Penn State is ready to hit the road.
Senior safety Marcus Allen, who now has three years of traveling to road games under his belt, is especially looking forward to it. For him it’s an opportunity to see a new state, experience a different city and check out stadiums and locker rooms of other teams.
Perhaps most important, it provides another opportunity to grow closer to those who wear the same colors and uniform as him.
“One of the fun parts of a road trip is just being on the plane,” he said, explaining how team travel helps build camaraderie. “Laughing and stuff, just bonding. We always get one movie to watch on away games and look forward to doing that as well, just bonding with our teammates. It definitely preps us for the game as well, because we all prep with each other and watch film so that’s the good thing, that’s the fun part of an away game.”
For the first time since the Rose Bowl, Penn State as a collective team is set to leave the comfortable confines of University Park. Traveling to Iowa for a night matchup against the Hawkeyes (7:30 p.m., ET), the Nittany Lions are not only gearing up for their first away game this season, after starting the year with three consecutive wins in Beaver Stadium, but it’s also the start of conference play.
If history indicates anything, they’re not about to be greeted with a warm welcome.
It’s been since 2012 that PSU last traveled to Iowa City, a game that the Lions won, 38-14, but no one on the active roster, nor the coaches, represented the blue and white in that one. For the majority on the sideline Saturday night it’ll be the first time experiencing the atmosphere. That doesn’t mean they haven’t heard about it.
Sophomore defensive end Shareef Miller recently talked with members of the training staff who were in attendance previously and he’s heard all about how close the fans are to the sideline and other unique aspects to Kinnick Stadium, including the pink locker room for the away squad.
Combine that, with the efforts from the coaches forewarning about what they expect from this Hawkeye team, and Allen, Miller and their teammates are gearing up for a variety of different scenarios this week.
“We’re going to play in a hostile environment,” said Miller. “We are ranked No. 4 in the country so they’re going to bring their A-game. Every team is going to bring their A-game when they play Penn State, but we’ll be up for the challenge. We know they’re going to give us their A-game. We’re going to be prepared. We’re going to have a good week of preparation this week for Iowa, so we’ll be ready. Our coaches will have us ready by game time.”
Facing a run-heavy offense, a wrench added into the scouting report is determining which running back they defense will face.
Second-leading rusher James Butler is likely to be out two or three weeks while healing from an elbow injury. Meanwhile, the status of starter Akum Wadley is up in the air after suffering a minor ankle injury. Miller added, however, that PSU is preparing for a variety of looks, not dependent on which running back carries the ball most. “It doesn’t affect us at all,” he said.
What Miller also isn’t focused on is the series history between the two teams.
His Lions hold the advantage, 14-12, all-time, including an 8-5 mark at Iowa. Prior to the most recent win in 2012, however, they had lost four in a row at Kinnick Stadium, including disheartening defeats as ranked teams in 2008 and ’10.
But, as Miller said, he’s “not really focused on the past. I’m pretty much focused on us right now. We just have to do what we’ve got to do and we’ll be fine.”
It’s unclear if the same could be said for the Hawkeyes, who are looking to rebound from last year’s 41-14 loss in Beaver Stadium. It was the largest margin of victory in the series since PSU’s 61-21 win in 1994.
Will they be looking for revenge this time at home?
“I’m pretty sure they probably would,” said Allen. “I’m not in their locker room, so I don’t know what their coaches are telling them, but I’d guess that they are. Us, personally, we are just going to play for each other and play to our standards. That means we’re just going to have to play Penn State football, regardless of how they’re feeling.”
Following that 61-21 home win in ’94, Penn State traveled back to Iowa City in ’95 where it notched another victory, 41-27.