All those rumors about Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. ...
Somebody really painted the visitors locker room pink. Fans really sit within 10 feet of the benches. Penn State really struggles inside the stadium.
From a hospitality standpoint, the Nittany Lions are bracing for the worst when they meet Iowa at 8 p.m. today.
“It’s one of the most intense atmospheres in college football,” senior defensive end Pete Massaro said. “I have been away at Alabama, Ohio State and some places like that. I would say Iowa’s stadium is pretty vicious.”
It’s especially vicious when Penn State visits.
The Nittany Lions haven’t prevailed at Iowa since 1999. The putrid stretch includes four straight losses, with the most recent one coming in 2010. Sixteen current Penn State players participated in the 24-3 loss.
“As far as road games go, it’s one of the ones I remember the most,” senior safety Jake Fagnano said. “It’s real hostile. The fans are crazy. It’s just an exciting place to play football. It has been one of my favorite places to travel to.”
One of the most frustrating losses in recent Penn State history occurred at Kinnick Stadium.
Daniel Murray’s 31-yard field with one second left propelled the Hawkeyes to a 24-23 victory on Nov. 9, 2008. The Nittany Lions entered the game 9-0 and ranked third. They won their final two regular season games. The loss might have cost Penn State a shot at playing for the BCS title.
Neither team will enter tonight’s game ranked. But the stakes are high because the Nittany Lions (4-2) and Hawkeyes (4-2) are both 2-0 in Big Ten play. Penn State is still eligible to capture the Leaders Division trophy despite a NCAA-mandated postseason ban. Iowa is tied with Michigan atop the Legends Division.
Bill O’Brien has never served as a head coach at night. He’s leaning on his five years with the New England Patriots, one of the NFL’s biggest primetime draws, when handling today’s logistics.
The docket includes a team breakfast, meeting and walk through. The cycle will be repeated until the team buses arrive at the 70,585-seat stadium.
The staff has devised ways to help players handle the crowd noise. Artificial noise, including upbeat playlists, filled the air throughout this week’s practices. O’Brien started plotting for tonight and next week’s home game against Ohio State, which begins at 5:30 p.m., by conducting multiple night practices during the preseason.
On the field, quarterback Matt McGloin said communication among players must be precise. Gaffes will be magnified because the teams are statistical equals. Penn State averages 27 points per game, five more than Iowa. Both teams are allowing less than 20 points.
The Nittany Lions haven’t committed a turnover on the road. But they haven’t played at a place like Iowa, which has sold out 59 of its past 61 games. Penn State visited tame Virginia and apathetic Illinois last month. Neither stadium was filled to capacity.
“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 we deal with it the right way.”
O’Brien’s players are enthused about trying to silence a rowdy bunch.
“We like a challenge,” McGloin said. “We like playing on the road at night in the Big Ten. We are just going to have to match their intensity and get off to a good start and quiet the crowd the best we can.”
Penn State’s misery at Kinnick Stadium will end in one form or another tonight. The Nittany Lions don’t return to Iowa City until Nov. 5, 2016.
Christian Hackenberg, Eugene Lewis and Akeel Lynch might want to start memorizing those stories about pink locker rooms.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.