Iowa is a few days removed from its biggest home win arguably in decades, and it is the Big Ten's highest-ranked team in a renaissance year for the league.
Yet Tuesday, Hawkeyes veteran coach Kirk Ferentz felt compelled to clarify the reaction of the home fans inside Kinnick Stadium as Iowa rallied past previously unbeaten Penn State last Saturday.
Some questions had been raised about the reaction of Iowa's fans to some late-game injuries for the Nittany Lions.
College football's longest-tenured head coach, Ferentz offered his insight.
"Football's a hard, competitive, tough game,” Ferentz said Tuesday during an half-hour media session. “And fans are into it, just like everybody else is into it.
“First of all, I know a couple of (Penn State) players were legitimately hurt. I know that. I saw one sitting on the bench. I know he had an ice bag on his leg. Obviously, the quarterback (Sean Clifford) didn't come back, so I hope those guys are well. I don't know what their status is. Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt. Nobody.”
However, as the Hawkeyes erased what was once a 17-3 deficit, Penn State encountered a bevy of injuries – not all of which Iowa's camp believed were legitimate.
“I think probably it's a reaction to the, there were a couple of guys who were down for the count and then were back a play or two later,” Ferentz said. “Our fans aren't stupid. They're watching. They know what's going on.”
Understandably, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin – a persistent candidate for the vacant University of Southern California job – defended his team's players.
"I do have a little bit of a hard time with our players getting hurt,” said Franklin, whose Penn State squad had won nine-straight games before it blew the two-touchdown lead at Iowa. “And the fans and the coaches and the staff booing our players. They don't run a tempo offense [which can cause opponents more frequently to feign injuries]. It was not part of our plan.”
Regardless, Ferentz cited more than two decades' experience – and just the second such instance of injury questions from his purview.
Ferentz even said his staff had experienced the terminology and execution of the dubious injuries.
"I've been here 23 years,” said Ferentz. “I think that's only the second time we've seen that kind of stuff going on. I know it's a topic nationally right now. It was one of the discussions of the rules-makers. Nobody knows the answer to it. I also know for a fact that there are two people in our building that have been places where — 'scuba' and 'turtle' — were the code words. So it goes on.
“We don't coach it. Haven't really been exposed to it. But our fans thought they smelled a rat, I guess. I don't know. So they responded the way they responded."
Iowa rallied for a 23-20 triumph and its second-straight win versus Franklin's Nittany Lions, after it had lost the previous six games in the series.