IOWA CITY, Iowa – Two years ago, unranked Iowa dashed Penn State's national title hopes with a dramatic home win and last season the underdog Hawkeyes did it again with a fourth-quarter comeback at Beaver Stadium.
It's time to see what Iowa can do when it's supposed to beat the Nittany Lions.
The 17th-ranked Hawkeyes (3-1) will find themselves in the unfamiliar role of favorites when they host No. 22 Penn State (3-1) on Saturday night.
Iowa is considered back among the Big Ten's elite despite a loss at No. 14 Arizona. It's harder to give the same distinction to the Nittany Lions, who will start true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden in a stadium where they haven't won since 1999.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz think the game could again hinge on a few key plays.
A wayward pass by Penn State's Daryll Clark helped Iowa set up a game-winning field goal in 2008. Iowa trailed 10-5 early in the fourth quarter of last year's game before star Adrian Clayborn blocked a punt and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.
Penn State then turned it over on three straight drives and the Hawkeyes prevailed 21-10.
"Iowa has been a good, solid football team that's played extremely well against us," Paterno said. "Last year, we thought we had them licked and we made one or two mistakes and they took advantage of it."
Big plays could come at a premium between the 3-1 teams.
Iowa is first in the nation, allowing just 227.5 yards per game. Opponents have scored only 14 points in three games at Kinnick Stadium this season, and last week Ball State had more punts than first downs in a 45-0 loss.
Penn State is right behind the Hawkeyes, allowing only 12.8 points a game. Though Temple stunned the Nittany Lions with 13 quick points last week, the Owls didn't score again in a 22-13 loss.
Iowa's offense has been much more explosive this season than in years past.
The Hawkeyes are averaging 36 points a game and senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi has thrown nine TD passes while completing 66.7 percent of his passes — a 10 percent jump from a year ago.
"They don't give up points. I mean, I think our biggest margin of victory in this series is 12 points back in (2003)," Ferentz said. "I'm expecting this thing to be a real 60-minute game and hopefully we'll be in there in the fourth quarter."
Iowa will need to stop Penn State's Evan Royster, who ran for a career-high 187 yards against Temple and is poised to break Curt Warner's record for career yards.
Bolden will be the guy to watch. If he plays like a freshman, Penn State will probably be in trouble. Yet he has already faced top-ranked Alabama on the road this season, completing 13 of 29 passes and throwing two picks in a loss, and the experience couldn't have hurt in preparing for Iowa and other big games.
"He can hurt you with his arm or his feet. He's very athletic," Iowa safety Tyler Sash said. "He's taken hold of his chance and he's run with it."
The dynamic of this rivalry — perhaps one of the most underrated in the Big Ten — has shifted quite a bit since the last time the Nittany Lions visited Iowa.
The Hawkeyes are 7-2 over Penn State under Ferentz, but none came easy. Two of Iowa's recent victories came in overtime, another came by the unlikely final score of 6-4 and the Hawkeyes were in serious trouble entering the fourth quarter before winning the last two.
Paterno has only beaten Ferentz twice — but both were by at least 20 points.
"I'm not sure why they'd be considered the underdog," Ferentz said. "We've had tough games with them or we've gotten nailed pretty good."