Let's face it, under Kirk Ferentz, the Iowa Hawkeyes have always had a particularly interesting relationship with the Penn State Nittany Lions. Which is to say we beat them, a lot, but there's usually plenty to the game itself and its repercussions that makes these games special. There's seven wins in the Kirk Ferentz era, and we're going to rank them all, starting now.
No. 7: September 29, 2001, Iowa 24, Penn State 18
In a series full of firecrackers, this one was an absolute dud. Penn State was mired in one of its worst stretches of football ever, the 2000-04 stretch where the Nittany Lions made it to precisely one bowl, sandwiched between four losing seasons. This was one of those losing seasons, and at its outset, PSU was just awful. They'd begun the year losers to Miami (33-7) and Wisconsin (18-6) before coming into this game, and they weren't about to look better this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Iowa had just endured its own woofer of a 3-year stretch: a year prior to this game, Hawkeye fans were watching Iowa put the finishing touches on a 45-33 loss to Indiana, setting their record at 0-5 on the year. So when the Hawkeyes started out 2001 by crushing Kent State 51-0, then beating Miami University 44-19 (and leading that one 44-0 late), it looked like the good guys were finally back on track and humming along just in time for the Iowa State game on the 15th.
But of course, then those hijackers had to be dicks about everything and turn the nation into 300 million murder witnesses, and to borrow a line from David Cross, that was the week football stopped. Iowa had a bye week scheduled the weekend after, so by the time the Penn State game rolled around, it had been three weeks since Iowa last played a game. We didn't even know how hard we were supposed to cheer for Iowa, and we just went ahead and cheered for Penn State too for taking time out of their weekend to come see us, I think everyone hugged everyone (fans, players, band members, whatever) before the game, and security made us all feel like terrorism suspects. All of which is to say, bloodthirsty momentum of the first two games: gone.
That's not to say Iowa performed especially poorly, mind you: Ladell Betts rumbled in from 2 yards out to start the scoring in the first quarter, and after Kyle McCann executed a perfect two-minute drill to end the half, Iowa went into the locker room up 21-5. Meanwhile, Penn State was doing nothing on offense; hype magnet Eric McCoo (remember him?) ended up with 24 yards on 11 carries, and Zack Mills (we know you remember him) passed for only 118 yards on 31 attempts.
But in the second half, the malaise set in, and Iowa stopped moving the ball effectively. Betts never got over 100 yards on the day, even with 33 carries, and McCann couldn't do anything if he wasn't finding Dallas Clark or Kahlil Hill. McCann's line on the day was a very McCann-ish 16-25 for 225 yards and 1 TD. Incidentally, that stat line is basically 4-5 for 15 yards and 1 TD squared. Sorry, I'm a basic math dork.
At any rate, the game looked to be limping toward a 24-11 conclusion late in the game when Iowa was set to punt with 3 minutes and change left. Like jerks, Penn State blocked the punt, Larry Johnson scored on the play, and all of a sudden it was 24-18 with Penn State kicking an onside kick. Groans echoed throughout the stadium, not because anyone thought Iowa might lose, but just because everyone knew they weren't beating any traffic that afternoon. Fine, the fans said. We'll keep watching this.
And so, Penn State tried their onside kick... by kicking it right at Dallas Clark. Unsurprisingly, Clark came down with it, Iowa ran out the clock, and that game was done. We're talking Iowa-Arkansas State 2009 levels of excitement here. It might be the worst Iowa victory I've ever seen in person. If I'd had a cell phone back then, I would have just spent the second half texting "THIS IS STUPIDDDDDD" to everyone I knew, and it would have cost $34,000, because cell phone plans were also stupid back then. But I digress.
That's really the lone clunker among Iowa wins in this series. Number 6 isn't great either, but at least there was some excitement, and only one team looked like boiled bags of ass that day. That's a step up from this one, a game so bad that just writing about it right now has made me like football about 5% less. Let's just move on.