Penn State aiming to make noise in Iowa for a change


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Cornerback Stephon Morris used the word "hate," which certainly is not a rarity within the sports world but is new to any description involving Penn State and Iowa. Earlier this week, he tweeted about the Hawkeyes, "This is a huge game, we hate them they hate us."

Coach Bill O'Brien, of course, corrected Morris, traveling along the politically correct route. He said nobody hated Iowa. He said Penn State respected the Hawkeyes.

Either way, this Saturday night matchup is interesting. The Penn State-Iowa games have turned into some of the most-anticipated on the schedule for the Nittany Lions in recent years. Close scores, a 3-9 record against Iowa since joining the Big Ten Conference and a long losing streak at Iowa have added intrigue. Hate might be an overstatement, but rival fits.

"Within my time period, we and Iowa have been a rivalry, and we're really excited to play them," safety Jake Fagnano said.

Fagnano is a fifth-year senior. He has experienced Iowa in all sorts of ways.

The previous time they played at Iowa, in 2010, it was a night game, the same as this year. Fans wore black and yellow. The cheering section started about 5 feet behind the benches of Penn State.

"At a night game, they're going to be pretty crazy," Fagnano said. "They're going to be riled up. You're going to be able to hear everything they say."

The Iowa fans will have plenty of taunts for Penn State. The Hawkeyes not only won that game in '10, they've won every home game against the Nittany Lions since '01. Penn State's most recent victory at Iowa came in 1999, and even that is technically not a victory because of NCAA sanctions.

In fairness, few teams have won at Iowa in this time period. Since '02, the Hawkeyes are 57-14 at home.

O'Brien has not experienced Iowa like his players but noted its difficult atmosphere. In the preseason, the team practiced a couple of times at night to prepare for such games. Doing so during the semester is not feasible, but O'Brien played music extra loud at practice Wednesday to replicate the noise at Kinnick Stadium. Songs from the Notorious B.I.G. and The Naked and Famous might not compare exactly to thousands of screaming Iowans, but the tunes drowned out any opportunity to speak comfortably.

"Our players are only going to be able to communicate with each other through verbal communication and through signaling," O'Brien said. "So we've got to do a great job of that. That's a big part of practice this week, and that's what we're trying to do."

Both teams are 4-2 and 2-0 in the Big Ten. Iowa plays a physical style of football. Behind running back Mark Weisman, who likely will miss the game because of a sprained ankle, the offense has gained 154.7 rushing yards per game and averages greater than four minutes per possession on scoring drives. Much like Penn State, the Hawkeyes don't turn the ball over often. Iowa has just four turnovers this season (Penn State has five).

"Their offense wants to grind and beat you up and break down the field," Fagnano said. "... We're going to play our style of defense and let the tougher team win."

psusports

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, Twitter: @mdent05.


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