Penn State braces for the hostile atmosphere in Iowa's stadium

Posted: October 21, 2012

IOWA CITY, Iowa - At Kinnick Stadium, the visitors' locker room is painted pink - a psychological tactic intended to calm Iowa's opponent.

But nothing is soothing about this 70,000-seat venue, where the Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) will face Iowa (4-2, 2-0) Saturday at 8 p.m.

The forecast calls for a Midwestern chill. Fans clad in black and yellow will heckle, cheer, and do everything they can to cool down Bill O'Brien's red-hot Lions.

Penn State is riding a four-game winning streak. The Hawkeyes are riding momentum after a double-overtime win against Michigan State. A prime-time home matchup against Urban Meyer and undefeated Ohio State sits on the horizon for Penn State, but this is a game the Lions don't want to overlook.

"The fans are right on your back because your bench is five feet away from them," Penn State safety Jake Fagnano said. "I'm sure for a night game they'll be pretty riled up."

No, Kinnick Stadium is no easy place to play. Iowa has won 57 of its last 71 games (.803) there, dating back to the 2002 season. The last time Penn State won in Iowa City was 1999, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz's rookie season.

The oldest players on Penn State's roster were still in elementary school then.

"I've been away at Alabama, Ohio State, some places like that," said fifth-year senior Pete Massaro, a Marple Newton High School graduate. "And I'd say Iowa's stadium is pretty vicious. It's definitely a tough place to play."

Massaro and the senior class know what it's like to play here. Perhaps more than anything, they know what it's like to lose here.

Two years ago, the No. 17 Hawkeyes thwarted the No. 20 Lions, 24-3, in each team's Big Ten opener. Two years before that, Penn State entered Iowa City with a 9-0 record and a No. 3 ranking in the BCS standings. The Hawkeyes ended any national title hopes with a 24-23 win on a last-second field goal.

The Lions were coming off their bye week - just like they are this year.

Only two players on Penn State's current roster, linebacker Michael Mauti and center Matt Stankiewitch, appeared in the 2008 game.

Of course, Penn State cannot get to the national title game this year. Because of NCAA penalties, the Lions cannot even get to the Big Ten title game.

But O'Brien, who is 1-1 on the road, has stressed the importance of each game to his non-bowl-eligible team.

"It's going to be an electric atmosphere," O'Brien said. "The crowd noise is definitely going to be a factor, so we've got to make sure that we deal with that in the right way."

At practice this week, O'Brien cranked up loud music. He wanted to see if his team could communicate and stay focused.

It was good training, but nothing can truly prepare the Lions for Kinnick Stadium. They just have to go, face the cold, and see what they are made of.

Penn State at Iowa

Saturday at 8 p.m., Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa

TV/Radio: Big Ten Network; WNTP-AM (990).

Records: Penn State, 4-2, 2-0 Big Ten; Iowa, 4-2, 2-0.

Coaches: Penn State, Bill O'Brien (first season, 4-2); Iowa, Kirk Ferentz (14th season, 100-68).

Series: Iowa leads the series, 12-9. Iowa has won the last four games in Iowa City, including a 24-23 win in 2008 that ended Penn State's 9-0 run.

Betting line: Iowa by 31/2.

Three things to watch

Another fast start for Penn State? That's been key to the team's success. The Nittany Lions have outscored their opposition, 52-0, in the first quarter this season, and by 86-23 in the first half.

The Lions' third-down defense, which has vastly improved over their four-game winning streak. After allowing Ohio and Virginia to convert a combined 22 of 38 (61 percent) third downs, the Lions have limited their last four opponents to 14 of 54 (26 percent).

Iowa's running game, which has been hit hard by injuries. The latest casualty is Mark Weisman, the walk-on who ran for at least 100 yards in each of the last four games. Weisman is doubtful Saturday with an ankle sprain. How will the Hawkeyes respond?

Three things you might not know

The game pits two of the nation's top scoring defenses against each other. The Lions rank 15th in the country, allowing 16 points per game, while the Hawkeyes are 21st (17.2).

This is the sixth consecutive year Penn State will face Iowa. But after this game, the teams are not scheduled to meet again until 2015.

Four of Iowa's first six games have been decided by three points or fewer (2-2), including two games decided by one point.

- Emily Kaplan

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