Lion In Wait: Penn State Versus Iowa

Lion In Wait is Onward State’s football column for Penn State conference games.  Published Friday at 5 P.M. before games featuring Big Ten opponents, LIW emphasizes the game from a fan perspective.

Considering Penn State’s #5 ranking in the AP Coaches Poll, you would think people would have a lot more confidence in this year’s team. However, people seem to be down about how we’re not blowing out lackluster teams like Akron and Temple, calling the team’s performance “pedestrian” and “ho-hum.” While it’s true that the statistics from last year’s cupcake games warranted a much higher ranking, I’m wondering if it’s right to criticize the team’s performance.

I’ll agree with the fact that there seems to be an air of mailing it in during the second half – but then again, the defense has only allowed one field goal in all three of those first halves. While we’re not playing badly, it seems the only way to satisfy the fans (and some of the media) is to absolutely obliterate these opponents.

If you ask me, I think everyone’s affected by how last year ended. After nearly going to the national championship, beating Syracuse by three scores doesn’t quite cut it. The fans – and by extension, the team – isn’t fired up like a top 5 team should be.

Have we betrayed the title of the best student section in the nation? No, I think that’s somewhat of an overreaction. But I do think it may be unfair for the fans to criticize the team’s performance when many of us are either leaving early or getting to the game late. All of us – the players and the fans, just a need a reminder of why the Penn State football program is so special.

Enter the Iowa Hawkeyes. Tomorrow night, there’s no chance the student section will take until the second quarter to fill up. Tomorrow night, the team won’t be able to afford to – as some may perceive – ease up in the second half. Tomorrow night, homes across America will tune in to ESPN and see the best Penn State has to offer on the field and in the stands.

Iowa is the perfect team to get everyone back in stride – they’re a good team with which we’ve had recent struggles. A Nittany Lion victory in front of a white-out crowd on national television will be the antidote for our case of the “ho-hums.”

…At least until Eastern Illinois comes into town.

History Lesson

We Want The Lion has a great rundown of Penn State’s recent struggles beating the Iowa Hawkeyes. To give you an idea of what this has consisted of, consider the following facts:

– Though Penn State leads the all-time series 11-10, Iowa has won 6 of the last 7.

– Of those 7 games, the only Penn State victory was led by Anthony Morelli*.

– The only thing that kept Penn State from playing in the national championship game was last year’s road loss in Iowa City.

Obviously, the last point has been belabored all week. JoePa insists that this shouldn’t be viewed as a “revenge game,” because Iowa did nothing wrong, they just played a better game last year. However, to a fan, that is exactly what this game is. It’s vengeance for last year’s championship hopes going up in flames while we all watched from our couches in horror.

A win in Happy Valley tomorrow will not only ease the pain of being a field goal away from playing for The Coaches’ Trophy, but also of the recent difficulties against the Hawkeyes.

Public Enemy Number One

Ricky Stanzi – Quarterback #12.

This is easy. Stanzi has been regarded as somewhat of a comeback kid, typically playing not so well in the first half, only to warm up and make plays when it counts. Given Penn State’s scoring tendencies this season – building an early lead in hopes of playing conservatively in the second half – this worries me. While Stanzi has never led a game-winning drive in the midst of a white-out in Beaver Stadium, he showed us he was perfectly capable of doing it against a championship game contender last year.

The X-Factor

The Linebacking Corps.

As of this writing, both Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman are both listed as probable for the game. But no one outside of the team really knows how close either player is to 100%. Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu have done well in fill-in duty, but neither is the same as a healthy tandem of the two leading tacklers. Just one of the two star linebackers playing healthy could be enough to completely change Iowa’s game plan.

Tips For The Game

1) Wear white. Tell everyone you know to wear white. A friend of mine once absentmindedly wore a navy blue hoodie with yellow trim to last year’s Michigan game. It was not pleasant spending most of the game trying to tell people he was just oblivious, not Wolverine scum**.

2) You should probably buy a poncho. The forecast is predicting a 70% of rain, and chances are, you’re not going to want to leave the game no matter how hard it’s coming down.

3)  Show up insanely early. I say “insanely early” and not just “early,” because of the hype surrounding tomorrow night’s clash. The people that show up what normal people would call “insanely early” for the Syracuse game have already redefined the meaning of the term by setting up Paternoville on Monday. Additionally, increased security will inevitably set all of your plans back thirty minutes.

Prediction

Right now the line is somewhere around 9.5 in favor of Penn State. Statistically, that makes sense as – according to ESPN – “The Nittany Lions have won 24 straight home games against unranked opponents by an average of 26.4 points. ”

However, considering that Iowa has won six of the past seven meetings, I think the game is going to be much closer than we expect. Now that they’re playing against a prime-time defense, the offense will struggle to create a big lead early in the first half, allowing for Stanzi to close the gap.

Penn State 31, Iowa 28. It seems poetically correct to predict that the win depends on a field goal once again. No pressure, Colin Wagner.

*Well, it’s nice he has that going for him.
** Heckler’s words, not mine.

About the Author

Mark

Mark McColey is a Senior majoring in Advertising and Labor-Employment relations. Among his loves are Penn State Football, The Steelers, The Penguins, The Simpsons, Tina Fey, and Arrested Development.

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