UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - A native of western Pennsylvania, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz expects to face the kind of stout Penn State defense he's been seeing for decades when his team visits Happy Valley on Saturday.
Athletic linemen. Tough linebackers. A solid, veteran secondary.
The Hawkeyes' Big Ten-leading passing game? Now that's a bit out of the ordinary.
With a boost from a friendly crowd of 100,000-plus fans, the Nittany Lions figure to give Iowa's recharged aerial attack its toughest test yet of the season at Beaver Stadium.
"No question about that," Ferentz said this week. "You know, the end of the day, they always put a good defense together ... It's been since the late 60's, just continues."
Defense has carried Penn State (4-1, 1-0) so far while coach Joe Paterno's unorthodox two quarterback-led offense labors to produce points.
The struggles can't entirely be tied to the fortunes of signal-callers Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin. The running game has sputtered at times in part because of inconsistent offensive line play, and the kicking game settled down after a shaky start to the season when Anthony Fera assumed field-goal duties (4 of 5) two weeks ago.
Still, Penn State is scoring just 23 points a game, the second-lowest mark in the Big Ten ahead of just Minnesota (18.2 points). That seemingly doesn't bode well against Iowa (3-1), which has won eight of nine in the series since 2000.
Sporting a giddy attitude earlier this week, Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno sounded anything but alarmed about Iowa's recent success. He chose to focus on the positives earlier this week in Happy Valley.
"Well, as a football coach you have to worry about everything I try to watch and see, try to make sure we stay focused as to what we have to do," Paterno said. "I'm aware of the fact that Iowa has given us a couple good lickings (and) close ballgames."
The biggest positive is the defense, ranked fifth in the nation in total yardage (250.4 yards per game). Linebacker U. is also seventh in scoring (12 points) and sixth in pass defense (155.4 yards).
It sets up an interesting chess match against Iowa, which leads the league in passing (281.2 yards).
Quarterback James Vandenberg successfully operated no-huddle schemes from the shotgun in a 45-17 drubbing of Louisiana-Monroe two weeks ago. The Hawkeyes also went no-huddle while pulling off the biggest comeback in school history in a 31-27 win Sept. 17 over Pitt.
Offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe has been impressed with the poise of his first-year starting quarterback.
"They run a lot of outs, hitches, run a lot of high percentage passes," senior safety Drew Astorino said. "Passes that are pretty easy to complete. They do that the whole way down the field and they're good at it."
To the tune of 37.8 points per game, the second-most prolific offense in the league behind Wisconsin (48.4 points). The stepped-up passing game is a little off the norm for Iowa, which typically mixed up-the-middle runs and mid-range play-action passes with an intermittent deep ball.
Following a bye last week, the Hawkeyes have had two weeks to study Penn State's "bend-but-don't-break" defense. They'd like to get their Big Ten season going off on a positive note.
Senior receiver Marvin McNutt (25 catches, 413 yards, 4TDs) hasn't lost to Penn State during his collegiate career, though he's well aware that Saturday's game may be anything but easy.
"Over the years, people just made plays. This series always goes down to who makes the last play," McNutt said. 'It's going to be another hard-fought" game.
Paterno called CB D'Anton Lynn (head) doubtful for Saturday's game, though fellow CB Stephon Morris practiced this week and was expected to play. Morris left last week's 16-10 win over Indiana with a left foot injury.