Penn State Football

Here’s how Penn State is preparing for Iowa — and why some players wish they had earplugs

Shaka Toney wishes he could use earplugs during weeks like this.

The Penn State defensive end is accustomed to practicing with the Lasch Building speakers cranked up to mimic crowd noise. But, with a tougher-than-usual road environment looming against No. 17 Iowa in Kinnick Stadium, the speakers were even louder this week to better prepare the Nittany Lions for Saturday’s Big Ten game.

“You can’t hear yourself think,” Toney said earlier this week, referring to practice. “A lot of times I want to put earplugs in at practice, but we all know you can’t play football with earplugs in.”

Outside the practice gates Wednesday night, at least 50 yards away from the nearest speaker, reporters had to yell to communicate with others inches away. On the field, the noise was even more intense. Franklin previously said the speakers get up to about 105 decibels, which is the equivalent of listening to a jackhammer.

The two speakers on the practice field can’t handle a higher volume than they did this week.

“We had the one day that it blew the circuits,” Franklin said Wednesday night, “but I want it to be louder than it will be in the stadium.”

Kinnick Stadium is one of the Big Ten’s most intimidating environments, a place that’s often ranked as one of the nation’s 25 toughest places to play. The crowd is nearly right on top of the players, with some stretches of sideline just 7 yards away from the crowd, and Iowa officials say the noise has gotten even more intense since Penn State’s last trip in 2017 — a 21-19 walk-off victory — because a new structure now better bounces the sound.

Last year, even without those end-zone renovations, former safety Nick Scott called the stadium “probably the hardest” he’s competed in. Sophomore linebacker Jesse Luketa said his teammates have even told him stories about how players need to keep their helmets on — because, if you don’t, Iowa fans are close enough to snatch it and pass it up the bleachers.

Safety Lamont Wade might’ve been one of those players to warn Luketa.

“I just remember the fans trying to take helmets off, being so close behind us,” Wade said, referring to his last trip to Kinnick in 2017. “We could feel them breathe. That environment is electrifying.”

That’s why crowd noise was such a big focus this week. Toney said, in 2017, he and defensive Antonio Shelton couldn’t hear a thing on the final drive — even as they screamed right next to each other.

So, for younger players not used to that kind of atmosphere, the coaching staff wanted to get them familiar. And for those who already know what to expect, a little practice couldn’t hurt.

“That’s probably the toughest place to play on the road,” Toney said. “It’s the same as our stadium; you feel the intensity in the air.”

Added Wade: “It’s crazy. I feel like it’s the best road environment we travel to, honestly.”

In 2010, Bleacher Report ranked Kinnick Stadium as the 13th-loudest stadium in the country. There are no professional teams in Iowa, no NFL team to pull for or or NBA games to attend. It’s all about the Hawkeyes — well, and the Iowa State Cyclones — and fans are passionate. And they’re loud. Very loud.

Quarterback Sean Clifford was quick to point out he was on the sideline for the 2017 game at Kinnick, which boasts a capacity of 70,585. He didn’t play but knows firsthand just how loud it can get — so the Nittany Lions have taken the noise seriously this week.

“We always talk about making practice harder than the games, and I think we did a good job this week of doing that,” Clifford said. “The music was extremely loud, and we handled it really well. So I don’t think the noise is going to be a problem Saturday.”

In fact, Clifford said, this is the “best week of preparation” the Nittany Lions have had all season. Usually, there’s a dip in intensity here or there. But, this week, it stayed high throughout.

Clifford thought the loud music might’ve played a role in that — “You’re bouncing around, you have to get up, communicate better,” he said — and he feels confident heading into Penn State’s first game this season against a ranked opponent.

It won’t be a road game quite like Maryland — where Penn State’s student section there earned the “Student Section of the Week” award from Taco Bell — but it will be an environment most players don’t get to experience outside of Beaver Stadium.

“I’m excited to go back there and play there again,” offensive lineman Will Fries said. “This is one of those games you dream about as a kid.”