I will not lie; I’ve been extra leery of this road trip since the season first began. With each passing week all eyes were on Penn State of course, but I’ll admit to keeping tabs on Iowa as well. As each week passed, the Hawkeyes did nothing to make me feel any better about this week’s game. In fact, they only made my jitters worse. Did you happen to see what they did last week to Maryland? I knew those pesky Terps were overrated once again, but SIX interceptions for the Hawkeye D? 51 points? YIKES! It was instant Déjà vu, as we search for a way to go 1-0 this week.
Truth be told, if I had never been cast under the Penn State-spell in the late-70’s and early 80’s, Iowa is just the kind of team I’d probably be cheering for today. They remind me of those old Nittany Lion squads that were my childhood heroes. They have behemoths on the O-Line and monster tight-ends. They always have a shifty but powerful running back or two, and are well-known and respected for playing lights out, hardnosed defense. This year is obviously no exception as they sit one spot ahead of us at No. 3 in this week’s Top 25.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz is 100% a disciple of the Hayden Fry coaching tree, but it’s not lost on me that he grew up a ‘Pennsylvania kid with a Penn State heart' like so many of us, James Franklin included. Switch that black and gold to old-school JoePa blue and white and it’s like we’re looking in the mirror at seasons long ago, even if they do carry a brand and identity that’s all their own. Of course, Ferentz always seemed to have a secret formula when it came to Joe. The flashback of Paterno chasing down that ref out of pure anger and frustration, as he approached the tender age of 80, is all the proof we really need.
For years, the most intimidating aspect of a trip to Iowa was the pink locker room they happily provide to the visiting team. Whatever edge that may or may not have ever given them, it was more than enough to stop a full speed ahead, No. 2 ranked Penn State spread-HD offense back in 2008. I can still feel the demoralizing wound in my soul to this day after that disaster.
In 2017, the aura completely changed as ‘The Kinnick Wave’ instantly became one of the most humbling traditions in all of sports and truly put life in perspective. I can’t imagine the sense of pride those kids have knowing the home team is in the battle with them. It took a miracle walk-off home run from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson to escape with a win on our way to being crowned Fiesta Bowl champs. In 2019, a bit of KJ-magic and a whole lot of guts from our D helped us narrowly survive. Two weeks later in Minneapolis, we were energy-deprived as Minnesota finished off what the Hawkeyes started.
Before the season even began, we quietly had this day circled. I’ve kept a side-eye on the Hawkeyes as we barreled down the road to 5-and-0, and from what I’ve seen it’s Déjà vu all over again. Another knock-down, smash mouth, old-school slugfest is in the works. It’s on the road in Iowa after all, would you expect anything less? The kind of battle that will define the rest of the season, and for all the mutual respect we may have for the home team, it’s moments like this that define who WE ARE. In the end, I see one last bout of Déjà vu before this series goes on a six-year hiatus, as Sean Clifford, Jahan Dotson, PJ Mustifer and crew do just enough to bring home another hard-fought win: Penn State 19, Iowa 13