Notebook: Kinnick Stadium a challenge

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
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Iowa National AnthemStephen Mally/Icon SMIKinnick Stadium can be a tough environment for opponents.

Right tackle Mike Farrell still remembers the cold crawling up his arms, the 15-mph winds and the black-and-yellow crowd that buzzed like a nest of yellow jackets.

Penn State's last trip to Kinnick Stadium was more than two years ago, but Farrell remembers. The fifth-year senior watched 27 games since that 24-3 loss during a chilly night in Iowa City, but he can't forget.

"It was definitely energetic," Farrell said. "It was one of the more difficult places to play."

Farrell may be able to recall that matchup with ease, but even he likely can't remember the last time the Nittany Lions marched into Iowa's pink locker room and flew home winners. Farrell couldn't be blamed -- his brethren haven't won a game inside the Hawkeye State this century.

It's dropped four straight to Iowa on the road and last won there during Kirk Ferentz's 1999 rookie campaign -- a week after defensive end Pete Massaro celebrated his 10th birthday. Warm, cold, day, night; it hasn't mattered. Home or away, Iowa has claimed eight victories in the last 10 matchups.

"I've been away at Alabama, Ohio State, some places like that," Massaro said, "and I'd say Iowa's stadium is pretty vicious. It's definitely a tough place to play."

Bill O'Brien upped the volume this week on the practice loudspeakers, but he realized that wouldn't exactly mimic the Kinnick Stadium atmosphere. Short of inviting 75,000 screaming fans to stand 10 feet from the sidelines, louder hip-hop music had to make due.

"It's not going to be anything like what it's like Saturday night, so hopefully we can just give them a picture of it," O'Brien said. "It's a very tough environment, and they're playing well right now. They're a very tough football team. It's not going to be easy."

Trendy tailbacks: Quick, choose one word to describe Big Ten running backs. ... Finished? Well, Penn State assistant Charles London is betting you picked words like "big" or "strong" as opposed to "quick" or "fast."

With runners like Mark Weisman and Zach Zwinak -- two fullbacks-turned-tailbacks -- it's easy to see how the Big Ten tends to skew toward bruising runners. London tried his best Thursday to explain that trend.

"I think it's a trend, and a lot of it has to do with conditions here in the weather," he said. "You watch that Michigan State-Iowa game last week. It was cold, it was raining, it can be a little harder to throw the ball, so you need a guy who can grind it out, pound it out for 20 carries a game."

RB report: Speaking of running backs, Bill Belton is "fully recovered from his injury," according to London. O'Brien also said the tailback looks good in practice.

Belton looked a little slow two weeks ago against Northwestern, but London said he could be a big part of Saturday's gameplan.

Zwinak insisted he had no idea what his role might be against Iowa, but he's carried the ball at least 18 times in three straight games. He was formally moved to No. 2 on the depth chart this week, so a worst-case scenario would probably involve the red-headed redshirt sophomore touching the pigskin 10-15 times.

Record-breaker: Halfway through the season, Matt McGloin is halfway to several Penn State records.

The math is pretty simple: McGloin passed for 1,499 yards in the first six games. If he passes for 1,505 in the next six, he'll break the Nittany Lions' single-season record. He also has 12 touchdowns, and the single-season record is 24.

Career-wise, he needs to average just 209 passing yards from here on out to surpass Tony Sacca at No. 2 on the all-time list of career passers. He's currently averaging 250 yards.

"The personal acclaims and records come with winning and playing successful each Saturday, and that's a great thing," McGloin said. "But, right now, my goal is to get that win Saturday."

Ch-ch-changes: Penn State's defense has rebounded from some early season struggles, but what's been the biggest change? Linebacker Mike Hull weighed in.

"I think the overall communication and getting off the field on third downs," he said. "Early on in this season, we struggled. ... There was some lack of communication with the hurry-up, but I think we got that straightened out."

Radio show notes: Bill O'Brien had a few interesting tidbits on his weekly radio show: For one, he said about 80-100 recruits will be in attendance for next week's home game against Ohio State.

He also said true freshman Eugene Lewis has played well and basically wins the scouting team's player-of-the-week award every week. ... He would love for college football to adopt an NFL practice that allows the coach to talk to the QB inside of his helmet. ... He wouldn't reveal how many plays are in the NASCAR package -- and he said he doesn't plan on following Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald's lead and offering up pregame naps.

Injury report: Left tackle Donovan Smith has a broken left hand and will again play in a cast Saturday night. Massaro said the bye week helped him out a lot, but he's still fighting through chronic knee pain and a shoulder injury.

Because of a shoulder subluxation, a partial dislocation of the joint, Massaro has been forced to play with a harness. He said he's not yet at 100 percent, but he plans to play.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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