The challenge for Iowa: Protecting Nate Stanley against fierce Penn State pass rush
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There’s no reprieve for Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley and an offensive line coming off a horrid performance in Michigan.
The Hawkeyes have watched the film, have seen the missed reads and missed blocks that led to Stanley being sacked eight times last Saturday by a Wolverines defense that became more aggressive as the game unfolded.
Penn State has seen it, too.
There’s no secret what’s coming when the No. 9 Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten Conference) step inside Kinnick Stadium at 6:44 p.m. Saturday to face No. 18 Iowa (4-1, 1-1). They will try to rattle Stanley again in a game nationally televised on ABC.
“Teams are going to try to replicate problems that you had. So we know they’re going to blitz us,” Stanley said. “We know that in the pass game, we’re going to have to get the ball out quick. We’re going to have to maybe use some different protections.
“We just need to come out with that same attitude and mindset that, 'Hey, these guys are good, but we’re not going to lay down to them.' We’re going to come out and compete.”
The Hawkeyes have two things working in their favor one week after the offense was harried into uncharacteristic mistakes in a 10-3 road loss. They’re playing this game in front of a sellout crowd at home that will be quiet while Stanley is calling signals at the line of scrimmage.
And, surely the offensive line can’t be that bad again, can it?
Penn State leads the nation with 25 sacks, 10 of them coming last Saturday in a 35-7 victory over Purdue. Junior defensive end Shaka Toney has five of them. But he has faced Iowa in Kinnick Stadium before, a last-second win two years ago that he said was the loudest road game he’s ever been a part of.
Toney saw what Michigan did to the Hawkeyes a week ago, but he’s not fooled.
“I just think we’re going to get a team that’s going to be fueled by their stadium, fueled by getting back on track. We’ve got to prepare for a team that’s undefeated,” Toney said.
“They’re going to throw a lot of punches, and we’ve got to be able to respond. I think they’re going to be a lot better than what they put on tape last week.”
Stanley knows his ability to scan the Penn State defensive alignment before the ball is snapped, to be able to anticipate where the pressure is coming from, will be key to any offensive success. At Michigan, the Hawkeyes were frequently tardy in breaking the huddle, leaving little time for Stanley and redshirt freshman center Tyler Linderbaum to call out signals. The noise from an 111,000-person crowd didn’t help.
“Just get in and out of the huddle as quick as possible. Give (Linderbaum) time up at the line of scrimmage to make his calls. Last week, the defensive line and the linebackers were waiting a long time to get lined up. So that’s not something we can really control,” Stanley said.
“The more time I can have at the line of scrimmage means I can check into better plays or get a better read on what the defense is trying to do.”
Iowa ranks second in the nation in controlling the clock, averaging 35 minutes, 41 seconds of possession time. The Hawkeyes would love to establish a strong rushing game, one week after totaling one yard on the ground thanks to the minus-65 caused by Stanley’s sacks. But it's also possible they may need to sustain drives with a quick passing game.
That's because Penn State is third in the country at stopping the run, surrendering just 50.6 yards per game. Forcing opponents to throw has led to the 25 sacks, Toney said.
“We weren’t satisfied with how we played the run last year. How we let people get over 100 yards. We feel like you can’t be an elite defense letting people run all over you,” he said.
“We don’t even think about rushing the quarterback until third down.”
He knows that won’t be easy against the Hawkeyes, especially once the crowd gets roaring.
“That’s probably the toughest place to play on the road. You could feel the intensity in the air,” Toney said.
“Some teams don’t have an identity in the run game. They’ll run 30 different plays or things like that. But Iowa has bread-and-butter plays that they come out and run, and they run them efficiently and execute them to the maximum ability that they can. I think that’s always scary.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knows the challenge his offensive line faces as the Hawkeyes try to snap a five-game losing streak against the Nittany Lions.
“Penn State has got great athletes, and they play hard and can be very disruptive,” Ferentz said. “We are going to have to hopefully have a little tighter plan maybe and be a little bit tighter with our technique and a little better, more cohesive in our play.”
Otherwise, it’s going to be a long and silent night in Kinnick.
No. 9 PENN STATE (5-0, 2-0) at No. 18 IOWA (4-1, 1-1)
Where: Kinnick Stadium
When: 6:44 p.m. Saturday
TV: ABC (Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe)
Line: Nittany Lions by 3½
Weather: 51 degrees and partly cloudy; SW wind, 10 mph
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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