Three keys for Iowa and Penn State

September, 25, 2009
9/25/09
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


All eyes will be on Happy Valley this weekend as Iowa and Penn State meet in what I consider the first game to truly shape the Big Ten title race. Here are three keys for each team heading into the matchup.

THREE KEYS FOR IOWA

1. Pressure Daryll Clark -- Iowa's veteran defensive front has a major advantage against Penn State's offensive line, which is still coming together after returning only two starters and none to the positions they played in 2008. Hawkeyes defensive end Adrian Clayborn comes off a big game against Arizona, and if he can harass Clark and force errant throws, a playmaking secondary led by Tyler Sash will take advantage.

2. Attack the Penn State secondary -- Ricky Stanzi was really the first quarterback to expose the weaknesses in Penn State's secondary last year, as he rallied Iowa to a 24-23 victory. The Lions secondary boasts four new starters and has yet to be truly challenged, thanks in large part to a terrific defensive front seven. Stanzi might not have Tony Moeaki or Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, but Colin Sandeman and Marvin McNutt can test Penn State's unproven defensive backs.

3. Survive the first half -- The whiteout crowd will be buzzing at kickoff, and Stanzi has made most of his mistakes in the first quarters of games this season. He might not be able to survive early turnovers at Penn State, so Iowa needs steady play, even if the points don't come with it. The Hawkeyes defense is good enough to keep the team in the game late, when Stanzi tends to do his best work.

THREE KEYS FOR PENN STATE

1. Get the ground game going early -- Penn State's rushing attack showed signs of life last week, and it's critical to continue the momentum against Iowa. Evan Royster is the Big Ten's best all-around back, and he'll try to attack the middle of Iowa's defensive line. As good as Clark has been so far, Penn State doesn't want to get pass-happy against Iowa, which leads the Big Ten in interceptions, including four by Sash.

2. Turn up the heat on Stanzi -- Iowa likely will be without star left tackle Bryan Bulaga (illness) once again, freeing up Penn State defensive end Jack Crawford and others to attack Stanzi's blind side. Penn State leads the Big Ten with 10 sacks, while Iowa ranks last in sacks allowed (8). The Lions should be licking their chops. Much like Iowa's defensive front, Penn State has the edge at the line of scrimmage and needs to make life miserable for Stanzi.

3. Finish off drives -- Penn State would have won last year's game had it fared better in the red zone. The Lions had to settle for field goals of 24, 25 and 31 yards at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State ranks last in the Big Ten in red zone offense through three games (68.8 percent). The trend has to change against an Iowa defense that won't provide too many scoring opportunities.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12