Parker Hesse: 'When we get them behind the sticks, that's when we come out to play' Dargan Southard, firstname.lastname@example.org
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Extended looks at foes from the other division haven’t happened often in the Big Ten. It was only after the league shifted to nine conference games in 2016 that permanent crossover opponents became a thing.
Which is why, in a rare case, Iowa and Penn State aren’t strangers. Saturday’s top-20 showdown marks the halfway point between their six-year crossover pairing, which runs from 2016-2021. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz knows what a trip to Happy Valley brings.
“Very challenging place to play, enthusiastic crowd,” Ferentz said. “Those things are constants, and it’s certainly going to be the same this week.”
One obvious similarity between this year’s Penn State squad and the ones Iowa has faced the last two years is Trace McSorley. The Nittany Lions veteran quarterback had 280 total yards and three TDs in a 41-14 rout in 2016. He then burned the Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium last season, racking up 345 total yards in a 21-19 walk-off win.
"Really good quarterbacks bring a lot of value," Ferentz said. "And he's no different."
Ferentz said the Penn State familiarity will help with the game plan — but that familiarity also illustrates how tough the Nittany Lions are. More than 106,000 screaming fans in Beaver Stadium doesn’t help.
"Any time you're on the road, you like to go in and embrace that villain role, so to say," defensive lineman Parker Hesse said. "It's us versus however many thousand people they've got here. And we're going to come in and steal one from you."
Iowa did get a bit of relief on the health front: Ferentz said linebacker Jack Hockaday (knee) returned to practice this week and should be active Saturday. Hockaday was injured at Minnesota and has missed the last two games.
Hockaday likely won’t slide back into his starting spot, but his return is still welcomed.
"We're playing pretty well right now, but recent history has shown we'll need everybody," Ferentz said. "Jack has a lot of flexibility, as does Kristian (Welch)."
Meanwhile, Matt Hankins (wrist) remains questionable and is "still not 100 percent," Ferentz said. Hankins has missed the previous three games.
Ferentz announced Parker Hesse, Jake Gervase, Nate Stanley and Keegan Render are Saturday’s captains.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.