Nittany Lions Hungry for Victory at Iowa
The date was October 9, 1999 and most current members of the Penn State Football team were in their early years of elementary school when the Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0) last defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-0) in Kinnick Stadium. While these players have only made one or two visits, they remember it well — the screaming fans, the cold weather, and ultimately, the disappointing end result.
While the Nittany Lions’ struggles in Iowa City are well documented, one would be mistaken to analyze Saturday’s game using solely that thought process. It is certainly a dynamic worth noting, but times appear different. Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz had the previous coaching regime’s number, going 8-3 against the Nittany Lions since he began walking the sidelines 14 years ago. In rare instances, he won because his teams had more talent. In most cases, they were just well coached as he beat Joe Paterno at his own game. Heading into tomorrow night’s contest, the 2012 installment of the Nittany Lions might be both better and more prepared than the home team that awaits them.
Like previous installments of the series, the game will hinge upon physical play in the trenches and limiting turnovers. Some things stay the same, but this Penn State offense appears to have changed for the better.
Before discussing the Nittany Lions some more, let’s focus on some Hawkeyes to watch.
Mark Weisman #45 — The Nittany Lions defense may not have to watch out for the sophomore running back as it appears Weisman will miss the game with a sprained ankle. Ted Roof’s defense should consider themselves lucky if this ends up being the case. Listed at 6-0 225 lb., Weisman is a bruising runner who has given other teams fits over the past four games, eclipsing 100 yards in every contest and scoring 8 touchdowns.
Greg Garmon #4 — It is more likely that this freshman running back from Erie, Pennsylvania will be receiving most of the carries for the Hawkeyes tomorrow night. He is relatively untested at the collegiate level with only 14 carries through six games but was highly recruited out of high school with several offers including one from Penn State. It will be interesting to see him in action against the strong front seven for the Nittany Lions.
James Vandenberg #16 — After a pretty decent 2011 campaign, Vandenberg has been very underwhelming this season with only two touchdown passes compared to three interceptions and a 57.4 completion percentage. With Weisman likely out of action, the senior quarterback may be called on to pass more often than usual tomorrow night.
Keenan Davis #6 — The senior wide receiver is pretty well versed in this rivalry. He does not have a touchdown reception yet this season, but has been pretty consistent, hauling in at least four receptions every game. Listed at 6-3 215 lb, he could present a mismatch for the Nitttany Lions’ still evolving secondary.
Greg Castillo #2 — Matt McGloin has not thrown an interception since a fluke play against Temple almost a month ago. The Hawkeyes senior cornerback will try to change that tomorrow night. He has interceptions in consecutive contests including a game clinching one in overtime last week against Michigan State. While not related to the game, but he is also the son of former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.
Mike Meyer #96 — Special teams has always played a big part in this series, and the Hawkeyes certainly have the edge when it comes to placekicker. Meyer has converted 14 of 15 field goals so far this season including 5 of 6 attempts from beyond 40 yards.
Some things to watch for from the Nittany Lions:
The Running Backs — By all indications, Bill Belton is healthy coming off the bye week and listed atop the depth chart, but Zack Zwinak will be vying his third straight 100 yard game on the ground. Is there enough to go around for both of them? Perhaps this is a good problem to have.
The First Drive — The Nittany Lions have not scored on their first offensive drive since the Navy game. Whether or not it takes time to adjust to the hostile environment will be worth tracking.
Offensive Line Play — This unit has typically hurt the Nittany Lions in past years against the Hawkeyes, but they have been making progress every week and appear ready. Consistency and dealing with crowd noise in a raucous atmosphere will be key.
Scoring First — Bill O’Brien’s squad has scored first in every game this season. In the last two matchups at Kinnick Stadium between these teams, the Hawkeyes struck first both times. A fast start could make things much quieter and make much easier for Matt McGloin and the offense.
Prepare for a familiar Penn State-Iowa matchup with physical teams and fairly stingy defenses. The main difference will be an aggressive, fast-paced Nittany Lion offense. That change just might lead to their first road victory against Iowa this century.
By The Numbers: McGloin had as many touchdown passes in the first half of the season opener against Ohio as Vandernberg has all season.
Blast from the Past: Of all the ugly and painful losses to Iowa in the past, the 2008 game in Iowa City stands out the most. The Nittany Lions were 9-0 and ranked third in the county with realistic national championship aspirations when a 5-4 Hawkeyes team overcame a 23-14 fourth quarter deficit to win 24-23 on a 31 yard Daniel Murray field goal as time expired. Defensive back Anthony Scirrotto was flagged for a controversial pass interference penalty on Iowa’s game winning drive that still haunts people to this day.