio during Iowa's 11-game win streak and has been intercepted just once this season. But his 58.8 career completion percentage is something Penn State can attack, particularly with pressure and its skilled secondary.
Running back Tyler Goodson: The veteran back has averaged 97.7 yards rushing in Iowa's win streak and catches the ball adroitly out of the backfield. He ranks second on the roster in receptions (12) and scored on a 67-yard catch against Maryland.
Cornerback Riley Moss: What's behind Iowa's 16 turnovers? Twelve are interceptions, five more than any other Big Ten team and more than Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue and Rutgers combined. Moss has three of those, two of which he returned for touchdowns against Indiana. If you think it's just right-place-right-time, consider that Moss also has allowed just 11 receptions and has not been called for pass interference.
Five Things You Should Know
1. Iowa (11.6 ppg) and Penn State (12) top the Big Ten and rank second and third nationally in scoring defense behind Georgia.
2. Iowa has scored 45 percent (75 of 166) of its points off 16 turnovers this season. Penn State has scored 17 points off nine turnovers.
3. Iowa's defense has scored 20 points, with three touchdowns and a safety.
4. Penn State has held opponents without a score seven times in 15 red-zone drives.
5. Penn State is 4-1 against Iowa when both teams are ranked and 3-1 at Kinnick Stadium.
This game might be more fun and higher-scoring than many expect, particularly if (as noted earlier) the offensive coordinators let it fly. And why not? The offense that trusts its quarterback more is more likely will win — unless that quarterback has his first two-interception game of the season.
Penn State's offense is better rounded, and has been through more trials, this year. Consider that against Colorado State, when its defense forced just one turnover, the Hawkeyes had to rally from a 14-7 deficit to win. Clifford has won at Kinnick Stadium before, and he'll add another tight victory Saturday.
Penn State 26, Iowa 23