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O’Brien Readies for First Matchup Against Iowa

The football rivalry between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Iowa Hawkeyes has grown to new heights over the past half decade.

The origin could be traced back to 2008 when the Hawkeyes defeated a 9-0 Nittany Lions team in the final second, ruining their dreams of a national championship. 2009 was more of the same as the Hawkeyes came away with an upset victory at Beaver Stadium in the Big Ten opener, shaking the landscape of the conference.

Senior safety Jake Fagnano vividly recalls the most recent visit to Kinnick Stadium in 2010, a 24-3 dominant victory for the Hawkeyes that had a capacity crowd in black and yellow roaring the entire night. “As far as road games go, it’s one of the ones I remember most. It’s real hostile. The fans there are crazy. Your bench is about five feet from them, and you’re gonna hear everything they say,” said Fagnano at Tuesday’s press conference.

The Nittany Lions would snap the three year losing streak with a 13-3 victory last October at Beaver Stadium. While all of this was unfolding, Bill O’Brien was working in New England. First year Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz — the son of Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz — was also with the Patriots at the time. The two Patriots assistants became good friends, and O’Brien was introduced to the elder Ferentz through the younger one. “I’ve gotten to know him because of my relationship with Brian. I went out to Iowa when I was in New England and watched firsthand what he did in spring practice. He just does an excellent job teaching fundamental, physical football,” said Penn State’s head coach.

O’Brien and Ferentz are different people at different stages in their careers. The 57 year-old Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, running the show in Iowa City since 1999. The soon to be 43 year-old O’Brien has been at five different stops since the turn of the century, working his way up to his current job. O’Brien’s aggressive style is in stark contrast to Ferentz’ conservative approach that relies on extra stingy defense and good special teams to come away victorious.

Even with these differences, the two have a ton of respect for each other. “He [Kirk] should be at Iowa for however long he wants to be there. He’s done a great job and deserves to be there for a long time,” said O’Brien.

Come Saturday, O’Brien will attempt to make his first trip to Kinnick Stadium as a head coach a successful one while Ferentz will try to win a fifth straight home contest against the Nittany Lions, a streak dating back to 2001. “We don’t hate Iowa. We respect Iowa,” said O’Brien.

Some of his players may feel differently about the first part of that quote. Could you really blame them if they do after some of the recent heart-breaking games in series history? Senior cornerback Stephon Morris said as much in a tweet Monday night that read:

“Pls stop looking ahead to next week. This is a huge game, we hate them they hate us. Were focused on Iowa that’s it. One game at a time”

O’Brien dismissed a question about it, mentioning how much he hates Twitter. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for their football program and for how they play the game. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their coaching staff , their players, and the longevity of Coach Ferentz.”

The first part of Morris’ comment speaks to one of the challenges this week, resisting the urge to look ahead to a home showdown against the currently undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes. O’Brien does not anticipate that being a problem. “This is the meat of our schedule. This is the first of a six game deal here. They don’t think about anything but Iowa,” said O’Brien.

The first year head coach is ready for an electric atmosphere Saturday night as both teams carry undefeated conference records into the weekend.

“We’re playing under the lights, and that’s when the starts come out,” said freshman tight end Kyle Carter.

 Additional Notes: 

  • The team heads to Iowa relatively healthy including sophomore running back Bill Belton who is listed atop the depth chart.
  • Only reserve guard Mark Arcidiacono (foot) and freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman (knee) remain out.
  • No decision has been made on Wartman yet for the rest of the season, but something should be coming soon.
  • Iowa’s leading rusher, Mark Wesiman, suffered a sprained ankle in the team’s victory over Michigan State last Saturday. He is not  listed on this week’s depth chart, but Fagnano said the defense is preparing as if he will get the ball.
  • Fagnano also said that his brother Jared is enjoying Penn State after transferring from Akron.
  • O’Brien believes there is a “certain amount of ridiculousness” that players like Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, and Jordan Hill are not appearing on some award watch lists.
  • O’Brien intends to reach out to the family of Paige Raque, a cheerleader who is in critical condition after falling from an apartment building window over the weekend.
  • O’Brien thanked all of the other Penn State coaches for their support since he was hired in January. He has become good friends with Pat Chambers.
  • Regarding a question about watching the Patriots, Carter said he knows what to expect when he sees quarterback Tom Brady make a call at the line of scrimmage.

Quote of the Day: 

  • O’Brien on how he spent the bye week: “You never have a day off during football season. It’s either getting the team ready to play or recruiting. I took my wife out to a nice dinner Saturday night, but that was about it.”

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About the Author

Drew Balis

Drew is a senior marketing major. This fall, he will be covering Penn State Football for Onward State. He is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and loves THON and Domonic Brown.

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