Iowa Football

Overlooking Penn State? Plenty of reasons for Iowa not to do that

Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) looks to pass in the second quarter at an Iowa Hawkeyes football
Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) looks to pass in the second quarter at an Iowa Hawkeyes football game with the Penn State Nittany Lions at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Kirk Ferentz was asked at his weekly Zoom news conference Tuesday if he was concerned his Iowa football team would be too overconfident for its game Saturday. That it might take its opponent too lightly.

Penn State is the opponent.

Just think about that for a minute. And it was probably a fair question.

“I’ve thought about that a little bit,” the Hawkeyes coach admitted. “All you have to do is look at the film, and if that doesn’t get your attention ... I can’t remember ever being on the field where their guys don’t look good and play well and play hard and are good at every position.”

Iowa (2-2) goes to Happy Valley for a 2:30 p.m. game (Big Ten Network) against a Penn State club that’s not happy. That’s shockingly 0-4.

That got blown out at home two weeks ago by Maryland. Traditional blue bloods just don’t lose their first four, even in a whacky COVID season.

But these Nittany Lions have, and Iowa is determined to ignore it. Just file that information far, far away.

“They’re a great team, a well-coached team,” said Iowa linebacker Seth Benson. “Any game in the Big Ten is hard to win. We just have to go out there, can’t even look at that record, just know that every game you’ve got to go out there and earn it. They have great players, a great coach, we’ve been 0-6 versus them in the past (six years), so we’ve just got to go out there and earn the win.”

Other than watching tape, there should be another thing that motivates this Iowa team. As Benson mentioned, the Hawkeyes are zero for their last six against Penn State, haven’t beaten the Nittany Lions since 2010.

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You’d think it’d be hard to get overconfident when it has been 10 years since you’ve beaten someone.

“They’re still Penn State,” said Iowa receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. “Obviously they have some things to work out ... But they’ve still got a great coach, they’ve still got a good defensive coordinator, still have great athletes on the whole roster. So we’ve still got to treat this as it’s just another game, as if they’re 4-0 and seventh-ranked in the nation. We’re taking this as if they’re not 0-4, that it’s the same Penn State that beat us the last (four) years.”

Penn State had over 500 yards last week at Nebraska and held the Cornhuskers to under 300. Yet it still lost, 30-23, falling behind, 21-0, and not quite being able to complete the comeback.

The Nittany Lions lost their opener in overtime to Indiana on a controversial two-point conversion by the Hoosiers and were beaten soundly in Week 2 by Ohio State. Among other things, their defense and quarterback Sean Clifford have been inconsistent.

But it’s still Penn State.

“Any road game represents a unique challenge,” said Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras. “You need to have special road focus to make sure we’re locked in there. Their record is almost irrelevant. They’re a really talented team, (been) really close in a lot of these games. I think the worst thing we could do would be to look at their record and take these guys lightly, because they’re a really talented team and have some really good players. It’s going to be a good game on Saturday. They’re going to bring a good fight, so we need to be ready.”

“When our guys look at the film, unless they are just delusional, they are seeing what we are seeing, guys that are a lot of good football players,” Ferentz said. “Things are not quite just clicking yet, and my guess is it’s going to at some point. I just hope it isn’t this Saturday. We have to prepare. We haven’t beaten these guys in a decade, right? That’s a long time, and there’s a reason for that. They are a good football team. We are going to have to be at our best to have a chance to win.”

Quick slants

• Ferentz said injured offensive tackle Coy Cronk has begun working out again with the team. Cronk is a graduate transfer from Indiana who started the first two games but apparently re-injured an ankle that required surgery and cost him most of last season with the Hoosiers.

Ferentz also said defensive lineman John Waggoner won’t be back this week. He missed last week’s game at Minnesota for an undisclosed reason. Guard Kyler Schott also remains out.

• All-America kicker Keith Duncan made his first four field goals this season but has missed his last two. Though the one he missed last week at Minnesota was from 50 yards.

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He was asked how he would assess his season at the halfway point, and brought up a golf analogy. That’s one of his favorite activities outside of kicking.

“Still trying to get used to not having fans in the stadium,” Duncan said. “Started out fairly well I’d say, four out of four, then, obviously, it’s been kind of disappointing the last two games. Kind of watching The Masters (last) week, I’m a big golf guy, I saw Tiger Woods hit a 10 on a par-3 that he’s probably played hundreds of times. He’s probably hit that club that he used thousands of times. Then he ended up finishing, I think, 5-under in his last six holes. So that basically comes down to how you respond, how you carry yourself mentally and physically. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

• Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Cody Ince had his first media availability this season Tuesday. The Wisconsinite has started the last two games at right guard, with the unavailability of Schott and Cronk.

Iowa has rushed for 200-plus yards in both of those games.

“There have been some unfortunate things that have happened, but when you hear your name called, you’ve got to take that opportunity and run with it,” Ince said. “There is always room for improvement, and I know I’ve got to do better on some things in the run game and pass game. But I’m just happy with the opportunity, and hopefully I can help the team out.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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