Kinnick Stadium — those two words inject fear into the minds of ranked Big Ten teams.
“We know how successful they have been in these types of games,” James Franklin said. “Ohio State, No. 3; Nebraska, No. 17; Michigan No. 2; Michigan No. 15; Michigan State No. 5.”
Iowa took down all of those previously listed Big Ten forces over recent years, the most notable coming in 2016 and 2017 when the Hawkeyes beat top-3 teams in back to back seasons (Michigan and Ohio State).
It’s not like Iowa is a recruiting powerhouse or a consistent top-10 program, but the fortress that is Kinnick Stadium throws all rankings out the window.
“It's loud, it's hostile, you know, they are on top of you, they feed off of their crowd.” Franklin said. “We hope to prepare our guys in a way that we can feed off the energy in the stadium — this is why you come to Penn State, to play in games like this and in these types of environments.”
Penn State got a dramatic last-second win two years ago, and now the stage is set for another testing matchup for the Nittany Lions — really their first of the season.
Iowa is by far the best opponent that Penn State has come up against this year, at least on paper.
The Hawkeyes have just the one loss on their resume, which came a week prior in a low-scoring 10-3 defeat at Michigan.
Iowa has only conceded 17 total points at home in three games played at Kinnick so far this season, and it has an experienced quarterback in Nate Stanley on the other side of the ball.
The Nittany Lions’ offense is young, and has only played a single game away from Beaver Stadium this season — in which they responded with a blowout victory on Maryland’s turf.
But that was against a less talented team and with a ton of Penn State supporters in the stadium.
This game will be a huge test to see what this group is made of, and if this team is as good as they’ve looked through a forgiving early season schedule that has put the Nittany Lions in the top five of both scoring defense and offense — one of only two teams in the country with those ranks.
Sean Clifford has said recently that he isn’t using experience as an excuse anymore for this team as they have a handful of games under their belt, but this offense especially doesn’t know what it’s like to play under the lights against the Hawkeyes.
None of Penn State’s current skill position players recorded any stats in the 2017 win in Iowa. KJ Hamler was in his redshirt year, Jahan Dotson, Pat Freiermuth, Noah Cain and Ricky Slade weren’t even in college.
To put it bluntly, the Nittany Lions offense doesn’t know what their about to see — but that could be a blessing in disguise.
After the Maryland game, some of the older players said that their younger teammates were surprised by how rowdy the Terrapins crowd was, but that all it did was fire them up even more.
Sometimes players respond best to hostile environments under the lights, when they can really take in the gravity of the moment.
Take Will Fries for example — the right tackle was thrown into the water as he was making his second career start, and his first away from Beaver Stadium in the infamous 2017 matchup.
“I think it's one of those games you kind of dream about as a kid. When you have these dreams of playing big time football and things like that, these Penn State Iowa matchups, these Big Ten clashes are things you dream about playing. You have to live in the moment.” Junior lineman Will Fries said. “My high school coach used to say, ‘you have to realize what you're experiencing while you experience it.’ I think if you take that step back and view it from that perspective, it makes the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.”