James Franklin Has Had Iowa's Number

The Penn State coach is 4-1 vs. the Hawkeyes and 2-0 at Kinnick Stadium. Even 2020's loss prompted something good.
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Penn State coach James Franklin has struggled against a few Big Ten teams, notably Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. But he has been quite successful against Iowa.

Franklin is 4-1 against Iowa, including a pair of victories at Kinnick Stadium in 2019 and 2017. And Penn State has won its last three games at Iowa, with Bill O'Brien and Matt McGloin leading the Lions to a 38-14 victory in 2012.

Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz is well aware of that history heading into Saturday's game between No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium. 

"It's a challenge when you play them," Ferentz said this week. "The one thing for sure, ... going back a long way: If you're not ready to play, it could be embarrassing. So you better get ready to play."

Overall, Penn State leads the series with Iowa 17-13 and is 10-5 on the road. In fact, Penn State had won six straight games in the series until a 41-21 loss at home in 2020. And even that game resonates this season.

With that loss, Penn State fell to 0-5 for the first time in school history. The Lions haven't lost since, bringing a nine-game win streak to Iowa City this weekend.

Quarterback Sean Clifford, who didn't start that game after being benched, returned in the second half to throw two touchdown passes, including a 68-yarder to Jahan Dotson. Clifford also threw two interceptions, one of which Iowa returned for a score. Clifford said he hasn't studied that game much because there are "so many differences" between Penn State's offenses then and now.

Ferentz, however, sees consistency from Penn State, even going back to his days watching the team while growing up in western Pennsylvania.

"I've been following Penn State since I was basically in elementary school, growing up in that part of the country," Ferentz said. "The story doesn't change a heck of a lot. A lot of things that were true when I was young are still true right now.

"They have outstanding players. They've always had good players there. I can't remember a year where they didn't. Very well-coached. Coach Franklin really has them playing well right now, at a high rate. Last Saturday [a 24-0 win over Indiana] is good evidence of that."

The highlights of Franklin's four wins over Iowa are many. Here's a look.

2019: Penn State 17, Iowa 12

Noah Cain, then a freshman, etched his name into the offense with a 102-yard performance that ultimately subdued the Hawkeyes. Penn State played Iowa's game, scoring 10 points off turnovers and converting 10 of 19 third-down opportunities. And Cain finished it by converting a key third-and-five run late. "We went into this knowing he’d be our four-minute back,” Franklin said.

2018: Penn State 30, Iowa 24

Quarterback Trace McSorley's injury scare sent Tommy Stevens onto the field in the first half, and Stevens rushed for a 3-yard touchdown. But McSorley returned in the second half, wearing a knee brace, and raced 51 yards for a touchdown that gave the Lions a 24-17 lead. Though McSorley threw a fourth-quarter interception that was returned for a score, teammate Nick Scott had his back, making an interception near the goal line with less than five minutes remaining. "He's the best player in college football," Franklin said of McSorley after the game. "I don't care what anybody says."

2017: Penn State 21, Iowa 19

Saquon Barkley became the midseason Heisman Trophy favorite with this performance, which sits high in Penn State history. Barkley set a school record for all-purpose yards (358) and rushed for 211 in a breathtaking show of darts, cuts and direction changes. He also picked up Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell on a blitz, giving McSorley time to throw the game-winning touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson on the final play.

2016: Penn State 41, Iowa 14

The Lions climbed into the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings following their rout of Iowa. Barkley finished with 211 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, McSorley threw for 240 yards and two scores and Stevens added a rushing touchdown. "That's a completely different team than they were in September," Ferentz said of Penn State, which went on to win the Big Ten title.

No. 4 Penn State visits No. 3 Iowa on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. on Fox.

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