As Penn State practiced Wednesday, the lyrics of The Notorious B.I.G. blared across the Lasch Building fields to emulate the crowd noise of Kinnick Stadium.
While Iowa fans probably won’t try to unsettle quarterback Matt McGloin with rap, they’ll undoubtedly crank up the decibels as McGloin tries to get off snaps.
“I think we understand what’s at stake for us now,” McGloin said. “We’re going into a tough environment Saturday. It’s going to be loud, and we have to practice with a lot of energy. We’ve prepared as hard as we ever have before this week. Monday and Tuesday were our best practices this season.”
It doesn’t make it any easier that Iowa’s defense is second only to Penn State in points allowed in the Big Ten. Additionally, both lead the conference in turnover margin at plus-7.
“As far as changing things up, we’re just going to stick with our game plan and take what Iowa gives us defensively,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “It’s a very, very tough defense, and we just need to try to do the best we can.”
On paper, Penn State’s and Iowa’s defenses are evenly matched. Iowa defensive lineman Joe Gaglione has wreaked havoc in opponents’ backfields this season, with eight tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles.
Linebacker Michael Mauti has seen similar success for the Lions just beyond the trenches. Through six games, he has demonstrated his ability to stop big gains and keep opposing offenses reeling. His 57 tackles will be the most of any player on the field this Saturday.
“I’m trying to remember a Penn State defense not looking pretty good,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “This group, this front seven, is as good as you’re going to find anywhere.”
The game could come down to which team can capitalize on offensive opportunities. Running backs coach Charles London said that Bill Belton’s ankle has healed up over the bye week. A healthy Belton’s elusive running style complements Zach Zwinak’s more bruising assault.
However, this will be the Lions’ first hostile away game since they started opting against field goals on a regular basis. It’s very difficult to convert fourth downs if the offense can barely hear the hard count.
As to whether O’Brien will try for three points from 30-plus yard range, the coach said he’s seen improvement from kicker Sam Ficken.
“I have faith that [Ficken is] going to be able to do it in the games,” he said.
Iowa’s offense has been plagued by its struggles to move the football. The Hawkeyes sit second-to-last in the Big Ten in total offense -- a problem that could be compounded by the loss of running back Mark Weisman.
The sophomore transfer from Air Force, who injured his ankle last week against Michigan State, burst onto the scene this season to rack up big rushing yards for the Hawkeyes. He’s already the sixth-best rusher in the Big Ten, despite only starting three games. He was not listed on this week’s Hawkeye depth chart.
Ferentz said Iowa’s offense improved against Northern Iowa, Central Michigan and Minnesota, before regressing against Michigan State. Northern Iowa is eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring defense, Central Michigan is 11th in the Mid-American Conference, and Minnesota is sixth in the Big Ten.
Ferentz said he’ll try to draw from those games to produce offense.
“As long as we’re scoring, we don’t care how we do it,” Ferentz said. “The big thing is to score.”