Nov. 4, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — After nine weeks of undefeated and at times flawless play, the Penn State football team has grabbed the No. 2 ranking in the nation. University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz challenged the gathering at his weekly media conference this afternoon to uncover the Achilles’ heel he sees with the Nittany Lions.
“They seem to struggle with interception returns,” Ferentz joked. “Right now they’re giving up about 25 yards a return on interceptions. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’ve only had two interceptions all season. They probably worked on that during their bye week.”
Ferentz — as well as the other Big Ten Conference coaches — recognize that the 2008 Penn State team is a special blend with very few real weaknesses. The Nittany Lions (9-0 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) travel to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 8, to play an Iowa team that is 5-4, 2-3 following a 27-24 loss at Illinois a week ago. Penn State was idle. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:37 p.m. and the game will be broadcast by ABC.
“A couple things jump out at you about Penn State,” Ferentz said. “Talent, first of all. They’ve had a great season. They’ve got a very, very talented football team. Everywhere you look, they’re very talented. For the most part everywhere you look they’re very experienced, with a few exceptions. The last element is they’re very well-coached. You know, I don’t have to say much about Coach (Joe) Paterno.”
Penn State leads the conference in scoring offense (41.8 points per game), scoring defense (11.1), kickoff returns (29.0 per attempt), rushing offense (226.3), rushing defense (99.1), total offense (459.8), total defense (265.9), pass efficiency and pass efficiency defense. Need some more? First downs, opponent first downs, third down conversions, opponent third-down conversions, sacks against, fewest penalty yardage per game, field goals, PAT kicking and red zone offense.
Of the 30 team statistics tracked by the Big Ten, Penn State is on top of 18 categories and second in three others.
Ferentz said that the most obvious formula for the Nittany Lion success has been making teams play to their weaknesses, or in his own terms, `play left-handed.’
“Penn State traditionally has had a great defensive football team,” Ferentz said. “I know philosophically, a good defense always starts with trying to make your opponents play left-handed. I’m sure they’re not going to make it easy for us to run the football. We anticipate that.”
“Our guys will get back on their feet. This group has been resilient and they’ve responded. If you can’t get excited about playing in a game like this, I don’t know why you’d want to be playing college football. You don’t get many chances in a career or a lifetime to play an undefeated team in November. That doesn’t happen by accident. If it does happen, you know you’re playing a great opponent.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
Few coaches have gotten a consistent upper hand on Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, who is 381-125-3 in 42 seasons. Ferentz, who graduated from Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, is 5-2 in his career against Penn State. The Hawkeyes lost 31-7 to Penn State in 1999 in Iowa City, went on a five-game winning streak against the Nittany Lions, then fell 27-7 a year ago in State College. According to Ferentz, this is the best Penn State team Iowa has seen.
“I don’t know if we’ve faced a squad quite as good as this one,” Ferentz said. “In fact, I’m pretty sure we haven’t. I think they were ranked second in ’99 when they came in here. To me, this is a much stronger team. When you talk about November records, November polls, they’re certainly deserving of their ranking.”
Before the season, Ferentz had a strong inkling that the Nittany Lions would be a force. The only question he had was at quarterback and whether Daryll Clark, a relatively untested junior, could lead the potent Penn State offense. That question has been answered. Clark has completed 63-percent of his passes for 1,652 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He also has eighth rushing touchdowns.
“The only variable I thought would be the quarterback play,” Ferentz said. “So obviously you graduate a guy that’s got experience like Anthony Morelli did. Daryll Clark is a guy we were familiar with…tried to get involved in recruiting a little bit. He’s really just played at a real high rate.”
From Iowa’s perspective, the composite package of talent, experience, coaching and a spotless won-loss record equals an outstanding opportunity Nov. 8.
“Our guys will get back on their feet,” Ferentz said. “This group has been resilient and they’ve responded. If you can’t get excited about playing in a game like this, I don’t know why you’d want to be playing college football. You don’t get many chances in a career or a lifetime to play an undefeated team in November. That doesn’t happen by accident. If it does happen, you know you’re playing a great opponent.”
For the sixth consecutive game, the Hawkeye captains will be Rob Bruggeman, Shonn Greene, Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Ferentz said Wesley Aeschliman dislocated his hip against Illinois and is doing well, although his season is over. The only other injury casualty for the Hawkeyes is offensive lineman Andy Kuempel, who has a muscle problem. According to Ferentz, both Seth Olsen and Tony Moeaki have solid chances to play Saturday. Reserve linebacker Dezman Moses began practicing with the Hawkeyes during the bye week after serving a four-game suspension.
Ferentz was asked if he liked seeing Paterno, one of the `good guys’ of college football, having success.
“Yes except for this Saturday I’m all for it,” Ferentz said to a room full of laughter.
Paterno has won 11 of 19 meetings against the Hawkeyes.