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.
No. 6: October 25, 2003, Iowa 26, Penn State 14
In the grand scheme of things, this was a rather insignificant game; Iowa was very good this season, Penn State was not, and the season trajectories didn't change materially for either team after this game. But it's better than 2001, which is nice, and let's not forget that this game was in doubt at the break.
Coming into the game, Iowa was 5-2, but licking their wounds after a 19-10 ass-kicking (yes it was) by the Buckeyes. Penn State, meanwhile, was replacing just about everybody of merit from their 2002 team, and had a 2-5 (0-3) record to show for it. But PSU's schedule had been just brutal up to that point, and their losses were generally of the 1-possession variety--they lost to 10-win Nebraska 18-10 in a game they'd led at the half, they hung around with 10-win Minnesota for 60 minutes before losing 20-14, and even their 28-14 loss to Purdue was a 1-possession game 5 minutes into the 4th quarter. They had the horses to stick around with a team like Iowa, in other words.
And stick around they did; on the very first possession, PSU All-American CB Yaacov Yisrael (no really, that's his name) picked off
Scott Nathan Chandler in Iowa territory. Penn State would punt from Iowa's 37, which is a profanity, and we blame this fact for Penn State's eventual and inevitable loss. After the teams traded 3-and-outs, Iowa was putting together a solid drive, one that had Hawkeye fans thinking touchown after Russell took a rush up the middle to the Nittany Lions' 3-yard line. Then a holding call pushed the Hawkeyes back to the 13-yard line, and on the very next snap, Yisrael struck again; Nathan Chandler telegraphed an inside WR screen, Yisrael stepped in front of it, and nobody had a prayer of catching him as he took it 82 yards for the score. 7-0 Penn State, and fans were nervous, wondering if this team didn't have "it" this season (this prevailing fear lasted until at least the Wisconsin win, and let nobody tell you otherwise).
Those fears only intensified when Iowa went 3-and-out again on the very next possession, and they started to sting when a David Bradley punt gave PSU the ball in Iowa territory. Nobody was booing, but the temptation was there.
Luckily, Abdul Hodge nearly took a fumble recovery to the house on the ensuing possession, and Iowa scored a touchdown six snaps later. The blocked PAT would be no matter, as Iowa scored on another short field on the very next possession, and they'd never relinquish the lead.
Still, it wasn't until Chad Greenway blocked a punt and Jeremire Roberts took it to the house to open up the lead to double digits that the game was safe. The rest of the 2nd half was pretty whatever. An Edgar Cervantes fumble late in the third quarter quickly led to Penn State's second touchdown of the day, but that only made it 26-14, and Penn State wouldn't even get another first down the rest of the way, much less threaten. The game ended at that same score, and here we are.
It should be noted that Fred Russell was Mighty Mouse this afternoon; he gained 148 yards on 36 carries (a total that's remarkably unpleasant to rack up in one game), and while only 5 of those carries gained first downs--and none found the end zone--his rushes were remarkably consistent in that 4-8 yard range, and that's the type of thankless game that Heisman voters hate and wins football games.
But really, this win is all on the defense. Penn State registered 9 first downs on the entire game, and as mentioned before, none came after Scott's run pushed the game back to 12 points. Zack Mills and his band of idiots weren't going to beat anyone on the Kinnick Stadium field that afternoon, and that inevitability means there really isn't much point in reading anything into this win. Iowa's best three wins in 2003 were the 30-27 victory over Michigan, that Outback Bowl pantsing of Florida, and the 40-22 win over 10-win Minnesota. This game probably doesn't crack the top 5 of the 2003 season, much less the top 5 of the Iowa-Penn State series.