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IOWA CITY — Zach VanValkenburg’s ears were ringing for a while Saturday.
When did they stop? “When I got home,” VanValkenburg said.
“They’re good now. I don’t have tinnitus or anything.”
“Obviously there wasn’t a lot of hearing going on Saturday,” VanValkenburg said.
It caused several communication mishaps for Penn State’s offensive line.
The Nittany Lions had eight false start penalties, costing them 35 yards. Two were within their own 5-yard-line, leading to fewer than the typical 5 yards penalized.
For comparison, Penn State backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson, who was in for all eight of the penalties, had only 34 passing yards.
“I've never seen a crowd affect the game as much as they did on Saturday,” Iowa safety Jack Koerner said.
At some points, Koerner “couldn't even hear myself talk,” including on a fourth-down play where defensive back Matt Hankins’ tackle kept Penn State a yard short of a first down.
That noise also causes a problem for Iowa’s defense, though.
“We have a lot of communication on defense, so actually home games are a lot harder for us on defense,” VanValkenburg said. “The away games are actually really easy for communication.”
The defense instead used hand signals to communicate presnap adjustments.
“We can’t rely on just being able to hear the calls from someone who is 5 or 7 yards away from you,” VanValkenburg said.
The defense practiced communicating with hand signals in loud environments, so it wasn’t a new concept for the Penn State game.
“(A game) can’t be the first time you’ve done it,” VanValkenburg said.
That usually involves blaring music. The playlist has a variety of songs.
“It’s a whole collage of different types of rap music, oldies-but-goodies and there might be a country song in there,” Koerner said. “It’s a whole just smorgasbord.”
Still, linebacker Jack Campbell said it’s not the same as having tens of thousands of screaming fans.
“You can’t replicate that in practice,” Campbell said.
Experiencing that volume of noise, Campbell said, “helped us grow a little bit.”
Defensive challenges aside, the noise still is a “net positive” because of the challenges to the opposing offense, VanValkenburg said.
“I hope the fans come out and do the same thing this week,” VanValkenburg said.
Iowa will have another sellout soon with its Saturday tilt against Purdue.
The Hawkeyes are preparing for the noise again although a 3-2 Purdue team likely won’t draw quite as much excitement as a top-5 Penn State team.
Iowa has prepared in practice for another noisy environment, meaning another week of loud music for the Iowa defense.
After the literal noise was done and VanValkenburg’s ears stopped ringing, a different type of noise persisted — the figurative noise that comes with being the No. 2 team in the country.
“There’s definitely more noise — a lot of social media stuff,” offensive lineman Kyler Schott said. “But if you're really keeping your eyes where they need to be, it's not too bad.”
Iowa has its highest ranking in the Associated Press poll since 1985, many bowl prognosticators have Iowa penciled in the College Football Playoff field and representatives from the Citrus Bowl and Orange Bowl have been at Kinnick.
“If you listen to that positive noise too much, then you will kind of get away from what made you successful,” quarterback Spencer Petras said. “If it’s not from within our building, it doesn’t matter.”
That is especially important ahead of facing a Purdue team that is unranked this season but boasts a 3-1 record in its last four games against the Hawkeyes.
“These guys play hard, and they play well, especially against us,” Petras said. “We have our work cut out for us. It’s a huge game. We’ve got to play well.”
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