CHICAGO - Kinnick Stadium has earned a reputation as being one of the toughest, Big Ten road venues in which to play. Penn State Quarterback Daryll Clark discovered this first hand during a trip there last November.
The Nittany Lions came into Iowa City unbeaten and ranked No. 3 in the country. The Hawkeyes hobbled into the contest at 5-4 after a loss at Illinois in its previous game.
Penn State dominated the first half, running 47 offensive plays for 203 yards, while the Hawkeyes ran just 15 plays on offense resulting in 70 yards. Despite being on the field a lot, the Iowa defense did manage to toughen up in the red zone and the home team only trailed 13-7 at the intermission.
"I remember coming to the sideline each time we kicked a field goal and kept hearing an Iowa fan say, "You're not going to beat us by kicking field goals. You're not going to beat us,"" Clark recalled on Tuesday here at the Big Ten Kickoff Event "You kick it to the back of your head. But the game got tighter and the game got tighter and I got to the sideline, and (the Iowa fan) said, "I told you, Clark. I told you. You can't keep kicking field goals."
"We were hurting ourselves and not getting down there and punching it in. We did it a couple of times, but not enough."
The Nittany Lions still stretched is lead to 23-14 after three quarters. However, Clark would throw a critical fourth-quarter interception and Iowa scored the game's final 10 points, capped by a 31-yard, game-winning field goal from Daniel Murray with one second left in the game.
"They were struggling but I thought we were struggling, too," Clark said. "We were driving up and down the field and coming away with three points. Against the good teams and being on the road, it's not going to really work."
Penn State, the conference champs in 2008, plays host to the Hawkeyes this season. The teams kick off their Big Ten slates with a Sept. 26, nationally-televised showdown under the lights in Happy Valley.
"We're very excited about that game, being under the lights, at the white house, 110,000 strong," Clark said. "You're chomping at the bit about that game."
The Nittany Lion crowd of 110,000 will come decked out in white in hopes of exacting some revenge from what happened in Iowa City.
"That was a big game," Penn State Linebacker Sean Lee said. "That ruined our perfect season. You have to give credit to them, to Iowa and to Coach (Kirk) Ferentz. They came out and played an unbelievable game.
"No doubt, that Big Ten opener is going to be huge for us. You want to start that Big Ten with a win to propel you through the season. We have to take care of business first. That game won't be as big if we don't take care of business in the first few games."
The Penn State players were being politically correct here to make sure it wasn't perceived as them looking ahead to the Iowa game. They were expected to be heavily favored to win their three games before meeting the Hawkeyes. Akron, Syracuse and Temple were scheduled to go to State College before the Big Ten opener.
"Of course there's a revenge factor, especially when a team beats you the year before," said Lee, who missed last year's game with an injury. "No matter what, you want to come back and beat them the next year, especially the way that they beat us on a last-second field goal in a tough game. Of course, we're going to be thinking about that. We're going to know we better be ready to play."
Iowa has had the Lions' number during Ferentz's decade as head coach. The Hawkeyes have posted a 6-2 mark in those games, including three triumphs in Happy Valley.
"When that week comes around, that's what we'll focus on," Penn State Offensive Lineman Jared Odrick said. "Definitely, we'll remember what happened last year. The Iowa game is something that we'll be excited for."
Iowa closed to within two points of the lead when Shonn Greene raced into the end zone with 9 minutes, 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Lions took over and promptly marched down the field. They had a first-and-10 at the home 23.
Two negative rushes and a 10-yard penalty created a third-and-24 from the Iowa 37. Clark then fired a pass that Tyler Sash picked off with 3:46 on the clock. It set up Iowa's winning drive which concluded in the Murray kick.
"I just remember that play and wish that post pass was a little lower, a catchable ball," Clark said. "If I make a better throw, it's a different ball game."
Said Lee: "It was a game that we thought we were up, we were playing well, we were driving and then all of a sudden, they took control right at the end of the game. They kept it close and then ended up making it back with a few big plays when they needed to. That just shows how good of a team they were and how they progressed. They lost a few close games and ended up coming back and winning a close game. It just shows you that they got better."
"It was the point of the season where we were on a pretty good roll," Odrick said. "There were opportunities for us to stay poised under pressure and there were some points where we didn't do that. We took something from that and took it through the rest of the season and we're hoping through this year, too."