The Roaring 20: Penn State-Illinois

Mike Herr (Mike the Mailman) and Penn State professor and local musician Molly Countermine judged Friday night’s Homecoming Parade in State College. The parade featured dozens of Alumni Association affiliate groups, Penn State student organizations, and plenty of colorful floats. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Here are 20 insights from Homecoming Weekend in Happy Valley. Tens of thousands of alumni returned to University Park to celebrate, with numerous events leading up to Saturday’s game against Illinois, a 20-18 setback for the Nittany Lions. We’ve also embedded a few additional social media posts from the weekend, including one that features the old-school end zone design that was featured with the team’s “Generations of Greatness” uniforms.

1. Last week’s episode of Football Letter Live was an absolute blast. We welcomed Alumni Blue Band President Randy Seely ’91 and Keith Griffith ’21, both of whom participated in the band performing at Friday’s ice cream social (more on that shortly). Seely has deep Penn State connections, as his father (Wayne ’65), spouse (Judy ’86), son (Andrew ’16), and daughter (Amelia ’21) are all Penn State grads. Griffith, meanwhile, was the band’s drum major last year, which means he missed out because of COVID restrictions. So, seeing him lead the Alumni Blue Band during Friday’s ice cream social and on the field on Saturday was both meaningful and a lot of fun. Jump to the 18:45 mark of the episode to catch Seely and Griffith’s appearance.

2. In addition to speaking with Seely and Griffith about the Alumni Blue Band, we also shared an interview with Nittanyville President Matt Solomon. We stopped by Beaver Stadium on Wednesday night as students began arriving shortly after 9 p.m., with Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford ’20g welcoming and thanking the students. You can see Clifford’s conversation with Solomon on our Twitter page or by jumping to the 10:00 mark of the episode for the intro to the video.

3. The episode also featured a long-form discussion with letterman linebacker Michael Mauti ’12, who is largely — and deservedly — credited for saving Penn State football during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Any Penn Stater would be well served to check out the interview, and it starts around the 36:00 mark of the episode. On a personal note, Paul and I absolutely enjoyed talking with Michael, and we hope to stay in touch with him and welcome him back to Penn State anytime he wants to visit. We’ll pick up the tab. 

4. The Homecoming celebration rolled into Friday, when the Alumni Blue Band, Nittany Lion, and cheer squad stopped by the Hintz Family Alumni Center for the ever-popular ice cream social. You can see the band’s first set (27:45 mark) and second set on our Facebook page, directed by Griffith.

5. Before the social kicked off, we chatted with Carol ’08 and Mark Poblete ’07, ’20g, Homecoming Co-Chairs for the Alumni Blue Band. You can see that conversation on our Facebook page

6. Everyone was in good spirits — free Berkey Creamery ice cream will do that. Check out some photos from the social on our Facebook page.

7. We livestreamed the Homecoming Parade and set up on the corner of College and Allen. You can see the parade here, and we’re encouraging Penn Staters to let us know in the comments where you watched the parade from. 

8. As always, our student group Lion Ambassadors hosted a wonderful Guard the Lion Shrine event Friday night, continuing a long-standing tradition that wouldn’t exist without Sue Paterno. Each year, she stops by to welcome alumni and share the story of how she and some friends painted the Nittany Lion orange ahead of a Homecoming battle against Syracuse, and this year featured a must-see moment. After she spoke, Sue joined with Lion Ambassadors and alumni to sing and dance along to Sweet Caroline. We’ll stop there in describing what happened. The video tells the story better than we ever could. As we said in the post, we love and appreciate Sue and continue to wish her and her family all the best. 

9. James Franklin’s customary pregame lap didn’t feature as many fan interactions since gates didn’t open until shortly after he arrived, though fans can still check out the scene, which featured him thanking stadium personnel and welcoming Illini staff.

10. One of the highlights of the Homecoming game is seeing the Alumni Blue Band on the field. You can see part of their halftime performance and part of their postgame performance online

11. You can’t fault fans for thinking that if Sean Clifford doesn’t get hurt against Iowa, it’s entirely possible that Penn State is 7-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, inviting the inevitable comparisons between the Nittany Lions and the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs — the two teams that battled for the national title in 1982 — with Penn State (of course) winning the ’83 Sugar Bowl. 

12. We caught up with superstar tailgater and fan Sue Wilson and her husband, Ed, before the game. If you’ve ever seen our highlight videos, you already know Sue. Typically, the first shot of each video features the banner that she and her tailgating crew have made. They’ve become so popular that James Franklin will sometimes make it a point to say hello during team arrival. Tune into this week’s episode of Football Letter Live to see the conversation and learn more about Sue and what tailgating at Penn State means to her and her family. 

13. Even though Illinois racked up 357 rushing yards, Penn State’s defense stepped up when it counted. The Nittany Lions also forced multiple turnovers. The defense even scored a touchdown. Unfortunately, the only people who didn’t realize that were the ones who counted — the referees. Watching the replay multiple times, and the shot we got from standing behind the end zone, it was clear that the Illini running back was still upright and didn’t have forward progress stopped when the Nittany Lions forced a fumble and jumped on the football in the end zone in the first quarter. For as many bad calls as we see each week, they never become less stunning. In addition to the touchdown that wasn’t, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford absorbed a clear late hit in the second half. But it wasn’t called. Penn State was driving and would’ve been set up for a score if the referees had made the correct call. It’s not our place to routinely comment on officiating, but at some point, it’s impossible to ignore. College football (whether you like it or not) is a billion-dollar business. Having expert referees oversee these games is essential.

14. Overtime was crazy. I know it. You know it. We all know it. Even just changing the rules to say that the teams will go toward the same end zone each possession would help. Because as it stood Saturday, players continually walked, jogged, etc. to each goal line after each possession. And considering there were nine possessions, that’s significant, especially after playing through four quarters of a grinder of a game.

15. Lucky isn’t the right word — I prefer “fortunate” — though either way, teams must avoid injuries to key players, have critical calls go in their favor (or at least avoid bad calls going against them, something which Penn State has faced all season), among other intangibles that don’t show up in a box score. Not many teams can legitimately say they’re one or two breaks away from contending for a playoff spot this year, though Penn State is one of them.

16. Speaking of which: For all the disappointment about Saturday’s game, (almost) nothing has changed for Penn State and its goals this season. If the Nittany Lions win out, it’s still entirely possible they’ll earn a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title. They’d still need Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State to all lose one other conference game, and with all three of those teams playing one another still this season, that’s very much possible. 

17. Win or lose, the Blue Band and Nittany Lions always play and sing the alma mater. Check out Saturday’s rendition on Facebook.

18. We spoke with a few players following the game, and you can visit our 2021 Football Letter playlist on YouTube to hear from quarterback Sean Clifford, wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith, and kicking specialist Jordan Stout. 

19. There’s still time to join us in Columbus this weekend. Sign up here for the alumni mixer Friday night at the local Quaker Steak and Lube and visit our website to RSVP for Saturday’s Pep Rally. We hope to see you.

20. Go State. Beat the Buckeyes. 

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.

PENN STATE PREVIEW: ILLINOIS

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season. Let’s dive into this week’s preview for Penn State’s homecoming matchup with Illinois.

Game Details: No. 7/8 Penn State (5-1, 2-1) vs Illinois (2-5, 1-3). Noon ET kick-off, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium.

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 54. Cloudy with a shower in spots; a chilly autumn afternoon for Homecoming.

The Line: Penn State -24 (via SI SportsBook).

All-Time Series: Penn State leads 20-5.

Last Meeting: Penn State won 56-21 in the 2020 season finale at Beaver Stadium.

Keyvone Lee. Penn State vs Illinois (2020). Photo By Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Last Week: Both teams were on a bye.

Other Big Ten Games This Weekend:
– Northwestern at No. 6/6 Michigan (Noon ET, FOX)
– Wisconsin at No. 25/N/A Purdue (3:30 PM ET, BTN)
– Maryland at Minnesota (3:30 PM ET, ESPN2)
– No. 5/5 Ohio State at Indiana (7:30 PM ET, ABC)

Throwback Classic: 2008. Entering the game, Ron Zook’s Illini were coming off a Rose Bowl appearance and returned star players Isiah “Juice” Williams and Arrelious Benn. Up to that point, it was also the highest-scoring White Out game with a combined 52 points. After the Illini opened the scoring, Derrick Williams did a Derrick Williams thing and returned the ensuing kickoff to the end zone to even things up at 7-7. Williams finished the game with a kick return for a touchdown, a rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown to lead the Lions to a 38-24 win.

Derrick Williams. Penn State vs Illinois (2008). Photo By Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

The Lead: Saturday’s homecoming matchup will feature Penn State’s Generations of Greatness uniforms, which are being worn for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Penn State has previously worn the uniforms in matchups against Indiana in 2017, Purdue in 2019 and Iowa in 2020. The uniforms feature numbers on the helmets, block uniform numbers, a white stripe on the sleeves, a blue stripe on the pants, a gray facemask and white cleats.

Penn State Wins If: The offense can get enough production from whoever starts at quarterback. Whether it’s Taquan Roberson or Christian Veilleux, the Nittany Lions just need their quarterback to be average and that should be plenty to blow out Illinois. Sean Clifford has been practicing this week, but it’d be a surprise if Penn State risks him in this game ahead of next week’s clash at Ohio State. I expect offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to keep things simple for his quarterback, relying on his skill players with short routes and lean on the running game. Penn State’s defense is a juggernaut and Illinois has struggled mightily on offense. The Nittany Lions should win this easily.

Illinois Wins If: Penn State’s offense is catastrophically bad. It would take a turnover-plagued, penalty-heavy Penn State showing worse than what was displayed against Iowa (after Sean Clifford left the game, of course) for Illinois to win this game.

Keep An Eye On: Mike Yurcich using Taquan Roberson’s mobility. Roberson struggled mightily in the loss at Iowa, but one of the things that stood out to me as a positive was his ability to make plays with his legs. He picked up a couple of decent gains on designed runs or scrambles against the Hawkeyes, and it wouldn’t shock me if Yurcich uses that to settle Roberson into the game a bit early on.

Trivia Tidbit: This is the fourth time Penn State will square off against Illinois in a Homecoming game. The Nittany Lions are 2-1 with wins in 2000 (39-25) and 2006 (26-12).

Photo By Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Number To Know: 101. This is Penn State’s 101st Homecoming game.

New Podcast: Check out the Alumni Association’s new podcast, “The People of Penn State.” On each episode of the podcast you can expect to hear the voices of Penn Staters talking about what they are passionate about, and you can expect to feel the pride and the power of the Penn State network. In the inaugural episode of the show, we talked to Tokyo 2020 Paralympian and alumni volunteer, Jake Schrom ’11. Click here to listen or check out the video version on the Alumni Association’s YouTube page.

Score Prediction:
John Patishnock: Penn State 28, Illinois 7
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 30, Illinois 6


‘We’re All In This Together’

Attendance for each of Penn State’s first four home games has surpassed 105,000, with alumni and fans once again transforming Happy Valley into a bustling frenzy on fall Saturdays. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

There are certain views that you’ll always remember, certain scenes and moments that once lodged into your memory, they’re not going anywhere. You can pull them up at a moment’s notice, without having thought of them in a long time, and without fail, the images are there. Right in front of you. Vividly.

ESPN’s College Game Day on Old Main Lawn, as seen from the Old Main Bell Tower, is one such scene for me.

But here’s the thing. That scene is only possible because of the success of the football team, because of passionate alumni and fans, and because of the behind-the-scenes work by hundreds of colleagues, both at Penn State and beyond.

These moments aren’t possible just anywhere. However, Happy Valley is one such place. Only last year, it wasn’t.

We’re not here to rehash what’s already been rehashed too many times. Instead, we’re here to say thanks, to show appreciation, to express gratitude, and whenever possible, to have some fun.

Attendance at each of Penn State’s first four home games this season has exceeded 105,000. The home opener against Ball State (105,323) was the highest-attended home opener for the Nittany Lions since 2008. Fans swarmed campus early in the morning when Game Day visited last month. None of this is all that surprising for one of the nation’s most storied college football programs, though all of these happenings are still worth noting.

There’s a significant difference between now and last fall (obviously), and the transformation hits on a personal level as much as it does on the entire community.

Just ask junior offensive lineman Bryce Effner. We did, in fact, Tuesday morning during a media availability.

Last season, he played in empty stadiums, though he said he knew that fans were cheering on the team from home as they watched the game on TV. This season, now he sees a campus full of students walking around in Penn State gear on Thursdays and Friday, getting ready for the game. “To actually see them” creates a feeling of community, Effner said, and that support has helped Penn State to an unbeaten mark in four home games and a No. 7 national ranking.

“It’s incredible to see all the students back,” Effner said. “The whole campus is back together, and we’re all excited for an in-person football season. I’d say it’s incredible. It’s great to have fans back.”

That frenetic energy spills over to every day, especially this week as campus and town celebrates Homecoming.

The Homecoming Executive Committee has already kicked off events, with the Allen Street Jam providing students and locals a chance to unwind Monday afternoon.

Things will really get going this weekend, as the Alumni Association hosts an ice cream social from 1-3 p.m. Friday at the Hintz Family Alumni Center, with the Alumni Association student group, Lion Ambassadors, welcoming Penn Staters to the Nittany Lion Shrine for Guard the Lion Shrine following the parade until 10 p.m.

It’s sure to be an enjoyable time, with College Avenue and the adjacent parade route packed with Penn Staters who’ll spend this weekend stopping by their favorite shops and restaurants. And, Beaver Stadium will be packed Saturday for a noon kickoff against Illinois.

Speaking of Beaver Stadium: Of course, the football program occupies a pivotal place in this whole situation, where what impacts the University simultaneously impacts the town. And where last fall, the impact was that there was no impact.

Maybe words like “responsibility” and “obligation” are too strong, because that implies a debt in some way or another, though Penn State head coach James Franklin has said before that he feels the economic weight that the football team has on the community. He referenced local businesses again today, indicating that the roar that fans provide this season reverberates beyond the field.

If it sounds like Franklin is saying this is a team effort, that’s because that’s precisely what he’s saying.

It’s a two-way partnership where each side needs the other.

“What an unbelievable opportunity it is to be the front porch of the University and allow millions of people all over the country — and really all over the world — to get a glimpse of what Penn State is all about: How our guys play on the field, how our guys present themselves to the media, (and) how are guys are successful at the next level.

We’re all in this together. I think that’s one of the things that I think last year helped us all recognize: We can’t do it without the community, the community can’t do it without us. I think that’s one of the things that makes Happy Valley so special.”

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.

10 Questions For James Franklin

James Franklin has led Penn State to a No. 7 national ranking through the first half of the regular season. Here are 10 questions we’d like to ask Penn State’s head coach if the right opportunity arose. Photo credit: John Patishnock

James Franklin gets asked a lot of questions. A lot. Oftentimes, questions are grouped into predictable categories: thoughts on the upcoming opponent, how the team is improving, offseason priorities, etc.

That’s standard, and it makes sense. It’s also what Franklin is most likely expecting to be asked.

Here are 10 questions I’d like to ask the Penn State head coach, but never would during a typical media availability, at least not during the season. His mind is focused where it should be — on leading the football program. So, chances for a candid, insightful answer increase during an offseason interview, when Franklin has a chance to take something of a breather and discuss more light-hearted topics.

I want to emphasize these are legitimate, genuine questions. I believe Franklin’s responses would speak to his personality and give him an opportunity to talk about aspects of his professional and personal life that otherwise might go overlooked. And one or two are purely for my own curiosity.

Q: If you and your family had campus to yourselves for a day, or knew that fans wouldn’t ask for photos or autographs, what would you do?

Q: Have you ever hiked Mount Nittany? If so, what was the experience like? If not, would you like to hike Mount Nittany in the future?

Q: If you could appear as a contestant on any game show (current or past), what would it be and why?

Q: What is/was your favorite board game to play? Any strategies involved in that game that relate to football?

Q: When players celebrate a touchdown, do you ever worry about somebody twisting an ankle or otherwise getting hurt?

Q: College Football Playoff standings and rankings aside, what’s one bowl game you’d enjoy coaching in, and why?

Q: Signing as many autographs as you do, how did you decide on a handwriting style? Did it change when the number of autographs you sign increased, especially when people are standing in a line?

Q: When leaving the stadium after a game, do you ever get stuck in traffic? I know he leaves the stadium hours after the game ends, but I believe it’s still possible.

Q: Outside of people in the sports world, who are one or two people you’ve enjoyed meeting the most?

Q: When it comes to videos, photos, and social media posts that are shared on the football team’s various channels, how much do you impact what’s posted?

How about you, our alumni? Anything else you’d like to ask Penn State’s head coach? Leave us a comment or tag us on our Twitter account and let us know.

——

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.

The Roaring 20: Penn State-Iowa

Kinnick Stadium, hours before the venue’s biggest game since 1985, when No. 1 Iowa hosted No. 2 Michigan. The Hawkeyes escaped Saturday with a 23-20 win that was marred by fans booing Penn State injuries. You can see plenty of videos and photos from the weekend below. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Here are 20 insights from our weekend trip to see Penn State battle Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes erased a 17-3 deficit to win 23-20, as numerous Nittany Lions — including three team captains in Sean Clifford, PJ Mustipher, and Jonathan Sutherland — left the game because of injuries.

1. Friday was an adventure for the Alumni Association staff. Some colleagues flew to Chicago and drove to Cedar Rapids (about a 3.5 hour-drive). We were all booked for an early flight, which got delayed, and then canceled, and some of us got rebooked on the 6 p.m. direct flight. Then, that flight got delayed and canceled. I figured that was it — we weren’t all making the trip to Iowa, myself included. Miss out on a Top-5 matchup? It hurt. I was on hold with the travel agency and couldn’t get through. Nobody could find a reasonable flight that’d get us into Iowa on time. We were looking at other airports. It seemed lost. Colleagues had even left to go home. I was right behind them, when I decided to stop at the airline counter for a last-ditch effort to see what was possible.

Then, something happened like out of a movie. People hung around, stayed by the counter. Eventually, a call was made. A head count followed. I called colleagues who turned around on the road and returned to the airport, with still no guarantee. But it was possible we’d get a new plane into State College specifically for our flight. And it happened. We had to wait, and we didn’t get into Iowa until midnight local time, but it was so worth it to be there to gather with Penn Staters at our events and see the Nittany Lions give one hell of a battle. Here’s a photo I took as I got on the plane out of State College on Friday night. P.S., it was probably closer to six hours at the airport, but I was out of it. Thanks to everyone at United who helped get us to the game.

2. I was disappointed to miss Friday night’s mixer and not see alumni and friends, including Central Iowa Chapter President Herb Meier ’73. Meier was a guest on last week’s episode of Football Letter Live, and you can see our conversation with him starting around the 13:30 mark.

3. For the third time in six years, we traveled to Iowa and held our pep rally at Duane Banks Field, home to Iowa’s baseball team. Here was the scene as we set up and prepared for the crowd.

4. We had some internet connection issues during our live stream of Saturday’s pep rally. Specifically, it dropped a few times, though only for a moment or two. Thanks to everyone who stayed with us, and you can watch the pep rally (broken into sections) on our Facebook video page.

5. The Pep Band closed out the pep rally with the alma mater, and you can see (and hear) the student, cheer team, Nittany Lion, and Penn Staters enjoying the moment.

6. There’s still time to join us at one of our three remaining pep rallies this regular season. View more information and sign up for the pep rallies at Ohio State (Oct. 30), Maryland (Nov. 6), and Michigan State (Nov. 27). We hope to see you on the road at some point this season.

7. After setting up, we walked around the tailgating lots a bit. Lots filled up quickly Saturday, and here’s one view with Kinnick Stadium in the background.

8. Iowa’s press box is absolutely gorgeous. We snapped this photo a few hours before kickoff.

9. Penn State legend LaVar Arrington was in the house for the game, after he appeared on FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff show to preview the game. You can see LaVar on set in this video from FOX’s College Football Twitter account, and we also snapped a quick photo of LaVar on the Penn State sideline shortly before kickoff. As you can imagine, he was popular among the Penn Staters who traveled, taking time for a photo with a young fan, moments before James Franklin led the Nittany Lions onto the field.

10. Say what you want about the fans — and we will in the next couple of notes — however, the wave to the children’s hospital at the end of the first quarter is a wonderful tradition that brings a lot of joy to the children facing much bigger battles off the field. You can see the moment on our Facebook page.

11. A lot’s been written and said about Iowa’s fans booing Penn State’s injured players. Obviously, the fans thought the players were faking to slow down Iowa’s offense, which in a word, is “absurd.” The Hawkeyes don’t run an upbeat, fast-paced offense. They huddle. They take time off the clock. Good for James Franklin directly addressing this after the game. Lions247’s Tyler Donohue shared Franklin’s response.

12. Following up on the last point: Outside of Nebraska, I’ve been to every away venue in the Big Ten, and Saturday was the third time I’ve seen Penn State play Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. While every fan base (even ours) has fans who act inappropriately and crudely, Iowa has more fans than most who fit into this category. Will that change in the future? Unfortunately, I doubt it, since Hawkeye coaches joined in the mocking. Here’s just one video making the rounds on social media.

13. After the game ended, you could see some Penn State fans applauding the team as players and coaches walked off the field. In addition to fans, family members also traveled, including Tariq Castro-Fields’ parents. Earlier this season, I finally introduced myself to a gentleman who I see at nearly every game, home and away. He usually has an appearance in our highlight videos, and I just wanted to thank him for always being so energetic. Turned out he’s Castro-Fields’ father, and he and his family attended the game at Kinnick Stadium. We shared a fist-bump when I saw him, and seeing him and his family and saying “hello” and “good to see you” has quickly become a nice tradition for me.

14. Just about every player available to the media afterward was asked about the fans booing their injured teammates. The Nittany Lions displayed an incredible level of maturity in their responses, showing much more class than the crowd. We shared Ellis Brooks’ insight, as he said Iowa “has loving (our emphasis) fans,” while adding that it’s a “weird” thing to have happen. You can view Brooks’ entire response on our Twitter page.

15. “Resilient” was one of the first words I thought of after Jordan Stout shared the message he had for teammates after the game, regarding the team still being in position to achieve all of is goals: “Don’t forget the goals, don’t forget what we’re pushing for. We’re going for a national championship, Big Ten championship. This doesn’t matter. We’re coming back stronger.” You can see Stout’s full response on our Twitter page.

16. Senior defensive end Arnold Ebiketie described Saturday’s setback as “just a bump on the road.” That response is a good indicator of the maturity level of Ebiketie, who is viewed as a leader even though this is his first year with the program after transferring from Temple.

17. We also spoke with standout linebacker Jesse Luketa. He discussed the team’s defensive performance, participating in the traditional wave, and much more. Visit our YouTube channel to see the whole discussion. You can also visit our Twitter channel for a shortened version, where he talks about the wave and why he’s confident the defense will bounce back.

18. Friday night, Lion Ambassadors hosted Haunted Valley, one of the many popular events they hold to celebrate and uphold Penn State spirit and tradition. You can see some photos from the event on the group’s Facebook page.

19. Even with the bye, we’ll still have a new episode of Football Letter Live this week. Sign up and hear from letterman Garry Gilliam ’13 and Paralympian and volunteer leader Jake Schrom ’11.

20. Rest up this week, Penn Staters. There’s still a lot of football to be played in the nation’s toughest conference and division.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.

Penn State Preview: Iowa

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season. Let’s dive into this week’s preview for another huge matchup between Penn State and the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Game details: No. 4/4 Penn State (5-0, 1-0) at No. 3/3 Iowa (5-0, 1-0). 4 p.m. ET kick-off, broadcast on FOX.

Venue: Kinnick Stadium

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): Very warm with clouds and sunshine; breezy in the afternoon; an unseasonably warm afternoon for football. High of 82.

The Line: Iowa -1.5 (SI Sportsbook) 

All-Time Series: Penn State leads 17-13

Last Meeting: Iowa won last year’s meeting quite comfortably, 41-21.

Last Week: Penn State blanked Indiana 24-0. Iowa trounced Maryland 51-14.

Other Big Ten Games This Weekend: 
– Maryland at No. 7/7 Ohio State (Saturday, Noon ET, FOX)
– No. 11/11 Michigan State at Rutgers (Saturday, Noon ET, Big Ten Network)
– Wisconsin at Illinois (Saturday, 3:30. p.m. ET, Big Ten. Network)
– No. 9/8 Michigan at Nebraska (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Penn State @ Iowa 2017 (Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter)

Throwback Classic: 2017. Saquon Barkley dazzled under the Kinnick lights and Juwan Johnson caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to silence the Iowa crowd and notch a win for the No. 4-ranked Nittany Lions. Barkley had 28 carries for a career-high 211 yards and a touchdown. He also had a team-high 12 catches for 94 yards. Check out Saquon’s highlight real performance and the clutch final drive that propelled Penn State to a win below.

The Lead: Boy, it seems like there have been a lot of big games between these two programs over the years. They might not be “rivals” in any official capacity, but when the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes clash there’s usually a lot at stake for one or both of these teams. This year, there are legitimate playoff aspirations for Penn State and Iowa. Don’t expect a plethora of points in a shootout. These two teams field some elite defenses.

Penn State Wins If: The Nittany Lions don’t turn the ball over. Iowa thrives off of its defense forcing turnovers and setting up its offense with advantageous field position. The Hawkeyes aren’t an offensive juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination. They are opportunistic and efficient when they need to be. Penn State cannot cough up the ball and expect to walk out of Kinnick with the win. Sean Clifford has been much better at making smarter decisions with the ball this year and he’ll need to be at his best in that department on Saturday. Penn State’s defense is playing at an elite level right now and if the Nittany Lions’ offense avoids turnovers, the blue and white have a great chance to go 1-0 this weekend.

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Iowa Wins If: Penn State turns the ball over. Seems kind of redundant doesn’t it? But that’s for good reason. As I said above, Iowa’s season has been defined by forcing opponent’s into turnovers. Iowa is ranked No. 2 in FBS in scoring defense (Penn State is No. 3), No. 1 in interceptions forced, No. 1 in turnover margin and No. 7 in total defense.

Keep An Eye On: The Iowa Wave. One of the most inspiring traditions in college football, the Iowa Wave was started in 2017 and occurs at the end of the first quarter of each Iowa football home game. Iowa fans and players turn to face away from the field, and begin waving in the direction of the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Trivia Tidbit: This is Penn State’s first Top 5 matchup since 1999 when the Nittany Lions hosted Arizona for the Pigskin Classic. Take a closer look back at this game in this From The Archives story from 2019.

Number To Know: Seven. The Iowa defense forced Maryland into seven turnovers last Friday night, including six interceptions.

Membership Note: The online Alumni Library is one of the most valuable benefits of membership in the Penn State Alumni Association, and a new how-to video on our Alumni Library benefits page shows you how to get started accessing this treasure trove of knowledge. Check it out here.

Score Predictions: 
John Patishnock: Penn State 20, Iowa 13
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 23, Iowa 14

Social Media Milestone

Penn Staters packed Old Main Lawn when ESPN’s College Game Day visited in September for the White Out against Auburn. Having the wildly popular show broadcast from University Park provided multiple opportunities to capture and share enduring moments on The Football Letter’s platforms. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Something cool happened the other day.

I was looking at the analytics for our Football Letter Twitter account, and I saw that for September, we surpassed a million impressions in the month.

“We” is the appropriate word here, as I’m fortunate to work with an inspiring and impressive group of colleagues. Between a team of writers, graphic designers, and website gurus — that’s not an official title, though I’ve learned it’s an apt description, as it seems like whenever an obstacle arises, a solution follows soon after — there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. 

And of course, John Black and Steve Manuel continue to provide coverage as only they can. 

What’s posted to our Twitter account is the final step of a lot of planning, working, editing, and sometimes traveling. Whenever we arrive at a hotel, my first two questions are always, “What’s the WiFi password?” and “How strong is the connection?”

As alumni know, we’ve expanded The Football Letter in the last year, airing a live, weekly online show — Football Letter Live — and sending a game day email that’s packed with videos, photos, and stories. Add in our video coverage, and there are now more ways for Penn Staters to stay connected to the football program through The Football Letter than ever before.

Sharing videos that transport Penn Staters onto the field at Beaver Stadium is one way that The Football Letter continues the original vision of Ridge Riley — and continued by John Black — to be the eyes and ears for alumni at games.

Of course, there’s another group that I need to mention: our Penn State alumni audience. We don’t reach that number without alumni and friends following us and sharing our posts. 

Above all, we hope you find value in our coverage. If you’re not at Beaver Stadium on game day, we want to make you feel like you were. If you’re in the stands, we want to make you feel like you were on the field

It’s all about recording and sharing enduring moments. Sometimes that’s in the form of videos, other times with photos, and still other times with John Black’s historic perspective. Through our twice-weekly emails, we combine all these aspects and add in some sharp graphics and features on our blog that readers hopefully find compelling. And it’s delivered right to your inbox, with no need to go searching.

We also updated our Football Letter landing page, which shares historical information on the publication, along with details on how to access past issues, another member benefit.

James Franklin rocking a fedora while celebrating with fans after a season-opening win at Wisconsin is just one example of the types of enduring moments we aim to share with Penn Staters.

Again, thank you for watching, reading, listening, and sharing. We hope to continue to grow our audience, and current Penn Staters who enjoy The Football Letter will play a pivotal role. If you know somebody who likes Penn State football — and we have a feeling that you do — go ahead and encourage them to give us a follow on Twitter or visit our landing page to learn more.

Of course, our audience grows simultaneously with our membership. If you’re not a member of the Alumni Association, you’re always welcome to visit alumni.psu.edu/join to become part of the Pride anytime you like. You’ll receive 30-plus benefits, including all The Football Letter emails throughout the season, and a whole lot more.

Lastly, if you have a story idea or know of a letterman or alumni volunteer who embodies the Success With Honor mantra, let me know at jmp411@psu.edu. We’re always happy to hear stories of Penn State alumni, and we look forward to sharing lots more this season and beyond. 

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.

The Roaring 20: Penn State-Indiana

Another massive crowd (105,951) packed Beaver Stadium to watch Penn State knock off Indiana 24-0 during the annual Stripe Out game. Photo credit: Penn State

Here are 20 insights from another memorable Saturday in Happy Valley, with plenty of links for videos and photos that showcase the day. Penn State won its ninth straight game and improved to 5-0 with a 24-0 clobbering of Indiana. The Nittany Lions remain at No. 4 in this week’s AP Poll, released earlier Sunday, with this week’s opponent, Iowa, at No. 3.

1. Enjoyed a nice run around campus Saturday morning, and my route takes me the entire length of Curtin Road from Atherton Street to Beaver Stadium. Saw plenty of Penn Staters tailgating early and taking photos at popular campus spots like the Nittany Lion Shrine and the We Are Sculpture. Here’s a link for some of the photos we shared Saturday.

2. Team arrival was as cool as ever. We captured the scene from a new angle, and we got a pretty steady shot of the Blue Band and Nittany Lions walking to the stadium. Many thanks to the fans who made room for me on a nice, square boulder that allowed me to get high enough to capture the scene. You can see our video here.

3. We were fortunate to get a few nice shots of James Franklin welcoming fans during his pregame lap. Check out our video to see how hyped Franklin was before the game.

4. The Lion Ambassadors’ S-Zone looked dynamite Saturday. We snapped a photo from the press box a few hours before kickoff. As you can see, the students were set and ready to go.

The Lion Ambassadors settled into Beaver Stadium early Saturday night to cheer on the Nittany Lions and to create marquee their marquee S-Zone. Photo credit: John Patishnock

5. We got a nice sequence of James Franklin and the Nittany Lions taking the field before kickoff, and with a night-time start, the newly installed lights in the South Tunnel illuminated the shot quite nicely.

6. This week’s highlight video features some shots from the tailgating lots, next to Beaver Stadium, on the south side. Appreciate everyone allowing me to get some video, and the tailgating shots are early on in our highlight video.

7. Fans packed Beaver Stadium quickly leading up to the game. About an hour before kickoff, I looked around and was blown away. One of the team’s media relations pros was walking by, and I remarked to him how amazing the stadium looked. Always good to remind myself that we’re blessed to call Happy Valley home and share this community with so many passionate alumni and fans.

8. The Daily Collegian captured a nice photo of the pregame team entrance and fireworks. It really gives a sense of how much fans have embraced the Stripe Out. Penn State also posted a nice photo, and you can see that image on our Twitter page.

9. It was awesome to see Britt Baker at the game. For Penn Staters who don’t know, Baker is a Penn State grad and professional women’s wrestler for All Elite Wrestling (AEW), which airs nationally on TNT. She’s currently the women’s world champ for AEW, so she’s quite good at what she does. Just as interesting (or perhaps more so), she’s a dentist by day. Really, she is. You can check out her Instagram page to see her in action, and Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford met her Saturday night and shared this photo. You can also see photos that Baker shared to her Twitter page.

10. Anytime Penn State legend Todd Blackledge returns to campus to call a game, it’s a treat. A few days ago, we shared the image of when he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, following Penn State’s epic win over Nebraska in the championship season of 1982. You can see that cover photo on our Twitter page.

11. The postgame alma mater never disappoints. Never. Check out the team and fans singing the alma mater Saturday night, led of course by the Blue Band.

12. Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson connected for two scores Saturday, and the duo now hold the record for most touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver combo in Penn State history (18). Perhaps it was meant to happen against Indiana, since Blackledge was in the house. Clifford and Dotson broke the previous mark of 17, held by Blackledge and Kenny Jackson.

13. Anytime people are discussing this year’s Heisman Trophy race, Dotson’s name needs to be included. He’s the premier receiver in college football and helps lead a Top-5 team in the toughest division in the nation. He’s that good and deserves to be near the top of any list of candidates.

14. Following games, Clifford usually shows some fire as he walks up to ring the Victory Bell and celebrate with fans. Saturday was no exception. Check out our video, which shows lots of his teammates always enjoying the moment.

15. Sticking with the Victory Bell, we captured a funny moment between James Franklin and Devyn Ford. The star running back was getting ready to leave the field without ringing the Victory Bell, before Franklin called him back. Reminded me of a similar situation years ago between Franklin and Saquon Barkley. Coaches never stop coaching. You can see the entire sequence here, which includes Franklin ringing the Victory Bell himself.

16. Going back to Clifford, we captured his entire postgame media availability. He discusses his strong bond with Dotson, the team’s performance against Indiana, and a whole lot more. Clifford spoke with the media for a little more than nine minutes, and you can watch the entire video on our YouTube page.

17. Penn State’s next home game is in three weeks, when we’ll welcome tens of thousands of alumni back to University Park for Homecoming. You can read full details on Penn State News, and of special note, you can sign up for free for the popular ice cream social from 1-3 p.m., on Friday, Oct. 22, at the Hintz Family Alumni Center. As always, the Alumni Blue Band will be performing, and between that and free Berkey Creamery ice cream, we expect to see plenty of alumni stop by. We hope you’re among the group. Everyone is also invited to the Nittany Lion Shrine following the Homecoming Parade for Guard the Lion Shrine, hosted by our Lion Ambassadors.

18. Even if you can’t return to Beaver Stadium for home games, you can still cheer on the Nittany Lions with fellow Penn Staters. Many of our alumni chapters across the country host game watch parties (for all games, home and away) at local establishments, where space is reserved for Penn State alumni and fans. Visit our group events page to see what’s available near you.

19. There’s still time to register for the Saturday Pep Rally at Iowa. Visit our website for free sign ups and gather with fellow Nittany Lions while enjoying plenty of Penn State spirit and Penn State Bakery cookies. You can also sign up for our Pep Rallies at Ohio State, Maryland, and Michigan State.

20. Go State. Beat the Hawkeyes.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.

Penn State Preview: Indiana

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 4/6 Penn State (4-0) vs Indiana (2-2). 7:30 p.m. ET kick-off, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 75. Patchy fog in the morning; otherwise, sunny much of the day; mostly clear skies for kick-off.

The Line: Penn State -12.5 (SI Sportsbook).

All-Time Series: Penn State leads 22-2.

Last Meeting: Week One, 2020 season. Indiana 36, Penn State 35 (OT).

Last Week: Penn State topped Villanova, 38-17. Indiana held off Western Kentucky, 33-31.

Other Key Big Ten Games This Weekend:
– No. 5/5 Iowa at Maryland (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, FS1)
– No. 14/14 Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, Noon ET, Fox)
– No. 11/10 Ohio State at Rutgers (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Players To Watch – Penn State: QB Sean Clifford, WR Jahan Dotson, RB John Lovett, DE Arnold Ebiketie, S Jaquan Brisker.

Players To Watch – Indiana: QB Michael Penix Jr, WR Ty Fryfogle, DE Ryder Anderson.

The Lead: It’s another primetime clash for Penn State inside Beaver Stadium this week. Indiana won last year’s meeting thanks to Michael Penix Jr.’s outstretched dive for the pylon in overtime (OK, he was actually down short of the goal line and Penn State should have won that game, but I’m not going to harp on last year). It’s a new season and the Nittany Lions are a much better team than they were a year ago and Indiana has really struggled through four weeks of the season. Maybe it stems from the preseason expectations weighing a little too heavy on a program that’s almost always been a cellar dweller in the Big Ten. Whatever the reason, the Hoosiers aren’t sneaking up on anybody this year. Penn State has plenty of motivation and what should be another energetic home crowd behind them.

Penn State Wins If: The defense continues to play at its current level. Penix Jr. has struggled a lot throwing the ball down the field this season (55 percent completion rate, 6 INTs to 4 TDs). Penn State has a good pass rush and one of the better secondaries in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers have talent on the outside in reigning Big Ten Receiver of The Year Ty Fryfogle and 3rd-Team All-Big Ten pick Peyton Hendershot, but the Nittany Lions are playing some terrific ball on the back on of their defense right now. I don’t expect this to be the week Indiana gets going through the air. Quick note also on Penn State’s offense. Sean Clifford has greatly improved since Penn State’s loss to the Hoosiers last year. He’s throwing the ball with confidence and getting it out to his variety of playmakers. I expect him to have another good day.

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Indiana Wins If: The Nittany Lions’ inability to run the ball finally catches up with them. Indiana’s front seven is pretty good and the Hoosiers’ defense has had a knack for forcing turnovers. If the Penn State passing game has an off day, the ground game will have to be a lot better than it has been through four weeks. If both aspects of the offense struggle and we get another offensive showing similar to what we saw for large periods of the game against Wisconsin, Indiana can hang around and be in the game late with a chance for another upset.

Keep An Eye On: The S-Zone. Great work from our student organization, the Penn State Lion Ambassadors last week in setting up a terrific S-Zone in the south end zone. Last week’s S-Zone showcased a THON theme for the annual THON Game at Beaver Stadium. This week should be another great display under the primetime lights, with t-shirts organized to create a blue background engulfing the large white S. Learn more about the history of the S-Zone here.

Stripe Out 2021: If you’re coming to town for this weekend’s game, don’t forget that it’s a Stripe Out. Be sure to check out http://PennStateStripeOut.com to find out what to wear for your section.

Trivia Tidbit: Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson connected on a 52-yard touchdown on Penn State’s first offensive play against Villanova. It marked the 16th passing touchdown between the duo. They trail only Todd Blackledge-Kenny Jackson (17) as the top QB-WR touchdown pair in Penn State history. Blackledge, who of course started at quarterback for the Nittany Lions from 1981-1983, will be on the call this weekend for ABC with Sean McDonough and Molly McGrath.

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Number To Know: Since 2016, Penn State holds a .758 winning percentage, with a record of 50-16, the sixth-best winning percentage among Power Five programs.

Membership Tidbit: Penn State Alumni Association are the key to everything we do at the Alumni Association. Members make it possible to keep Penn Staters connected with the University and each other through The Football Letter, events and publications, and so much more. If you’re a member, thank you for your support of the Penn State alumni community! If you’re not a member, you can join today at alumni.psu.edu/membership.

Score Predictions:
John Patishnock: Penn State 37, Indiana 14
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 31, Indiana 17

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Making An Entrance

Thousands of Penn Staters routinely welcome James Franklin and the Nittany Lions prior to each home game at Beaver Stadium. If you want to attend team arrival this season, it’s usually 2.5 hours before kickoff and features performances from the Blue Band, Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, and Lionettes. Photo credit: John Patishnock

For a moment, James Franklin morphed into Bil Keane.

If the latter name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s for good reason. Keane was a cartoonist best known for his drawings of The Family Circus. The comic strip debuted in 1960 and remains in circulation to this day, with Keane’s son, Jeff, continuing the series. According to the comic’s publisher, The Family Circus is the most widely circulated comic in the world, appearing in over 1,500 newspapers.

OK, so what does all this have to do with Franklin and Penn State football?

Turns out, there is a connection. Sort of. Kind of. Just stick with me for a moment (please).

In a popular recurring theme of the comic strip, one of the children, Billy, takes a circuitous path to go a short distance, with a dotted line detailing his route. You can see one example in this NPR article.

That’s the image that sprung to mind as Franklin explained how exactly the Nittany Lions get to the stadium for team arrival after leaving the hotel. To hear Franklin’s description, you can watch today’s press conference. Jump to the 31:40 mark to hear my question — which focused on the moment when the Blue Buses pulled up the stadium — and Franklin’s response.

Listening to Franklin’s explanation is the best way to get the whole story, and here are a few notes:

— the team buses wind through campus, and the route is much longer than I previously thought;

— there’s a tailgating crew that Franklin sees each home game on the way to the stadium, with him saying, “They’re playing corn hole and having a good time, and they usually give us a big cheer when we go by.”

— in describing the the buses’ path, Franklin acknowledged: “to be honest, I don’t know any names of streets in State College”; it was a somewhat funny moment, and you’ll want to check it out, as the team’s media staff helped the head coach name the streets on the fly.

Starting at the beginning — like Franklin did with his response — makes sense, because by doing so, you gain full appreciation for what the moment is like when the team arrives at the stadium, where the area’s packed with family, friends, and alumni.

 “It’s another opportunity for our players to see their parents one more time, their loved ones, before we go in,” Franklin said. “They usually have the stage set up there, and the band and cheerleaders, and it’s really cool. Then, I do my lap.

“I think it’s a great way to start the game experience, and you get a pretty good sense pretty early on from the time we leave the hotel of what type of environment it’s going to be in Beaver Stadium.”

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.