IOWA CITY - Penn State is losing and some are wondering if the veteran coach who has won so many games for so many years has lost his touch.
Iowa's Aaron Kampman knows exactly what the Nittany Lions are going through with coach Joe Paterno. The same thing happened at Iowa when he was a freshman.
It was 1998, Hayden Fry's final season, and as the Hawkeyes struggled to a 3-8 record, there was a feeling the coach who had brought the program into national prominence had maybe stayed too long.
Penn State could be headed toward a season just as dismal. The Nittany Lions fell to 0-3 with a 24-18 loss at Iowa on Saturday and they have games with Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State just ahead.
Kampman thinks Paterno deserves a break.
"The guy's just a legend, just as coach Fry was," said Kampman, a senior defensive end. "It's pretty unfair to judge a guy just because they started out a little rough. They're a good football team. They played two great football teams - including us, three.
"I don't think all the criticism that they're going to receive, that they've been receiving, is right. You'll see them bounce back."
The 74-year-old Paterno remained stuck at 322 victories - one short of Bear Bryant's record for major college coaches. Nothing, Kampman said, can tarnish a record like that.
"I don't care if they don't win another ballgame," he said. "That's a pretty impressive stat."
Iowa, playing for the first time since Sept. 8, added to Penn State's early season woes despite a sloppy performance. The Hawkeyes were penalized 10 times. They had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown. They surrendered a safety when punter David Bradley mishandled the snap. They gave Penn State a field goal with a fumble at their own 20. They had a field goal attempt blocked.
Yet they still won and dominated the game more so than the score indicates despite rushing for only 104 yards.
"It's pretty obvious that things weren't pretty," quarterback Kyle McCann said. "Maybe it was due to the layoff, but I think a lot of it had to do with Penn State having a pretty good defense."
McCann helped Iowa build a 21-5 halftime lead with his passing. He consistently found tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Kahlil Hill to set up short touchdown runs by Ladell Betts, who carried 33 times for 95 yards despite a gimpy right ankle.
Then, with just 25 seconds left in the half, McCann fired the ball past two defenders to Hill on a 7-yard touchdown play.
"The great thing about this game is that we came out with the win even after all the mistakes," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We have a lot of clean up."
So does Penn State.
The Nittany Lions managed only 33 yards rushing and were disorganized at times. They burned three timeouts trying to get the right number of players on the field. Another time, they were penalized for breaking the huddle with 12 players.
"We're tentative, making mistakes," Paterno said. "We gotta grow up a little bit. I hope maybe they grew up in this game."
Penn State did show some life, driving 90 yards in 18 plays for a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-11 and getting a late touchdown when Larry Johnson went 15 yards with a blocked punt.
But Clark recovered the onside kick that followed and Iowa ran out the clock. Now, Penn State faces the prospect of its first 0-4 start in a sport it began playing in 1887. Michigan has defeated Penn State four straight times, outscoring the Nittany Lions 125-46 in those games.
"We've got to win this next one," tight end John Gilmore said. "We can't sit here and get down. We can't get used to losing or we should go into another sport. We need a win."
Do they ever.