It took Penn State three seasons to avenge its memorable 2008 loss to Iowa.
Retaliation will be another three years away for whichever team loses this Saturday when the Nittany Lions travel to Iowa City.
Penn State outscored Iowa, 13-3, a season ago to snap a three-game losing streak against the Hawkeyes. The two teams have played some contests that have likely stuck in the mind of both players and fans in the last handful of years, and there is some bad blood between the two teams.
The series, however, will be put on hold as the Nittany Lions aren’t scheduled to face the Hawkeyes again until 2015.
That makes this year’s game all the more special.
“Within my five years here, we have been in some really close ball games with Iowa,” senior safety Jake Fagnano said. “Last year it went our way, past couple haven’t. So yeah, especially in my time here, I’d say that there is definitely a rivalry and we’re really excited to play them.”
Iowa has landed some big punches in the series, and coach Kirk Ferentz has beaten the Lions eight times in 11 tries. The two most notable wins of his tenure came in 2008 and 2009, when the Hawkeyes knocked off highly-ranked, unbeaten Penn State teams.
A collection of upperclassmen on Penn State’s current roster, were on the team for one or both losses, and senior cornerback Stephon Morris tweeted, “This is a huge game, we hate them they hate us,” Monday, referencing the Iowa contest.
Coach Bill O’Brien will get his first taste of the Penn State-Iowa series this weekend, and he was asked about Morris’ tweet at his weekly press conference. After a big roll of his eyes, O’Brien made it clear he respects Iowa and went on to direct his loathing elsewhere.
“Do you know what I hate?” O’Brien asked. “I hate Twitter.”
“I think these guys are young guys, and I think ‘Tweet this, Spacebook that.’ Whatever. We’ve got to go play the game. We don’t have any hatred for Iowa. We respect Iowa. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their football program and for how they play the game, for how they’re coached, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for their coaching staff and their players.”
Iowa has had more success against Penn State in the series lately, especially at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes haven’t lost a home game to Penn State since 1999, a streak of four contests.
Penn State’s 2008 loss came on a windy November evening in Iowa City, and it was a heartbreaker. The Lions entered ranked No. 3 in the country and had national championship aspirations, but the unranked Hawkeyes derailed them.
Iowa came back from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat Penn State, 24-23 on a last second field goal by kicker Daniel Murray. Wide receiver Graham Zug — who played at Penn State from 2006-2010 — called the series with Iowa “stressful,” and said he can’t forget the game from four years ago.
“There were just a lot of big plays in that game that were momentum shifters,” Zug said. “We went from having all the momentum, then they have it, then we have. Then obviously I remember it like it was yesterday when they lined up to kick that ball. I thought there was no way he was making it. I thought we were going to do something, block it, he was going to miss it, something was going to happen. But the kid came through and made it.”
Even though almost all of the players who are now on Penn State’s roster weren’t a part of the gut-wrenching loss, Zug said he knows they’re conscious of the defeat.
“Even the guys that weren’t there are aware of what happened in 2008,” said Zug, who ended his Penn State career with 976 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. “And if they’re not, they will be before the game come Saturday. Because the alumni will let them know.”
In 2009, Penn State — this time ranked fifth in the nation — hosted an unranked Iowa team, but it was the same result. The Lions lost, 21-10, and were outscored 16-0 in the fourth quarter in front of a whiteout crowd. The Lions’ woes continued the following year as Penn State was blown-out, 24-3, in Iowa City.
Kinnick Stadium saw capacity crowds of 70,585 for both the 2008 and 2010 contests in which Iowa hosted Penn State. Senior defensive end Pete Massaro called it “one of the most intense atmospheres in college football.”
“I’ve been at Alabama, Ohio State, some places like that, and I’d say Iowa’s stadium is pretty vicious,” Massaro said. “It’s definitely a tough place to play.”
Last season, Penn State dominated Iowa’s offense, holding the unit to 253 total yards and three points, as the team finally broke through with what is now a vacated 13-3 win.
The Lions have a chance to put the 2008-10 losses further in the rear-view mirror this weekend, and a win in Kinnick Stadium is something wanted by all Penn State players that have recently been tormented by the Hawkeyes.
“Anytime you end a series on a win streak, it’s positive. Especially against a team like Iowa, where we’ve had some history with them,” Zug said. “I think that’d be awesome.”