Penn State prepares for rowdy Iowa atmosphere

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State knows all too well that Iowa is a very difficult place to play, and there are numerous reasons why.

First, there’s the infamous pink locker room for the visitors, which may have some odd psychological effect, right?

“I think the pink locker room is awesome,” Penn State coach James Franklin said Tuesday. “I think it’s one of the better stories in college football.”

Sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons will be making his first trip to Iowa on Saturday, but he doesn’t expect the pink locker room to bother him. For fun, Parsons was asked what he would put in a locker room to bother opponents.

“I’d say put ants or something in the room,” Parsons said. “Some bugs. I get creeped out by bugs.”

After leaving the pink locker room, visiting players at Iowa are forced to stand oh so very close to the fans. Unlike Beaver Stadium and most football venues, there’s very little space on the sideline at Kinnick Stadium, so fans literally can reach out and touch the visiting players.

“(The fans) are right on top of you the way the stadium’s built,” Franklin said. “It’s not one of those old-school stadiums that used to have a track around it. They are right on top of you.”

Those intangibles are part of what makes a trip to Iowa tough. Many outstanding teams have learned that over the years as they’ve gone into Iowa City as favorites, only to leave with a tough loss.

“We know how successful they have been playing in these types of games,” Franklin acknowledged.

The Nittany Lions experienced it in 2008 when Iowa, thanks to a pass interference call on Anthony Scirrotto, rallied in the fourth quarter for a 24-23 win that spoiled Penn State’s perfect season.

Two years later, the Hawkeyes crushed Penn State, 24-3, at Kinnick Stadium.

Penn State won there easily, 38-14, in 2012. Two years ago, it took a miracle ending with Trace McSorley hitting Juwan Johnson on fourth down from the 7 on the game’s final play to steal a 21-19 victory.

Iowa loves to have night games against high-profile opponents, which always helps the home team. It wasn’t confirmed until a few weeks ago that this would be a night game — 7:30 p.m. kickoff — but that was easily assumed given the history.

Once the game starts, there’s just something about the Hawkeyes that makes them challenging. They don’t have the plethora of elite recruits that Penn State, Ohio State or Michigan have, but all of those teams have left Kinnick Stadium with bad losses over the years.

In fact, Iowa’s upset win over Michigan in 2016 opened the door for Penn State to win the Big Ten East and advance to the conference championship game.

The Lions have similar hopes this year, but they’ll have to avoid an upset this weekend.

“They are a program and a team that has an identity and have built toward that identity and recruited toward that identity and schemed toward that identity for a long time,” Franklin said. “That starts with the head coach.”

Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured coach in major college football, taking over the program in 1999. He lost his first game against Penn State that year, then beat the Lions five consecutive times and eight out of nine from 2000 to 2010.

Penn State has had the upper hand in the series of late, winning the last five meetings, including two on the road.

But this Lions team has a new starting quarterback in Sean Clifford who will be making just his second road start, and things won’t be anywhere near as pleasant for him as they were in Penn State’s 59-0 blowout at Maryland.

Iowa also will have a chip on its shoulder for this contest after losing a big game to Michigan last week, 10-3.

“What they have done a really good job is not allowing maybe what is the hot fad or the sexy current fad to impact them,” Franklin said of Iowa’s style of play. “They are going to do it the way they do it. I look at Wisconsin, very similar in that light.”

Franklin also pointed out that, to Iowa sports fans, the Hawkeyes are as big as it gets in the state.

“They don’t have pro sports teams there. They are the only show — I mean, they are the show,” Franklin said. “They get great support from the state. They get great support from the community.”

Overcoming all of that is tough for any opponent at Kinnick Stadium, and Penn State will have to be ready for it Saturday.