Only three teams in the Penn State-Iowa matchup have scored more than 30 points since 2000. During that time, there have been two overtime games and four other games that have been decided by a touchdown or less.
The game has come down to the final play in each of the last two years. Games like that are often won or lost in the trenches. Saturday –– when the Nittany Lions travel to Iowa City –– figures to be no different.
Penn State’s offensive line has been much improved over the last two weeks, dominating the line of scrimmage in the first two Big Ten games of the season. But opposite them this week are two defensive ends that present a major challenge. They are projected first-round pick A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston.
“Both defensive ends, we’ve been really impressed with,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “Obviously Epenesa is the guy that got all the headlines coming into the season, but we’ve been really impressed with both of those guys.”
The duo has combined for four tackles for loss and three sacks so far this season and are big contributors to a Hawkeyes defense that ranks third in the nation in scoring defense.
“Definitely got a lot of respect for those guys. They play really hard,” right tackle Will Fries said Tuesday. “They are coached really well. They play with a high effort and high motor every play. It’s not something you can relax on. You have to be aware for multiple moves from both of them.”
For the most part, Fries will be matched up against Golston on Saturday, while left tackle Rasheed Walker will have the task of trying to stop Epenesa.
The Penn State offensive line as a whole has done a good job protecting quarterback Sean Clifford this season, allowing just seven sacks through five games. Walker, especially, has impressed. Most recently, he was named to Pro Football Focus’ Big Ten team of the week after his performance against Purdue. He didn’t allow a pressure the entire game.
The redshirt freshman has responded well to his starting role this season, but the test he will face Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium will be his toughest yet. But the Nittany Lions know that. It’s become an essential part of the Penn State-Iowa matchup.
“That’s what this game is all about, those o-Line, d-Line matchups,” Fries said. “That’s something they pride themselves on and something we pride ourselves on. Just being a physical team, playing with great technique and combining those two things to really win the game up front. It’s something as an o-Line that we are taking a ton of pride in this year and especially for this game.”