Game Against Nemesis Iowa Could Be Turning Point For Penn State

Disappointment currently reigns in Happy Valley, but a win against the Hawkeyes could be the sign of progress that many Nittany Lions fans are hoping for.

The days since Penn State's underwhelming 16-10 win against lowly Indiana in Bloomington last Saturday have not exactly been comfortable for coach Joe Paterno and his Nittany Lions.

Writers from across the sphere have offered all kinds of criticism ahead of this Saturday's matchup against Iowa at Beaver Stadium, despite the Lions owning a 4-1 record with the only loss coming against No. 2 Alabama, a team that just toppled then-No. 12 Florida 38-10 in Gainesville.

Here's a sample, starting with Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror.

Joe and Jay Paterno are making decisions based on what's best for them and a few others instead of what's best for the team.

Joe Paterno continues to coach so he can give himself something to do late in life. It's all about him, his fear of retiring and not wanting to wither away and die, something he saw his friend and fellow coaching giant Bear Bryant do just four weeks after leaving Alabama in 1983.

JoePa can't see that he is not what's best for the PSU program. Because what's best for the program clearly would be turning over the reins to someone else, someone younger, more enthusiastic, more tied in to the modern game and more capable of performing 100 percent of his duties instead of the 60 or so percent Paterno is capable of performing at age 84.

David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

He would not have put his displeasure on display as some sort of show; he doesn’t do that. He would have simply and matter-of-factly said, "We’re not very good," maybe snapped at somebody, probably cut the press conference short and buckled down to solve the myriad problems.
   
But after this hairline win over Indiana, he grinned his way through the postgame as if what he watched was no big deal.
   
And know what? It isn’t a big deal. It’s football.
   
But there’s this, too: It’s his job to passionately care. I saw no evidence of that. What I see now is rationalization.

Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

The Lions' same old warts surfaced early -- red-zone failures, sub-par line play, unsteady quarterback production and questionable decision-making from the sideline. Sadly, Paterno chose to credit Indiana for its effort, rather than take a long, hard look in the mirror and acknowledge what the Lions have become: a program struggling desperately to get to 7-5 or 6-6. Well, the mirror is gonna crack soon.

Needless to say, doubt, founded or not, is pervasive at the moment.

Enter Iowa, Penn State's modern nemesis. The Hawkeyes have beaten the Lions in eight of their last nine meetings and knocked then-No. 3 Penn State out of the national championship race in 2008 with a 24-23 win in Iowa City. On Saturday, they'll bring not only their 3-1 record, but a cavalcade of haunting memories with them to Happy Valley.

If Paterno and his Lions live in the moment at all, though, they'll relish in that. 

This past week has shown that simply winning football games against average Big Ten squads isn't enough to please a restless fan base and press corps. They want big wins, and with matchups against conference middleweights Purdue, Northwestern and Illinois upcoming on the schedule, none would appear to be coming in the near future.

This makes Saturday's game crucial for the Lions. A victory against their tormentors would make a statement that progress has been made since last season's disappointing 7-6 finish and that this group of Lions has the stuff necessary to compete for a conference title deep into the fall.

A loss would probably bring with it at least three more long weeks of perturbed skepticism, regardless of how many games the Lions can take from the Boilermakers, Wildcats and Fighting Illini.

Many of the criticisms of the team above are familiar refrains from early 2005, when Penn State was coming off four losing seasons in five years. A 5-0 start to the season offered cautious optimism, but validation did not come until a 17-10 win against then-No. 6 Ohio State at Beaver Stadium on October 8, which propelled the Lions to a Big Ten championship and Orange Bowl victory.

Below is the stadium video played before that game against the Buckeyes.

"Now is our chance to say 'I told you so.'"

For Paterno and his team, now seems as good a time as any to make that Saturday's battle cry.

And by the way, the date of Saturday's game?

October 8.

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