Penn State plans to reverse a trend vs. Iowa

It doesn't seem to matter whether Penn State plays Iowa in the freezing cold or the pouring rain, or whether the Nittany Lions are unbeaten and in the hunt for a berth in the BCS championship game, or whether they play in front of a crazed "Whitehouse" crowd at Beaver Stadium.

The Hawkeyes, it seems, always get the better of them.

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Evan Royster hasn't forgotten the Nittany Lions' losses to Iowa. "They kept us out of a BCS bowl the last two years," the running back said.

It's almost become a habit. Iowa, which hosts 22d-ranked Penn State on Saturday night, has defeated its guest in seven of their last eight meetings. But nothing sticks as sourly in the Lions' minds as the last two seasons, as much as they try to forget about them.

Take your pick:

2009: In the rain, the Lions took a 10-0 first- quarter lead and thrilled the "Whitehouse" before shutting down offensively. The Hawkeyes turned the game in their favor after defensive end Adrian Clayborn blocked a punt and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown, part of a 16-point fourth quarter that gave Iowa a 21-10 victory.

2008: Penn State carried a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter at freezing Kinnick Stadium. But Shonn Greene helped the Hawkeyes reduce the deficit with a touchdown run, and Daryll Clark's interception set up Iowa on a drive that ended with Daniel Murray's last-second 31-yard field goal, good for a 24-23 win over the previously unbeaten Lions.

Asked about the one memory that stands out, Penn State running back Evan Royster said: "To tell you the truth, I don't know.

"It was tough to lose to Iowa two years in a row like that. It was kind of heartbreaking. It hurt our season two years ago. Last year, we got off to an early lead, but then we had a punt blocked and the momentum went their way."

Safety Drew Astorino said the 2008 game stood out.

"I would say that my most vivid memory was at Iowa, when they kicked the field goal and all the fans stormed the field," he said. "We walked off the field with our heads down while they all celebrated."

It's difficult to determine which loss was more crushing. The Nittany Lions entered both games with a higher ranking (No. 3 in 2008, No. 5 in 2009). They had more experience at quarterback. The Hawkeyes were 5-4 before playing Penn State in 2008, and an unimpressive and unranked 3-0 in 2009.

But Iowa found a way to win, especially last year with the blocked punt and four turnovers, including three interceptions thrown by Clark.

"Last year, we thought we had them licked, and we made one or two mistakes and they took advantage of it," coach Joe Paterno said. "The year before that, they scored on a field goal on the last play of the ball game, a great job on the last drive."

The Lions enter Saturday night's game against the 17th-ranked Hawkeyes - with a forecast of clear skies and temperatures dipping into the 40s - in a different position, as the underdogs.

Now it's Iowa with the experienced quarterback in senior Ricky Stanzi. Clayborn has returned to anchor what has been the nation's stingiest defense. And the crowd at Kinnick Stadium has been asked to wear black or gold depending on the section in which they are sitting, to create alternating colors.

In opening their Big Ten schedule against Iowa for the second consecutive year, the Nittany Lions shied away from calling this game a measuring stick. But they do want to show a national television audience more than they exhibited in the last two games against the Hawkeyes, and have some extra motivation in reserve.

"It creates a rivalry for us," Royster said. "I guess you could say we hold a grudge against them because they kept us out of a BCS bowl the last two years. It's something that fires us up and makes us want to win this game more."

 


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.