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Penn State to challenge Hawkeye passing game

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | OCTOBER 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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James Vandenberg has passed for 432 yards and six touchdowns in his last five quarters of play.

Beginning with the fourth-quarter comeback against Pittsburgh on Sept. 17, the Iowa passing game has been dynamic. It leads the Big Ten with 281 yards per game. And Vandenberg said it's only getting started.

"We realize what we're capable of," the Hawkeye quarterback said. "And we just want to keep building on it."

Iowa will find out exactly how dangerous its aerial attack can be Saturday at Penn State. The Nittany Lions' pass defense is the sixth-best in the nation.

Penn State has surrendered 200 passing yards just once this year. The Nittany Lions allow only 155 yards per game through the air. They've intercepted six passes and have allowed just three for touchdowns.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said a big reason for that defensive success was the Nittany Lions' experienced secondary. Penn State entered the season with all four starting backfield positions filled by seniors.

"Every guy is a veteran back there," Ferentz said. "Every guy has played a lot of football — and a lot of good football."

Safeties Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino provide stability to the Nittany Lions' defense. Astorino has started 24 games in the past two seasons, and he was named honorable mention All-Big Ten in both. Sukay started the first six games last year before an injury ended his season. But he was a starter in 2009 as well, when he was second in the Big Ten with 11 pass break-ups. The pair has combined for six break-ups this season.

Things may get a bit easier for the Hawkeyes on the outside, where a pair of injuries have hampered Penn State's cornerbacks. Top corner D'Anton Lynn missed the Oct. 1 Indiana game with head and neck injuries. Penn State coach Joe Paterno said the senior is doubtful for Saturday's game as well. And Stephon Morris, who leads the team in passes defended this year, left the Hoosier game early. Morris has been practicing this week and should play Saturday.

But even without the two starting corners, Penn State limited Indiana to 184 passing yards on 45 attempts.

Vandenberg said it's likely the best secondary he will have played against in his career.

"They have a great scheme and a lot of experience back there," he said. "There's two safeties who have played a lot, and at least three really good corners. You're not going to throw anything at them that they haven't seen."

Marcus Coker also said Penn State's defense was "probably" the best he'll have played against. But while Vandenberg raved about the Nittany Lions' defensive schemes and discipline, Coker noted something different.

"They're a strong, fast, big defense," he said. "They have the talent, and they're aggressive around the football."


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