Continuing our look back at the decade that was in Iowa football, celebrating the highs and the lows -- and, hopefully, distracting us from the ongoing disaster that is Iowa basketball. This series looks back at Iowa's results across the entire decade against every Big Ten foe, as well as Iowa State. According to the alphabet, next up are our absolute favorite Big Ten foes: Penn State.
Images of the greatness that was the 2008 game, courtesy the greatness that is HFMR.
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
Iowa vs. Penn State in the 00s: 7-1
2000: Iowa 26, Penn State 23 (2OT)
2001: Iowa 24, Penn State 18
2002: Iowa 42, Penn State 35 (OT)
2003: Iowa 26, Penn State 14
2004: Iowa 6, Penn State 4
2008: Iowa 24, Penn State 23
2009: Iowa 21, Penn State 10
2007: Penn State 27, Iowa 7
BEST WIN: Iowa 24, Penn State 23 (2008)
There were a lot of big wins over PSU in the Aughts -- the 2000 win was only Ferentz's second over a BXI opponent, as well as his first road win (and Iowa's first road win since 1998); the 2002 win helped spur Iowa to the fantastic heights they reached that season; the 2004 win was arguably Ferentz's most emotional win; and the 2009 win over a top 5-ranked PSU squad in Happy Valley was absolutely huge from a respect standpoint -- but the 2008 win stands alone because it was, arguably, bigger than the rest in terms of importance for the coach, the team, and the entire program... and because it was one fucking amazing game. Games where Iowa manhandles an opponent are incredibly fun and the source of countless fond memories... but they don't usually stand the test of time as games you want to watch over and over and over. For that, you need high drama and crazy action. There are a handful of Iowa games in the Aughts that fit that description -- the 2002 Purdue game, the 2003 Michigan game, the 2005 Capital One Bowl, and this game (crucially, Iowa also needs to win the game for it to qualify; the 2009 Ohio State game would be a shoo-in otherwise, but I don't need to relive the pain of that one). If the '08 Penn State game or the '05 Capital One Bowl are on BTN or ESPN Classic (as they often are) and I run across them, there's about a 98% chance of me leaving it there and watching it for a while, especially if it's near the end of the game. Those plays, those games, and those wins will never get old.
In terms of meaning, this game ranks way up there. It was a win over a Top 5 team (PSU was #3 going into that game, which also makes them the highest-ranked team Ferentz has ever knocked off, if memory serves), it was a win in a close game (something that hadn't happened in quite a while), and, more than anything, it was a win that was desperately needed. Going into that game, Iowa was sitting at 5-4, having lost four painful games that could have been wins if the results of a few plays are switched, and staring down another 7-5/6-6 season, which would have been the fourth straight such season for Ferentz. Granted, the '08 team was demonstrably better than either the '06 or '07 teams, but to that point the results simply weren't there yet; close losses still go down as losses, after all. Three straight 10-win seasons from '02-'04 and a monster contract had raised expectations significantly for Ferentz and playing .500 ball wasn't exactly cutting the mustard; the fanbase was grumbling and he was an easy source of "overrated!" and "overpaid!" potshots from every pundit or blogger around. And then he won this game. And won the next twelve games in a row after it, too. And wound up playing in (and winning) the Orange Bowl this past season. Does any of that happen without this win? Almost certainly not.
This win was the win the program absolutely, positively needed and it was a watershed moment. The team that couldn't win close games, couldn't come back in the fourth quarter (KF teams had a truly awful record, something like 2-36 when trailing in the fourth quarter, before this game), couldn't beat the really good teams... finally did all of those things. It was an unbelievable game, and it was also a quintessentially Iowa football game of the last few years. Stanzi made some horrific mistakes (fumbling a snap, throwing into triple coverage), but he calmly led the team down the field on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Shonn displayed his speed, his shiftiness, and (of course) his power in becoming the only running back to rush for over 100 yards (117, plus two touchdowns) against Penn State in '08, all in front of the very cool "Green(e) Out" in the student section. And the defense bent, but got clutch stops when it needed to, especially at the beginning of the game (when Clayborn forced a fumble near the end zone [which was somehow neither recovered by Iowa nor ruled a safety] that eventually led to great field position for Iowa and Greene's first touchdown) and the end of the game (when Sash got the interception to set up the game-winning drive). (video highlights 1, or video highlights 2; the latter is a Scothawk production w/ different music... or just relive the whole damn thing -- hey, who needs to work?)
Not even slugging PSU in the jaw could save us in 2007.
WORST LOSS: Penn State 27, Iowa 7 (2007)
Much like the Best Win category for Ohio State, there's no actual picking required here. It's one of the great mysteries of the Aughts that Iowa was more successful against Penn State than they were against Indiana, Iowa State, Illinois, and just Northwestern. Ferentz simply owns Penn State like no one else in the Big Ten (at least since Lloyd Carr departed). But this game was the one time this decade where Ferentz's mojo ran out and Penn State got a small measure of revenge for a decade of defeats. This game also featured arguably the worst QB match-up of the series in the Aughts; Penn State sent out the much-reviled Anthony Morelli (best known for scenes like this), while Iowa countered with Jake Christensen, the much-hyped savior who was going to take Iowa to the heights Drew Tate had failed to reach in his final two years at Iowa. Both Morelli and Christensen entered college with considerable prep accolades and were expected to be the next great signal-callers at their respective schools; halfway through their first seasons in charge, though, both fanbases were eagerly pining for someone, anyone else to take the reins.
The game itself was a debacle and arguably the low-point of the 2007 season. JC6 and the Iowa offense were completely hopeless through three quarters before finally stringing together a few plays in the fourth quarter to get a touchdown and avoid the shutout. The defense kept Iowa in the game for a while and the three turnovers they forced kept the score from being even more lopsided, but the inability of the offense to do anything but go three-and-out (at one point in the second and third quarters, they went three-and-out on eight straight drives) eventually wore them out. It was Iowa's eighth straight conference loss (and fourth loss in a row overall that season), by far Iowa's worst run of form since 1999-2000. There was little reason for hope in Iowa City back then, especially with a Top 20-ranked Illinois team coming to town the next week; thank god they were still coached by the Zooker, as we already covered earlier in this series. FUN FACT: This game was the true debut of EPIC GREENWOOD, as he made his debut as a starter and promptly got burned badly by Morelli a few times. (video highlights)
PLAYER OF THE RIVALRY: Daniel Murray (Iowa K, 2007-present)
PLAYER(s) OF THE RIVALRY: Iowa defense (2000-2004, 2008-2009)
Although, to be honest, this is another category where a little cheating is required because the heroes were someone different in pretty much every single one of the seven wins Iowa had in the Aughts. But there was one through-line in all of Iowa's wins over Penn State in the past decade: big defensive plays.
Every single win over Penn State in the Aughts featured at least one standout defensive play. In 2000, it was "sexy" Ryan Hansen grabbing the game-clinching interception in the second overtime. In 2001, it was Bob Sanders getting a big sack to key a three-and-out late in the game that would allow Iowa to salt away the win. Even the wildest shootout of the decade, the 2002 win, came down to a big defensive play: Jonathan Babineaux's madman rush into the backfield that forced an errant throw from Zack Mills on fourth down in overtime. The 2003 game can't be boiled down to a single play, but the defense held Penn State to seven offensive points (PSU's other touchdown came via a
STANZIBALL CHANDLERBALL on a goddamn screen pass, of all plays) and had more forced fumbles (three) than third-down conversions (two; PSU was 2/15 for the game). The infamous 2004 game was, of course, pretty much all defense, highlighted by the five forced turnovers (including interceptions by all four starting defensive backs). In 2008, Murray's game-winning kick was set up by the game's other defining play, Tyler Motherfucking Sash's huge interception late in the fourth quarter. And 2009 was another all-around defensive showcase, as the Iowa defense harried PSU into four turnovers (including three Clark interceptions) and the game's signature play came from Iowa's best defender, Adrian Clayborn (albeit on a special teams play, if you want to be pedantic). It's safe to say that Iowa defenses loved playing Penn State in the Aughts.
PENN STATE IN THE AUGHTS
After the incident at Indiana in '04, Joe was no longer allowed to drive his invisible car on the field.
The decade for Penn State began with four losing seasons in five years, far and away the worst stretch in JoePa's legendary career. A run of form like that would normally be cause for people to demand a firing, but "normal rules" don't apply to JoePa. Still, there was a growing suspicion that JoePa had lost his way and a clamor that maybe it would be for the best if he would just step down already (which is kind of the polite of way of saying "we'd fire you if it wouldn't be a P.R. nightmare, please be so nice as to fall on your sword, mmmkay?"). As sour as the beginning of the decade was for JoePa, though, the last five years were every bit as sweet, featuring three 11-win seasons, a pair of BCS bowl appearances (including a win over long-time career wins rival Bobby Bowden in the 2006
Zombie Orange Bowl), and a pair of (shared) Big Ten championships. They won nine games apiece in the two years in that span in which they failed to win eleven games, so it's not as if there was that much regression. JoePa ignored the calls to step down, eschewed the hot trend of laying out a succession plan, and continued shuffling along with his Coke bottle glasses and undying appetite for the brains of the living. Granted, at this point he's largely a figurehead, but if any coach has ever earned the right do whatever the fuck he wants, it's Paterno.
Twice in the past decade (2005 and 2008) Paterno had opportunities to challenge for additional national titles, only to be thwarted in the final seconds of the game (by Michigan in '05 and Iowa, of course, in '08). Paterno was also the only Big Ten coach besides Ferentz to start and finish the Aughts as head coach of the same school. We would say that we won't be able to say that a decade from now, but that's a lie: so long as Penn State continues to provide with a supply of healthy BRRRAAAAIIINNS, JoePa will continue to lead the Penn State football team (at least until the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse, when he takes his rightful place in command of the undead armies that will slaughter us for our precious headmeats).
- Despite (or perhaps because of) being a student at the time, I remember no details of the 2000 win over Penn State in Happy Valley, even though it was, by all accounts, an exciting game (Iowa won in 2OT) featuring hard running by the underappreciated Ladell Betts, clutch kicking by Nate Kaeding (where has that gone, Nate?), and a solid effort by Kyle McCann. The Gazette recap is notable, if only for featuring the most usages of "sexy" in an article about Iowa football, ever.
- 2001 featured more heroics from Betts (33 carries, 95 yards, 2 touchdowns), a star-making performance from Dallas Clark (7 catches for 116 yards) and, as noted above, a fairly beastly performance from the defense. This game also highlighted the incredibly important role special teams played in this series: Kahlil Hill's 76-yard kickoff return early in the game set up an Iowa score and a muffed snap by David Bradley turned into a Penn State safety. Safeties would play a key role in the '04 game and blocked punts were huge in '03 and '09.
- The 2002 game was, by far, the most spectacular shootout of the series, as well as the game that sent Iowa fans careening on the wildest roller coaster of emotions, as Iowa led 26-7 at halftime and 35-13 after three quarters... but needed to win the game in overtime after choking away a 22-point lead in the fourth quarter. Any Iowa fan who watched that game and didn't have nightmares about the Iowa State game from two weeks prior is a filthy liar. Luckily, Brad Banks still had a little magic left in overtime and the Iowa defense managed to pull its head out of its ass long enough to get a stop and end the game. (video highlights or the whole crazy game)
- The 2003 game was more of a grinder, as most Iowa wins were that year, but it did have its share of big plays, such as Chandler's aforementioned pick-six on a screen pass and a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown by Jermire Roberts (whose other most notable contribution as a Hawkeye was wearing the #7 and playing on special teams, which caused drunk fans [including yours truly] to freak the fuck out and wonder why Brad Banks was on kickoff coverage). (Scothawk video highlights)
- Ah, 2004 and the infamous 6-4 game. Two years removed from the 42-35 overtime shootout, Iowa and Penn State staged either one of the most intense defensive struggles of the decade... or one of the most inept offensive displays of the decade. Six points was (by far) the fewest points in an Iowa win all decade (and tied for the third-fewest points they scored in any game, win or loss, all decade) and the ten combined points was also the fewest in an Iowa game all season (although it was not the fewest total points scored in a game involving a Big Ten team in the Aughts; Illinois managed to lose to UCLA 6-3 in 2003). To put that in context, the last time Iowa scored less than 10 points and won a game was a 9-7 win over Michigan in 1981; the last time they scored just six points and won a game was a 6-0 win over just Northwestern in 1957, back when helmets were basically leather stocking caps and it was still legal to pull out a pistol and shoot an opposing player. Anyway. 6-4 was a unique viewing experience and no one who ever saw that game is likely to forget it; the defenses really were ferocious, but the offenses really were pretty hapless, too. And, hell, it had a fuck you safety -- how often do you see that? (video highlights and Scothawk video highlights)
- As for 2009... well, pictures really do say a thousand words, so...
Just the block (in slo-mo and, um, fast-mo).
Or maybe you prefer stills:
If we could zoom in, we could see #18 shitting himself in terror.
OH GOD PLEASE DON'T HURT ME --
-- NOT IN THE FACE NOT IN THE FACE --
-- I QUIT I QUIT I QUIT --
(more video highlights)
And, just because you can never have too many images of this play:
Prepare to get your hearts broken, blurry Penn State dudes.
Make it make it make it make it make it make it...
Penn State has 10-foot tall players? UNFAIR.
Iowa kickers are happy. Penn State players are not.
Big sloppy kisses to HFMR for his aid in helping me with these pics and video clips.
BUY THE SHIRT! You know you want to.