By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It took a group effort for the Iowa football team to come from behind to edge Penn State 23-20 on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
The players, the coaches, the support staff, and last but, certainly not least, the Hawkeye fans all played a major role in helping third-ranked Iowa improve to 6-0 on the season.
It was only fitting that the fans rushed the field afterwards because they certainly did their part in helping Iowa to prevail against a talented opponent.
The fans were loud and feisty throughout the game, booing every time a Penn State player was slow to get up, and loudly cheering every time Iowa gave them something to cheer about.
One could argue that home-field advantage and the injury to Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford in the second quarter were the two biggest factors in Saturday’s outcome.
Clifford was having his way with the Iowa defense when he injured his right throwing arm about midway through the second quarter. He already had passed for 146 yards and rushed for 36 yards when he was injured on a tackle by Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell.
Iowa’s performance on both offense and defense left something to be desired early in the game.
The one constant for Iowa, however, was the fans.
“I have never been a part of something like that,” said Iowa defensive lineman Logan Lee. “That was a great experience just having all the fans come out. That is the loudest experience I will ever have in my entire life.
“It’s really cool having that big of a backing, 65, 70 thousand people are there just to support you. They had a huge impact on the game. They helped force a lot of penalties. That was a big part of the game.”
Kinnick Stadium has a reputation for being one of the most hostile environments in the Big Ten, and Saturday’s game showed why with a sellout crowd.
Penn State backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson seemed to wilt under the pressure, as did his offensive linemen.
Penn State was penalized eight times for false starts, and the confusion was due largely to the noise caused by the fans, many of whom were seated close to the field.
That’s one of the things that makes Kinnick Stadium unique, how close the fans are seated to the field.
Opposing players often bring that up when talking about the challenge of playing at Kinnick Stadium, and for good reason.
When teams are as evenly matched as Iowa and Penn State were on Saturday, intangibles often make the difference.
Roberson probably would’ve handled the moment a lot better on Saturday if the game had been played at Beaver Stadium.
The Iowa fans knew that they had Roberson rattled and didn’t let up.
And while booing injured players isn’t great sportsmanship, there is no mercy in college football, especially with so much on the line.
The loser of Saturday’s game would almost certainly be eliminated from the college playoff, and the fans seemed to realize that.
A cynic might criticize the Iowa fans for rushing the field with their team ranked higher than Penn State. You know the old argument that says act like you’ve been there before.
But in fairness to the Iowa fans, they hadn’t been in a situation like Saturday since 1985 when top-ranked Iowa edged Michigan 12-10 at Kinnick Stadium. That was the last time that Kinnick Stadium had hosted a top-five showdown and the fans also rushed the field on that day when Rob Houghtlin’s game-winning field goal sailed between the uprights.
Another thing worth noting about the circumstances on Saturday is that fans didn’t have a chance to rush the field during the 2020 season due to the global pandemic.
It was eerie and sort of depressing watching Iowa play last season in stadiums that were mostly empty.
And while the pandemic still is a threat, the availability of vaccines has made it possible for fans to return in abundance.
The fans then made it possible for Iowa to prevail on a day when the offense and defense both struggled at times.
The fans led the way when the Wave was performed at the end of the first quarter, and they helped lead the way to victory.
Many of the fans stayed on the field and celebrated until they were asked repeatedly over the loudspeaker to exit the field.
“They were so good from the start,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of the fan support. “And one of the points I made back on Monday with the team was that we knew we could count on that. Just absolutely knew we could count on that. But, again, it’s still for the players’ job to play the game. Fans would love to come out on the field. And they did afterward. I got a great escort. You talk about some good blocking there.
That’s like the flip of it. We were on the road a couple of weeks ago in a tough environment. The flip here is that the fans aren’t going to get it for us. They’re not going to deliver it. They want to help you, but you’ve got to play. And our fans are so good. It goes back to 30 plus years of history. And they know when it’s a big game, too.”