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. 4: September 28, 2002, Iowa 42, Penn State 35
Here's the deal: I sort of hate this game. I mean, I love it that Iowa won, and that it was their first conference win of an 8-0 Big Ten slte, and that Ed Hinkel made that superman catch in the back of the end zone. Love all that.
But this game had no business being anywhere that close, and I'm not only referring to the fact that Penn State scored 22 unanswered points to finish regulation, although that was nauseating enough all on its own. It was only two weeks prior that we'd witnessed the 29 straight points ISU dumped on Iowa in the second half of that game (which remains the single most aggravating Iowa game we've ever seen), so that wound was a bit fresh as it is.
No, when I say it shouldn't have been that close, I'm referring to the three touchdowns Iowa left off the board with a big lead in place:
- With six minutes left in the first half and Iowa up 23-0, Antwan Allen stripped Larry Johnson as he was being tackled, then picked up the ball and waltzed into the end zone from about 15 yards out. Problem: the official blew the play dead with the ball already on the ground, no score for Iowa, and Penn State would score a touchdown on that drive.
- With Iowa leading 35-13, Ed Hinkel took a punt to Penn State's 12 yard line, and one play later, Brad Banks was throwing to Dallas Clark in the end zone. Except, Clark cut so hard that his shoe came off, he slipped, the ball hit Clark in his hands, and bounced to a Penn State defender. Touchback, Penn State ball on the 20.
- On the ensuing possession, Jovon Johnson picked off Zack Mills and took the ball back to the one-yard line. Very first play from scrimmage, Fred Russell fumbles, Penn State ball.
So this game shouldn't have been close. It should have been an absolute wrecking, something befitting the domination Iowa put on the Nittany Lions. It wasn't, and that makes me mad.
That all out of the way? Good.
This game was still great, though, because it allowed us to see Brad Banks really start to develop into a high-level quarterback against even decent competition. Iowa was 10-18 on 3rd downs over the course of the game, with most of the conversions coming on Banks completions or runs. Iowa's last three touchdowns all came on third down strikes by Banks (who had four TDs on the day), and they wouldn't have been scores on average throws.
What's more, Fred Russell proved to be the every-down back most people thought he was too small to be: 35 rushes, 142 yards, one damned fine 20-yard score. C.J. Jones was an effective red zone target, and the Iowa offensive line pushed PSU's around everywhere. This was the week where it all started to look really legit for the 2002 Iowa team.
But ugh, that comeback. Credit goes to Zack Mills and the Brothers Johnson for their role in it; it was absolutely a sterling performance by the Penn State offense in the fourth quarter. If they'd kept up that production all day long, they'd have scored 88 points, and you know what? I don't think Iowa wins that game. I really don't, guys. Just calling it the way I see it. And that, combined with the multiple touchdowns Iowa didn't score, left me more relieved than happy when the game ended in overtime. At that point, even announcer Mark Jones shifted his summary of the game from "Iowa is dominating" to "Iowa steals a win," and that's so fucking bogus. That wasn't an upset. Iowa was hands-down the better team, they proved it over the course of the year, and they should have proved it that afternoon. Now I'm upset again just thinking about this game. Rrrrgh.
Next up: No more spoilers.