IOWA CITY, Iowa - All home-field advantages are not created equal. It hits a little different here at Kinnick Stadium.
Ask Penn State.
The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions committed eight false starts, unable to hear each other due to Iowa fans screaming their heads off when they tried to snap the ball. The collective effort of the Hawkeye faithful deserved a lot of credit for their team's 23-20 victory.
Penn State coach James Franklin downplayed the noise effecting his team. Either he wasn't paying attention or he was in denial.
Being away from this historic venue last season during the pandemic makes me appreciate even more what I've heard this fall. The crowd messed with Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. in Iowa's season-opening win last month. The place was rocking.
Iowa fans took it to another level Saturday. After the third false start in a row late in the first half, the Nittany Lion offensive linemen were barking at each other, searching for someone to blame. The culprits sat in the stands.
It should be pointed out that Penn State built a 17-3, first-half lead with starting quarterback Sean Clifford behind center. The crowd became eerily quiet with their third-ranked Hawkeyes in the hole.
Clifford, a senior, left the game for good late in the second quarter after being drilled by linebacker Jack Campbell. He likely would have handled the high decibel level better than his replacement, sophomore Ta'Quan Roberson.
It also was guaranteed the outcome would have been different. Iowa twice picked off Clifford, who has been rattled before during his career. The crowd noise certainly could have upset him.
Penn State managed only three points in the second-half. The Hawkeyes' elite defense played a role in that, as it had all season.
Although Iowa trailed 17-10 at halftime, you could feel it had wrestled momentum away from the visitors. Even when Penn State increased its advantage to 20-10 by getting Roberson loose in the running game, it felt like the Hawkeyes were fine.
They were feeding off the atmosphere on both sides of the ball. The defense increased its intensity. The offense delivered big plays when needed and stayed away from mistakes.
Would Iowa have won this game had it been in State College? We can't say for sure, but 100,000 at Beaver Stadium would have made it a whole lot less likely. It may have been over when the Lions built a two-touchdown advantage.
“It’s really cool having that big of a backing, 65-70 thousand people are there just to support you," Iowa defensive lineman Logan Lee said. "They had a huge impact on the game. They helped force a lot of penalties. That was a big part of the game.”
Former Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley told me at Big Ten Media Day years back that Kinnick Stadium was the toughest road environment he'd played in. He competed at Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, to name a few.
Saturday also wasn't an aberration. The Hawkeyes upended unbeaten Top 5 teams Michigan (2016) and Ohio State ('17) in the last decade. This one rivaled those contests for the volume levels.
“It’s up there for sure, I think today or against Ohio State in 2017 but it is definitely up there for sure,” Iowa senior cornerback Matt Hankins said.
Like Michigan and Ohio State, the fans poured out of the stands and onto the field at game's end. They celebrated with their team. Their team celebrated with them.
It's a special relationship. Others in college football are jealous. They should be.
“It was awesome," Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras said. "My redshirt freshman year we rushed the field for the Minnesota game, but we didn’t have a chance last year. It’s one of those things you love to see. It’s always super fun because when you look back on the biggest games in Iowa history, the fans are usually down there storming the field. It was sweet.”