Penn State Prepares To Face Its Kryptonite In Iowa
The Iowa Hawkeyes have a penchant for playing the role of spoiler against the Nittany Lions.
Penn State and Iowa don’t meet very often given that they reside in separate divisions, but when the two schools do meet, the Hawkeyes always seem to give the Lions trouble. This year’s Iowa team isn’t a contender for the College Football Playoff like last year’s team, but that doesn’t mean it’s unable spoil Penn State’s season like it’s done so many times before.
If you’re a lifelong Penn State fan, you likely remember how talented the 2008 and 2009 Nittany Lions were. But despite that talent, neither season ended with a national championship. The 2008 Nittany Lions were one of the most talented teams put together by Penn State this century. Led by legendary head coach Joe Paterno, the team fielded outstanding players like quarterback Daryll Clark, running back, Evan Royster, linebackers Navorro Bowman and Aaron Maybin, and wide receivers Deon Butler and Derrick Williams. The Lions started the season 9-0 with big wins over No. 22 Illinois, and No. 10 Ohio State in Columbus, and showed no signs of slowing down. The national championship game seemed within reach as the Lions reached No. 3 in the nation with favorable match-ups for the rest of the year. Enter the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The Lions traveled to Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on November 8, looking to improve to 10-0 against an unranked Iowa team. The Hawkeyes obviously had other plans. The game started like any other of Penn State’s dominant season, and multiple records were even set by players Evan Royster and Kevin Kelly. The Lions got into the red zone consistently early, but repeatedly settled for field goals. Taking a 23-14 lead into the fourth quarter, they ran out of steam. Iowa narrowed the lead to 23-21, and Penn State was held scoreless in the quarter. With a little more than three minutes to play, star quarterback Daryll Clark was intercepted for just the third time that season. The Hawkeyes burned time off the clock, drove down to the 14-yard line, and hit a 31-yard field goal to shock the third best team in the country. With the loss, Penn State kissed a perfect season and national championship hopes good-bye. The Lions would have to wait until next year for another opportunity like this because of the unranked Iowa Hawkeyes.
The 2009 season started very much the same as 2008. Penn State put together another fantastic team: it returned All-American linebacker Sean Lee, star running back Evan Royster came back to break even more records, Daryll Clark was poised to avenge last year’s blunders, and the defense was stingy as always. Penn State jumped to an early 3-0 record, and entered conference play ranked fifth in the nation, national championship hopes seemed real again. The impressive start led up to a revenge White Out game under the lights against guess who? Iowa.
Penn State started strong, taking a 10-0 lead into the second quarter and the offense seemed to be firing on all cylinders. The game changed drastically when Clark fumbled the ball in his own end zone and surrendered a safety. Iowa soon kicked a field goal to cut Penn State’s lead to five. The game then became a defensive battle with both Iowa and Penn State disallowing the offense to gain any momentum in the wet conditions. The fear of repeating 2008 became reality early in the fourth quarter. Jeremy Boone was back to punt when Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn got a hand on the ball, recovered, and took it to the endzone. The game wasn’t over yet, but the momentum had shifted permanently. The offense couldn’t gain any ground, and Clark turned the ball over once again. Driving late, Royster coughed it up as well, and the heart-break was back. Penn State hasn’t been ranked in the top ten since.
Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the game this Saturday are all too familiar for Penn State fans. The team is on a roll, with a slew of impressive victories that has this team poised to finish the season with double digit wins, and possibly a New Years Day bowl. Only thing standing in its way is unranked Iowa, Penn State’s kryptonite. People don’t forget what happened those days in 2008 and 2009, and especially not now given this Penn State team’s recent run of success.
Possibly no one remembers more than James Franklin. After practice Wednesday, Franklin riddled off plenty of stats to prove why Penn State needs to be extremely focused heading into Saturday. He cited that Iowa has won its last nine road games in a row, is 15-3 on the road in its past 18 games, it has won the past four meetings with Penn State when the Lions came in ranked, and that Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz is 8-4 in his coaching career against Penn State. Franklin isn’t concerned at all with Penn State’s recent No. 12 College Football Playoff ranking. All he’s concerned about is Iowa. With a complete devotion to its opponent, this Penn State team looks avenge the devastating losses of 2008 and 2009 after seven long years.