UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Monday right after an off week is one of those risky days. Senior offensive tackle Mike Farrell, a Shady Side Academy graduate, has experienced enough of them to know.
A team can return lax, he said, not prepared to run and hit and watch film. Farrell didn't see that this time. He saw the right mix of intensity from coach Bill O'Brien and his teammates, mainly because they must have that quality.
Refreshed from a break and a month free of turmoil, Penn State knows the next six games, starting today with Iowa, will be tougher and will dictate how this trying season is remembered.
For Penn State, this past month has been startlingly normal, beginning with the four consecutive victories. The criticism and sting from the early losses to Mid-American Conference Ohio and a mediocre Atlantic Coast Conference program in Virginia have worn off.
- Matchup: Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) vs. Iowa (4-2, 2-0), 8 p.m. today, Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa.
- TV, Radio, Internet: Big Ten Network; KQV-AM (1410) and Penn State Sports Network; www.Go-PSUsports.com.
- Penn State: Has lost three of its past four games against Iowa but won a year ago at home. ... The Nittany Lions are outscoring opponents, 52-0, in the first quarter this season. ... Has gotten healthier as the year has gone on -- it has only two players listed on its injury report: OG Mark Arcidiacono and LB Nyeem Wartman.
- Iowa: Is 6-3 in night games at Kinnick Stadium. It has won its past three. ... Top RB Mark Weisman has a sprained ankle and will likely miss the game. He has rushed for 631 yards this season. ... Has had 10 players record their first career start this season.
- Hidden stat: Iowa ranks 21st in Division I-A in scoring defense, giving up 17.2 points a game. Penn State ranks 15th, giving up 16 points a game.
No one has transferred either. Wide receiver Shawney Kersey and kicker Matt Marcincin were the last to leave, the week after the Virginia loss. All has been quiet on the off-field front since then. Even the Jerry Sandusky sentencing took place on the off week. Football pretty much has felt like football.
"There just hasn't been a lot going around besides football, and I think that's really been a key part to our success," safety Jake Fagnano said.
Fagnano, as well as wide receiver Allen Robinson, did not want to call this recent string of success a calm period, citing the remaining schedule.
"I don't think as a team we can get too comfortable or too relaxed," Robinson said. "We've won a few games. As a team it's nice. Guys just keep pushing. We can't be satisfied, especially at this point in the season."
At least once, O'Brien has used the term "murderer's row" to describe the teams that await Penn State. In reality, Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin are not the football equivalent of Combs, Gehrig, Ruth, et al. Their combined record is just 8-7 in the Big Ten Conference. Take away winless Indiana and Purdue from the equation, though, and the teams are 8-2 in conference play.
If Penn State wants the positive vibes to last, it has to succeed in the final half of the season. Team members always talk about having "something" to play for even though they can't win a Big Ten championship or play in a bowl game. They're playing to build a foundation.
The common refrain, as it is for any team, is one game at a time, and Penn State has gone so far as to rename this cliché the "one-game season." While still acknowledging that motivational strategy, linebacker Mike Hull stressed that the second half of this season means more than just six games.
"If we win and are successful," he said, "it will help with recruiting and set a tone for the future."
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @mdent05.