It's not the obvious choice...but it should be.
Superlatives have been thrown out about the 2012 Penn State football team, and the 2012 football season. This season and this team have meant different things to so many different people, good and bad. Different games of this season have likewise meant different things to fans of the Penn State football program.
The best game of the season, in this humble blogger's opinion? It's not even close: the October 20, 2012 manhandling of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Here's the thing: I get it. With the benefit of hindsight, Iowa was not a great (maybe not even a good) football team in 2012. Big whoop.
It was still the best game of the year.
We've lived with the Hawkeye monkey on our back for quite some time. We Penn Staters are still easily upset when recalling the 2008 season, and the 2009 season. Even the Almighty Zug called Iowa the worst place he'd ever played football.
In 2011, the Hawkeyes came to Penn State, and we played a memorable, close game, with Gerald Hodges having a breakout performance, no doubt giving Iowa QB James Vandenberg nightmares for months after. Particularly sweet was this performance, unexcpected as it was in my eyes, coming so close after an otherwise underwhelming 2010 season, and ended with a Hawkeye possession that, rather than coming close to gaining yards, included three straight sacks of a manhandled Iowa offense.
It had been years since I had felt Beaver Stadium as electric as I felt it that day. But then, IT happened. The regime change happened. The Ohio and UVA losses happened. And, despite the fact that we had beaten the Hawkeyes the previous year in Happy Valley and despite the fact that the odds were pretty much even going in (with both teams sitting at a 4-2 (2-0) record), I wasn't comfortable. This was Iowa, forgodsakes, the bane of our collective football existence. The ruiner of dreams. The blocker of punts (damn you, Adrian Clayborn).
Going into this game, I told anyone who would listen I could see three possible outcomes for this game: a close Iowa win. A close Penn State win. And, unfortunately, an Iowa blowout win. This was the first true road test for a relatively unproven PSU squad with a rookie coach, in an incredibly unfriendly environment against a team that had just defeated MSU, a preseason B1G favorite, in overtime in East Lansing.
The game started like your typical PSU/Iowa slugfest, with the teams trading punts. But then O'Brien's squad, led by Iowa's ginger nemesis Matt McGloin, started airing it out, and the score started rolling up.
Shout out to ArcherBullseye for the awesome video.
14-0 at the end of the first. 24-0 at the half. 31-0 less than a minute into the third. Our defense played lights out, helped, if slightly, by Vandenberg's apparent ineptitude; they only allowed one offensive score all night, even producing a demoralizing goalline stand in the third. Complementing Michael Mauti and Co, our offense rolled; our TEs created mismatches up and down the field, and Bill Belton and Zach Zwinack proved that they, not Mark Weisman, were the running backs to watch in this game.
Not that the team played perfectly; there were two turnovers, and only one of the three fourth down conversions were completed. We only fielded three punt returns, and gained a total of seven yards on punt returns in the game. We missed a field goal. But this game put Penn State 2012 on the map, and marked them as a force to be reckoned with for the regular season Leaders division title, and made the following week's showdown in the Beav with the Buckeyes a marquee matchup.
As many of you probably remember, I was at this Iowa game; because of this, I'm probably not that objective. It's not going to be that often that, as Penn State fans, we will go into an enemy stadium and emerge not just victorious, but resoundly so. It's not often that our team can be credited with exposing an opposing team's weaknesses to such effect that they wouldn't win a single additional game for the remainder of the season--which, at that point, was just half over.
The Iowa game showed everyone outside of University Park and the Penn State community that this 2012 squad was incredibly special, on the field as well as off. And because of that, it was, and is, the best game of the 2012 season.
SBN Links on the game:
BSD's previews were here and here; BHGP's previews were here and here. BSD interviewed BHGP, and BHGP returned the favor. BSD's post game analysis was done by Devon and bscaff; BHGP's understandably more dejected analysis can be found here and here.
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