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Iowa upset crystallizes defense's vital role in rugged Big Ten race

The Hawkeyes brought a top-15 scoring defense to Happy Valley on Saturday night and proceeded to hold No. 5 Penn State to its lowest scoring total in more than two years in a 21-10 upset (RECAP | BOX). What's even more impressive is that Kirk Ferentz's team pulled that off despite allowing seven of the 10 points within the first two minutes of the game.

You read that right. Iowa (4-0) held Penn State (3-1) out of the end zone for 58 minutes Saturday night. The Hawkeyes pressured All-Big Ten quarterback Daryll Clark into a nightmarish 11-of-31, 183-yard, three-interception performance. And the defense allowed Iowa to overcome its own offensive struggles -- 297 total yards, no offensive touchdowns for the first three-plus quarters -- with a series of huge fourth-quarter plays.

With the score stalled at 10-5 Penn State heading into the fourth quarter, Iowa turned the momentum with Adrian Clayborn's blocked-punt return touchdown to go up 11-10, followed swiftly by linebacker Pat Angerer' s 38-yard interception return to set up a quick 24-yard touchdown drive. With 107,000 soggy, white-clad fans stunned to near-silence, Iowa recovered two more turnovers (an Evan Royster fumble and Clark's third interception) to put it away.

It was a thoroughly dominating defensive performance by a largely overlooked team that has won eight straight games dating back to last season (including two over Penn State). The Hawkeyes also exposed what many suspected about the previously untested Nittany Lions: Joe Paterno's rebuilt offensive line is a problem. Iowa defensive linemen Broderick Binns and Karl Klug were constantly in the Penn State backfield, getting in Clark's face and helping hold Royster to 59 yards on 17 carries.

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Iowa's defensive masterpiece comes a week after similarly stifling Arizona in a 27-17 win in Iowa City. (Note the Wildcats rebounded Saturday with a 37-32 win at Oregon State.)

The Hawkeyes are too limited offensively to be taken seriously as a national-title contender, but they did serve notice Saturday the Big Ten race is going to involve at least three teams -- and that it's going to be decided with defense.

No. 13 Ohio State, which has pitched consecutive shutouts against Toledo and Illinois, faces Iowa and Penn State on consecutive weekends in November. And all three will get a chance to put their staunch defenses up against No. 23 Michigan's suddenly explosive offense.

Expect plenty more field goals and safeties en route to Pasadena.