Hawkeye football mailbag: How does expected rain impact Iowa's chances at Penn State?

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

An Iowa football game could be significantly shaped by Mother Nature for a second straight Saturday.

There is a 100 percent chance of rain Saturday in State College, Pennsylvania, where the 18th-ranked Hawkeyes will face off against No. 16 Penn State at 2:30 p.m. CT. As you might imagine, after last weekend’s windy 23-0 win against Maryland, the impact of another ominous forecast was top of mind for many of our Hawk Central Facebook Live viewers Wednesday afternoon.

A cold front combined with the remnants of Hurricane Willa is expected to make for some chilly, wet weather at Beaver Stadium — maybe throughout Saturday’s top-20 showdown.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley (9) has given Parker Hesse (40) and Iowa fits over the past two seasons. It'll be up to the defensive ends to keep him contained Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

So … who would unpleasant conditions favor?

Famous last words … BUT, as long as it’s not too sloppy (Saturday’s rainfall is expected to be an inch or less), it shouldn’t affect either team drastically.

Wind affects a passing game more than rain. So throwing the ball downfield should be more of an option for Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley than it was against the Terrapins. That’d be good news for the Hawkeyes because Penn State's back seven is probably its biggest weakness.

In general, I think wet conditions can benefit a mentally tougher team. Right now, I wouldn’t bet against the 6-1 Hawkeyes in that category.

And, by the way, as a few fans pointed out: Everything worked out OK the last time Iowa played in the rain in Happy Valley. Just ask Adrian Clayborn, whose fourth-quarter blocked punt return for a touchdown sent Iowa to a 21-10 win at fifth-ranked Penn State in 2009.

Other stuff we discussed...

Topic: What’s the best way to defend Trace McSorley, the passer?

Well, that’s certainly the question that Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker addressed with his team Monday. The McSorley-led Nittany Lions have gained an astonishing 1,178 yards in their last two games against Iowa. There’s got to be some kind of change, right?

Taking away the short passing game, especially if it’s rainy, would seem essential. McSorley has struggled with his accuracy on the edges, so that might mean devoting extra resources to covering speedy 5-foot-8 receiver K.J. Hamler and big-play running back Miles Sanders.

Penn State’s outside receivers have struggled with drops, and Juwan Johnson (who caught the game-winner against Iowa last year) might not play this week. Parker might dare McSorley to test freshmen cornerbacks Riley Moss and Julius Brents.

Topic: How about McSorley, the runner?

This is where the 6-foot, 203-pound senior (yes, he’s finally a senior) has been more potent.

His 554 rushing yards this season are 151 more than Iowa’s leading rusher. His eight rushing touchdowns are one fewer than Iowa’s team total.

McSorley has attempted 57 rushes in Penn State’s last three games alone, a sign he’s unwilling to trust those receivers. He’s a tough kid, but the punishment has to be adding up. Iowa defensive ends Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson must hold the edges, and anyone tackling the quarterback should look to be physical.

Topic: Will recent snap-count disparity be a factor?

A very observant question. Penn State’s defense has played a remarkable 189 snaps the past two weeks in down-to-the-wire games against Michigan State (89) and Indiana (100). Iowa, meanwhile, has faced 106 snaps in that same span, including 39 against Maryland.

Yes, that’ll be a factor. Even Penn State coach James Franklin acknowledged it this week. It’s almost like Iowa’s defense has experienced a bye week. Plus, it’s getting healthier — with the expected return of linebacker Jack Hockaday.

Iowa can turn tired Penn State legs into an advantage by assembling long drives on offense — which, of course, would keep McSorley on the sidelines.

Topic: Does Purdue’s win over Ohio State change the Big Ten West?

Boy. With four one-loss teams in the West, going through all of the possible scenarios would be a very, very long answer. So, I’ll stick to a short one.

If Iowa is going to win the Big Ten West, winning out is the best formula. All the Hawkeyes (3-1 Big Ten) would need, in that case, is for Wisconsin (3-1) to lose one of its final five games.

But if Iowa is going to lose one (and only one) the rest of the way, this would be the game it could maybe survive.

If there’s a multi-team tie atop the West at season's end, performance within the division is a key tiebreaker. The losses by Northwestern (4-1) and Wisconsin are both to an East opponent (Michigan). Purdue (3-1) took its loss from Northwestern. Penn State is the last East opponent on Iowa’s schedule.

November will indeed be a full-fledged, wild West shootout.