"Iowa's a wrestling school, and Penn State's a football school, so we've got to take it to them. They [the fans] think they have this stranglehold on us, and we just have to humble them up a bit."
- Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson
Under sunny skies near famed Mount Nittany in a stadium modeled, it would seem, after a 1980s municipal garage in downtown Detroit, the Iowa Hawkeyes made its case --- among all it's athletic endeavors football is the university's diversion sport. How else could one explain their performance on Saturday?
Nittany Lion fans will tell you, as they told me on Saturday, their team is a defensive juggernaut and to not be too discouraged. If only that were true. Sitting in the stands (I attended the game with BHGP member Bellanca) revealed many things about both teams, but it did not show a Penn State defense of a merciless destructive force. I found the Penn State defense to be well coached and balanced but not particularly fast, athletic or even of great size and strength. Were they the best defense the Hawkeyes have faced this season? Without a doubt. What was apparent as the game wore on was this defense was more prepared for the game than was the Iowa offense. They executed a very good game plan and it was the difference in the game. Iowa had no answers. Proving that an extra week of preparation might be vastly overrated.
Playing after a bye week in college football, for some reason, is tricky business. Countless articles on gambling sites will point out that whether playing as a favorite or underdog, road teams after a bye week perform miserably against the spread. College football coaches, on the other hand, would mostly tell you they covet bye weeks --- a week to rest up injured players, work out some trouble spots that have been showing up on the field, and look ahead to the next opponent and get an early start on game preparation. Bye week or no bye week, the Penn State game was vital to Iowa's position as a serious threat in the
Leaders Legends division of the B1G. Knowing if they were able to win in Happy Valley they would return to four home games in their next five contests, with their lone road game in that stretch being at reeling Minnesota, had to be seen as a great opportunity to seize momentum for the season ahead. Momentum is not to be though, and instead the Hawkeyes return to Iowa City with more questions than answers as they prepare for their personal Rubik's Cube, the Northwestern Wildcats.
Over the next 24-48 hours BHGP will break down the failure in Happy Valley in painful detail, as you well know. But one thing we can say right now, with little opposing convincing argument, is that Iowa's not a particularly good team right now and may not have the horses to be much more than they were this past weekend. Northwestern is now an even more serious threat, as will be every remaining team on the schedule.
Can Iowa reassert itself as a contender for the division crown? It would be reckless to say no. After all, they've yet to play a single game against teams in their division, but on paper they do not match up well with most, if not all of them. This season, more so than most it would seem, will require excellent game planning and preparation, passion and focus by the players, and some very good fortune---all things I did not see against Penn State.
Some notes from Beaver Stadium:
- Penn State fans are extremely respectful. Not once did I witness anything less than genuine appreciation for Iowa fans and even during the game they remained humble, almost deferential. This is not a hubristic program. Joe Paterno's legacy as a leader, more than possibly his record of on-the-field achievement, is that he's served as a tremendous model for the Penn State football community. I would return to watch Iowa play here in a New York minute.
- Iowa looked very casual warming up and on the sidelines during the game. Energy was surprisingly low and players were milling around like it was a scrimmage. It might have been the pace of the game, which was often disjointed or it might have been Iowa's lack of success offensively. Bear in mind, before Vandenberg's fumble in Penn State territory at the start of the fourth quarter, this game was surprisingly in doubt. It might be a stretch to say Iowa was overconfident but player sideline demeanor was not a promising sign from where I was sitting.
- There were about 4,000 - 6,000 Iowa fans at the game from what I could tell.
- One many, many occasions I saw a fan wearing an Iowa football jersey but upon further inspection I realized they were actually wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey.
- I noticed that as the game wound to a close Joe Paterno was whisked from the sidelines, presumably out of fear for the chaos that often ensues at the end of games. Ferentz met and shook the hand of an assistant coach at the end of the game, before sprinting alone to the locker room.