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Iowa Vs. Penn State: The Best Rivalry in Big Ten College Football, Part 1

Posted on September 27, 2010 by JA Allen

IA QB Ricky Stanzi celebrates 24-23 victory over Penn State.

The Iowa vs. Penn State rivalry in college football has ballooned in importance, especially in recent years as Iowa continues to roll out one impressive football team after another.

Penn State has the storied football past, having cemented its place in the upper echelons of successful college football programs.

In the early years, Penn State owned Iowa, winning five of their first seven meetings.

Iowa won twice prior to 1980, in 1930 and again in 1976.

Many felt Penn State would dominate the conference when the Nittany Lions became a full-fledged member of the Big Ten in 1993. After all, Penn State had won National Championships in 1982 and again in 1986.

The Lions did win the Big Ten conference title in 1994 with a perfect 12-0 season. They won it again in 2005, going 11-1, and in 2008 when they tied for first place with Ohio State. The Nittany Lions’ only conference loss in 2008 came against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Dallas Clark of the Iowa Hawkeyes Football Team.

During the Hayden Fry years (1979-98), Iowa played Penn State six times, twice in 1983-1984 when Penn State was an Independent, and four times as Big Ten opponents. Iowa won twice, in 1983 and then again in 1996.

When Kirk Ferentz came to Iowa, the dominance by Penn State began to wane.

In fact, in the nine times the two teams have met during the Ferentz era at Iowa (1999-present), the Hawkeyes hold a decided advantage, winning seven of nine or 78 percent of the games played.

This year marks the 23rd meeting of Iowa vs. Penn State on the football field. To date they are tied at 11 each in the series.

Starting in 2000, Iowa has won all but once––losing to the Nittany Lions in 2007.

Since Penn State’s entry into the Big Ten, against the Iowa Hawkeyes, the visiting team has won eight of their 13 meetings.

The last time came in 2009, when Iowa defeated Penn State in Beaver Stadium under the lights, 21-7.

Surveying the game stats, it is evident that when Penn State wins, they win big and when they lose, it is usually very close.

For example, in their five wins over Iowa since joining the Big Ten, their average winning margin is 25.8 points. In their eight losses, the average losing margin is 5.75 points.

The largest losing margin was in 2009, when Iowa won by 14 points. Twice Penn State lost by one point, once by two, and once by three.

So what can we glean by these facts? Perhaps that when it is close, Iowa finds a way to win.

That said––Penn State had better score big if they expect to win this contest on Saturday because just take a look at what happens when Iowa stays close––as we examine the five best finishes in the rivalry’s history….

1996: Iowa 21, Penn State 20

The Date: 10/19/1996. The Place: Beaver Stadium. The Coaches: Joe Paterno vs. Hayden Fry.

Iowa's Tim Dwight trying to evade being tackled.

It was raining and cold. Penn State was ranked No. 10 in the AP Poll, while Iowa was listed in the “others receiving votes” category after being knocked off earlier in the season by Tulsa.

Iowa had not been applauded much of late, and had not defeated a Top 10 team in the previous six seasons.

The stands appeared mostly deserted for a home Penn State game as the teams tried to duke it out in the mud, moving the chains more by slipping and sliding into downs, often suffering from miscues.

It seemed at times that more yardage was awarded on penalties than gained on the ground.

It took special plays to break Iowa out of the mud-fest and propel them into the end zone. Tim Dwight, the speedster, who thrilled fans during his playing days at Iowa, scored on an 83-yard punt return.

But that was nothing compared to the contribution of a redshirt freshman, Rob Thein.

Hayden Fry, who loved to practice sleight of hand, used Thein to engineer one of his patented trick plays to foil Paterno’s Nittany Lions late in the contest.

Sedric Shaw played at Iowa in 1996.

Early in the fourth quarter, with Penn State clinging to a 20-14 lead, Iowa recovered a fumble as Wally Richardson, Penn State’s quarterback, was sacked by Iowa safety Kerry Cooks.

Jared Devries fell on the ball at the Penn State 33-yard line.

Now, Fry had devised a special halfback pass play for just such an occasion. Halfback Thein had practiced this one play for weeks waiting for the right moment.

In his entire football career, Thein had thrown one pass in a game and it had fallen incomplete. During the process of preparing for this occasion, Thein had become known as “One-Play Rob” to the coaching staff.

With Thein sitting on the bench until that moment, Fry called upon the halfback to win the game for the Hawkeyes. Thein’s pass was not a thing of beauty, referred to by commentators as a “wounded duck” as it wafted through the air.

But it was caught by Demo Odems on the Penn State eight-yard line. Tavian Banks barreled his way through two tacklers and scored subsequently. Zach Bromert kicked the PAT and Iowa led, 21-20.

That is when the potent Iowa defense clamped down on Penn State hard. In fact, Penn State did not score at all in the second half and Iowa escaped with a one-point victory.

2000: Iowa 26, Penn State 23 (2 OTs)

The Date: 11/4/2000. The Place: Beaver Stadium. The Coaches: Kirk Ferentz vs. Joe Paterno.

The year 2000 was not a good one for the Iowa Hawkeyes, nor the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State ended the year at 5-7, 4-4 in the Big Ten. Iowa, in its second season under Kirk Ferentz, ended the year 3-9, 3-5 in the Big Ten.

Both teams were rebuilding or reloading, depending on your point of view.

The Hawkeyes started off the scoring when Iowa quarterback Kyle McCann threw a pass to Kahlil Hill for a touchdown, and Nate Kaeding kicked the extra point. That was all the scoring in the first quarter.

The second quarter brought a trio of field goals, with Kaeding adding two for Iowa (48 and 49 yards respectively), and Ryan Primanti adding one (42 yards) for Penn State. Iowa led at the half, 13-3.

The third quarter was pretty much a defensive struggle, although Primanti managed another 32-yard field goal to inch closer, with Iowa holding on, 13-6.

The fourth quarter brought a new surge from the Nittany Lions, and they scored on a two-yard toss from Penn State quarterback Rashard Casey to John Gilmore for their first touchdown of the day, with Primanti adding the extra point. The score was now tied at 13-13.

Kaeding added another 46-yard field goal for Iowa to send the score to 16-13. Primanti sent the game into overtime when he kicked a 28-yard field goal with 2:59 left in the fourth quarter, tying the score at 16-16.

Penn State’s kicker Primanti, who had made three field goals on the afternoon, had a chance to win the game on the last play of regulation, but his 56-yard attempt fell just short.

Penn State QB Casey had a six-yard touchdown run to give Penn State a 23-16 lead in the first overtime. But the Hawkeyes answered with an 11-yard touchdown run by Ladell Betts.

Nate Kaeding saved the day for Iowa.

Kaeding kicked a 26-yard field goal in the second overtime.  Rashard Casey’s pass on the first play of Penn State’s possession was intended for tight end Tony Stewart.

It hit him, but Ryan Hansen dived to catch the ball, intercepting the pass to give visiting Iowa a 26-23 victory over Penn State.

Casey had a career day before the interception, setting personal bests with 27 completions on 51 attempts for 302 yards, and one interception.

Kyle McCann threw for 232 yards with one touchdown, and one interception for the Hawkeyes, and Betts had 25 carries for 101 yards.

For Penn State, it was another agonizing defeat.

The win for Iowa stopped its losing skid at three games. It was a defining game for the Iowa defense, with most of the offense coming on the toe of a fine Iowa kicker, Nate Kaeding.

Stay tuned for 2002, 2004 and 2008…


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