By Harry Allison

The good news for Penn State fans is that the Nits have gotten off to a 3-0 start this season, good enough for the 4-spot in this week’s coaches poll.

The bad news is that they go on the road this Saturday to face 3-0 Iowa in what could easily be a trap game for their CFP hopes.

This time last year is when Penn State hit rock bottom. While breaking in a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive playcaller and dealing with significant injuries at linebacker, Penn State went to Ann Arbor in Week 4 and was thoroughly dominated. The 49-10 loss is probably what ultimately kept Penn State out of the CFP.

Among the several reasons for that loss, style of play was a big one. Penn State’s defense had been practicing against its new spread scheme all preseason. It faced a Matt Canada offense in Pitt that incorporated a lot of jet sweeps and mind games with shifts and motions, and it hadn’t seen a physical downhill offense like the one Michigan threw at it.

A similar challenge awaits this weekend at Iowa. The Hawkeyes, like the Wolverines, are built on a big offensive line and a physical downhill run game. Penn State’s defense will be asked to set its jaw and play a different style of game than it’s used to seeing early this season and in the preseason.

This isn’t 2016, though. Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry is settled into his new role and the defense is ranked sixth in the country in yards per play. Even if Iowa’s throwback style takes a series or two to absorb, Pry learned some lessons from last season’s early slate that should carry over to 2017 from a preparation standpoint.

However, Penn State is vulnerable in new ways this fall. The thing about having everyone’s attention is you get everyone’s best shot. Iowa was 5-4 last season when Michigan came to town on a Saturday night ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Hawkeyes grinded out a 14-13 win on national television that night in a game that shocked the college football world. Defensively, Michigan was built to withstand that ground-and-pound game, but Iowa’sAkrum Wadley brought a contrast to that style that Michigan couldn’t handle. His matchups with Michigan linebackers in space and in the passing game were the difference in that game.

Iowa has a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator in Brian Ferentz, but Wadley is back. The offensive line is back. The defense is back. The elements to Saturday’s game are eerily similar to that Michigan contest, and the makings of an upset are in place. Iowa may not be a top 25 team, but this is the first real test for a Penn State team with lofty goals.

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