Iowa-Penn State: You Can't Hide Your Lion Eyes

By ClassyHawkeye on November 20, 2020 at 2:00 pm
© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Save us Don Henley. . .

In the midst of my somber 100-mile trek back to Des Moines from Iowa City following #17 Iowa’s 17-12 loss to #10 Penn State last October (its sixth-straight loss in the series), I needed an escape from the cliched interviews of the Hawkeye Radio Network Postgame Show. So I went to Spotify and hit "shuffle." Suddenly, I was listening to the Eagles:

Puns aside, the song was a fitting summary of that night’s affair as well as the last few years of the Iowa-Penn State series as a whole. Since 2016 when the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions were deemed crossover rivals by the Big Ten, Iowa has entered the Penn State game a combined 18-5. Yet following each loss they’ve gone a combined 17-8 the rest of the way. While that sounds like a pretty good record for the Hawkeyes' program, in reality Iowa hasn't won anything of note since 2015 (the last season they didn't play the Nittany Lions). 

Entering each of the last four Penn State games the Hawkeyes would tease us. They'd tell us they could be special. We'd wanted to believe they could be special.

But all four times against the Nittany Lions, like a cheating spouse, Iowa revealed its lyin' eyes.

Iowa vs. Penn State Since 2016
Year Record Entering PSU Game Result Record Following PSU Game Final Record (B1G)
2016 5-3 (3-2) L, 41-14 3-1 (3-0) 8-5 (6-3)
2017 3-0 (0-0) L, 21-19 5-4 (4-4) 8-5 (4-5)
2018 6-1 (3-1) L, 30-24 3-2 (2-2) 9-4 (5-4)
2019 4-1 (1-1) L, 17-12 6-1 (5-1) 10-3 (6-3)


By the time the 2016 Hawkeyes arrived to Central Pennsylvania, the season was already a disappointment. Ranked 17th and picked by most to win the Big Ten West in the preseason, Iowa entered Happy Valley 5-3 but still with a shot at a 10-win campaign. Instead they turned in arguably the worst performance of the Ferentz era.

A Beaver Stadium whiteout swallowed the Hawkeyes whole and helped Penn State put up 599 yards of total offense (359 on the ground!) including 211 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns from Saquon Barkley in the 41-14 defeat. The Nittany Lions also averaged 13.3 yards per pass, leading many, including Barkley, to speculate whether the Hawkeyes had quit during the game. “You can see in their demeanor when they don’t want to be on the field no more,” Barkley told reporters after the beatdown. 

And judging by the tape, his comments are tough to dispute:

The 2016 debacle gets glossed over by most thanks to the Keith Duncan Game seven days later. Still, it was an emphatic final nail in the coffin for a disappointing Iowa team with conference-title aspirations.

“She gets up and pours herself a strong one

And stares out at the stars up in the sky

Another night, it's gonna be a long one

She draws the shade and hangs her head to cry”

2017: Juwan $%^&ing Johnson

The 2017 Hawkeyes were young and inexperienced, but still 3-0 entering a showdown under the lights against #4 Penn State. A vintage Kinnick Stadium crowd and a pair of stirring touchdowns by Akrum Wadley helped Iowa overcome Barkley’s epic leap over future Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year Josh Jackson and take a 19-15 lead, 1:42 away from an upset.  

Sadly, the Hawkeyes left four seconds too many on the clock. 

The box score showed it was a minor-miracle that Iowa was even in position to win the game, especially given Penn State’s 579 yards of total offense, 305 by Barkley alone. Still, by Amani Hooker’s fingertips, Trace McSorley hit Juwan Johnson in the back of the end-zone, the Nittany Lions escaped Iowa City with the 21-19 win and the Hawkeyes went 5-4 the rest of the way.

“Late at night a big old house gets lonely

I guess every form of refuge has its price

And it breaks her heart to think her love is only

Given to a man with hands as cold as ice”

2018: Pure Disgust

Personally, this was the most disgusted I’ve ever been walking out of an Iowa game, partly because of how the Hawkeyes lost (and because I was drenched in rain and mud) but mostly because of what could have been. The #19 Hawkeyes stormed into Beaver Stadium at 6-1 and poised to put the Big Ten West in a stranglehold. Early on, Iowa was in complete control of the game—so much so that punter Colten Rastetter threw a touchdown pass to defensive-end Sam Brinks to make it 12-0 in the first quarter.

But because we can't have nice things, Iowa was outscored 30-12 the rest of the way in a crushing 30-24 loss. The game (and season) basically came down to two mistakes by Nate Stanley, the first a gut-wrenching overthrow on a would-be wide open touchdown for tight end T.J. Hockensen:

And the second a back-breaking interception on the goal-line with just under 3:30 left.

Iowa should have left State College 7-1 and on its way to Indianapolis. Instead, following the Happy Valley disaster the Hawkeyes collapsed, laying an egg at Purdue and watching Northwestern clinch the Big Ten West in Iowa City two weeks later. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions went on to lose by 35 at Michigan the next week (Eye-Roll Emoji).

“My oh my, you sure know how to arrange things

You set it up so well, so carefully

Ain't it funny how your new life didn't change things?

You're still the same old girl you used to be”

2019: Meh

Last year, an experienced Iowa team was once again picked to finish at or near the top of the Big Ten West and entered its date with Penn State 4-1 (1-1) and looking to keep its championship hopes alive. The Hawkeyes may have looked awesome in their winged-throwback uniforms, but they never really seemed comfortable in a 17-12 loss under the lights at Kinnick.

Can Penn State players please stop leaping Iowa defenders???

Ultimately, a pair of turnovers doomed the Hawkeyes, wasting 286 passing yards from Stanley and one of the nicest catches in school history courtesy of wide-receiver Brandon Smith.

Losing to Penn State is largely irrelevant if the Hawkeyes can't solve the problem of beating Wisconsin, but the 2017 and 2019 losses to Penn State narrowed Iowa's road to Indianapolis before the leaves turned. In 2018 the Badgers went only 8-5, yet the loss to the Nittany Lions still derailed what should have been a much more memorable season. Sure, 10-3 was fun last year, but winning the Big Ten West should be the bigger goal for Iowa every season and it starts with beating teams slightly above its weight-class from time-to-time.

“You can't hide your lyin' eyes

And your smile is a thin disguise

I thought by now you'd realize

There ain't no way to hide your lyin' eyes”

One of these nights?

The 2019 loss dropped Ferentz to his sixth-straight defeat against Penn State and his fifth consecutive loss in the post-JoePa era. When you’re winless in five tries against the dynamic head coaching duo of Bill O’Brien and James Franklin, it feels like something is wrong.

Still, once upon a time, Iowa owned Penn State. In what seems like a recurring theme with the program under Ferentz, you have to go back almost two decades to find some good history for the Hawkeyes in this series. . .but it's there.

Saturday will be the fifth time Iowa has faced a Nittany Lions team limping in with a losing record (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004). The Hawkeyes are 4-0 in those matchups, all part of a 5-0 run for Iowa against Penn State from 2000-2004. The last time the Hawkeyes faced an under .500 Nittany Lions team? Three words: Six to Four.

So, even in the midst of a six-game skid, the last four of them (above) being absolute torture, history is actually pointing in Iowa's direction on Saturday. With an 0-4 Penn State team lining up across from them, the full moon is calling, the fever is high and the wicked wind whispers and moans. The Hawkeyes have to beat the Nittany Lions on at least one of these crazy long nights, right?. . .RIGHT?!


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