A month ago, prior to one of the worst play calls of the college football season, senior quarterback Trace McSorley was having one of the best nights of his career. But everything fell apart on one play and Penn State has been unable to pick up the pieces.
The Nittany Lions’ one-point loss to Ohio State on Sept. 29, when coach James Franklin burned two timeouts before calling an ill-fated draw of out the shotgun formation on fourth-and-short, was followed by another home loss to a mediocre Michigan State team. Franklin has a habit of choking away big games and his team has been exposed as nothing special.
McSorley is a sensational dual-threat playmaker who passed for 286 yards and ran for 175 against the Buckeyes, but he’s carrying an underachieving coach.
Iowa is 6-1 straight up and against the spread, with a last-minute loss to Wisconsin on Sept. 22. As usual under coach Kirk Ferentz, the blue-collar Hawkeyes lack flash and fly under the radar. The score from their only real quality win, 13-3 over Iowa State, tells the tale.
If recent performances against Indiana mean anything, the Iowa-Penn State game on Saturday should go the Hawkeyes’ way. A week ago in Bloomington, the Lions were outgained 554-417 and allowed 224 rushing yards but managed to squeak out a 33-28 win mostly because the Hoosiers found ways to lose. Penn State’s defense was on the field for 100 plays. The previous week on the same field, the Hawkeyes hammered the Hoosiers 42-16 while rolling up a 479-330 advantage in total yards and allowing only 67 rushing yards.
Ferentz has the nation’s No. 5 scoring defense (14.1 points per game), and Nate Stanley (61 percent completions, 16 touchdowns) is a solid quarterback who has won a fair share of big games.
McSorley’s short touchdown pass as time expired allowed Penn State to escape with a 21-19 win last year in Iowa City.
Iowa has plenty of motivation because its fate in the Big Ten West will be decided with its two-game trip to Penn State and Purdue. Look at the Hawkeyes as 6-point ‘dogs.
Seven more plays for Saturday:
* Purdue (Pick) over MICHIGAN STATE:
A week after obliterating then-No. 2 Ohio State 49-20, followed by a field storming and newfound media hype, the Boilermakers are in a classic emotional letdown spot. Jeff Brohm faces a monster challenge in getting his team to turn the page and focus. This spot is more complex, however. The Spartans are in a flat spot, too, after getting whipped 21-7 by Michigan in a rivalry game highlighted by controversy. Early in the week, coach Mark Dantonio still was trading barbs with Jim Harbaugh. Emotions and hangovers aside, the Boilermakers are better, especially offensively. During a four-game win streak, senior David Blough has 10 touchdown passes and one interception while throwing for 378, 377, 328 and 296 yards. Freshman wideout Rondale Moore is lighting up defenses. On the flip side, Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who was 5-for-25 for 66 yards against the Wolverines, is doubtful with a shoulder injury. Lewerke’s backups are bad, and the Spartans are decimated by wide receiver injuries. In a bad spot, expect the Boilermakers to start slowly, but Brohm has more talent and Purdue should win a low-scoring game.
* NEVADA (plus-2½) over San Diego State:
The Aztecs have won six straight games but their offense is suffering without injured veteran quarterback Christian Chapman and leading rusher Juwan Washington. San Diego State, which has only four touchdown passes in seven games, barely beat lowly San Jose State 16-13 as a 25½-point home favorite last week. Nevada (4-4) is off a 40-22 win at Hawaii in which Ty Gangi passed for 247 yards. Gangi has 14 TD passes for the season. It’s not an ideal spot for the Wolf Pack after their trip to Honolulu. Still, considering the Aztecs’ offensive woes, this is an opportunity for the Pack to howl as a home ‘dog.
* Other plays: Wisconsin-NORTHWESTERN (Under 52½); BRIGHAM YOUNG (-6½) over Northern Illinois; Texas A&M (plus-1) over MISSISSIPPI STATE; Texas (-3) over OKLAHOMA STATE; HOUSTON (-8) over South Florida.
Last week: 4-2 against the spread