I did not plan on writing a column four days after Penn State fell in Iowa that rehashed much from the game. My plan was to talk about the first half of the season, what has gone right for the Nittany Lions, what hasn't, and how I think the second half will go down. Then Kirk Ferentz opened his mouth and sent this is a totally different direction.
The whole controversy, or whatever it was, over the Iowa fans booing numerous injured Nittany Lions seemed to have quieted down in the last day or two. Each side said their piece, and for the good of everyone, the world had seemingly moved on moved on. That was until Ferentz was asked about the booing during his Tuesday press conference and opted to just rip that scab right back off.
Ferentz's transcribed comments here. pic.twitter.com/A5inrk27jh— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) October 12, 2021
I assume this doesn't need to be said to anyone with half a brain reading this blog, but there was absolutely no ulterior motive at work here. Why on earth would Penn State's defense feel compelled to fake an injury, or several of them, to slow down Iowa's offense or take them out of whatever rhythm fans seemed to think they were in?
More to the point, why would they have their best players come off the field in a close game, even briefly, in such an unlikely scenario? Never mind the fact that a pair of the injured Lions did not return to the field, and safety Jaquan Brisker has battled a shoulder injury since the Wisconsin game. A fourth, D'Von Ellies, missed multiple series to end the first half. I'm sure Penn State was happy to be down to their fourth defensive tackle at that point.
James Franklin has been at the helm of the Nittany Lion program for seven-plus seasons now. Never once have they even remotely flirted with such a scheme, let alone be accused of taking dives. They've faced more than a few teams that want to move things quickly on offense too, especially when compared to Iowa.
What really has gotten under my skin though is you have the head coach of a team, now No. 2 in the nation, coming off what may be his program's biggest win in a generation. Not only is he rehashing this four days later, but he is downright implying his opposition was not playing fair. Can you imagine the backlash James Franklin would get for making a similar comment in similar circumstances? Instead, you have national writers basically laughing it off.
feisty kirk https://t.co/oA3EVNUYxO— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) October 12, 2021
Kirk unleashed. https://t.co/sHp3zPdhz8— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) October 12, 2021
The ways this unravels are even quicker than you might suspect. Iowa fans booed the ball falling off of the tee before the opening kickoff, and again after Penn State's first touchdown. They booed PJ Mustipher's injury, one he did not return from, on the opening series the game. If they, to quote Ferentz "smelled a rat", they maybe should've waited until some perceived pattern developed. Or maybe they should've avoided booing when Penn State wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith went down with an injury, on offense, after a big gain for the Lions.
Look, fans behave poorly basically anywhere. I noticed a Nittany Lion fan on Twitter Saturday say they wished Spencer Petras broke his leg on a play where he got up limping. There's no place for such vitriol in college sports, but mix in adrenaline, and a bev or two, and things happen. It doesn't make it right, but there isn't a single program in the country that can claim innocence when it comes to poor behavior from their supporters.
Hearing not only this tacit approval but a straight-up endorsement of it from a man who is the dean of the college coaching fraternity is way over the line, though. Penn State and Iowa fans have certainly had their battles over the years, and no love is lost between them. But despite a lengthy history of close, meaningful games between the two programs, there at least appeared a level of respect from the players, coaches, and staffs until this week.
I fully suspect James Franklin to take the high road when asked about this on Wednesday evening, between questions on his quarterback's health. I also have a sneaking suspicion that he's already made a mental note for the next time the Hawkeyes appear on the other sideline. Here's hoping he gets that chance in two months' time in Indianapolis.