IOWA CITY — It has become just another game for Geno Stone.
For the only Pennsylvania native in the Iowa football lineup, facing 10th-ranked Penn State is more about dealing with the Big Ten’s most productive passing attack than it is about sentimental feelings.
"The first couple years, it was a big deal to play Penn State for me. Now, it’s more about the football and less about it being my home state school," Stone said.
Some of that is maturity and experience — Stone has played against the Nittany Lions the past two seasons — and some of that is the reality of the moment.
The leader of the Hawkeye secondary from his spot at strong safety sees another stiff test awaiting 17th-ranked Iowa in today’s 6:30 p.m. game at Kinnick Stadium.
"We need to be in a position to play our best football," Stone said. "We didn’t do that at Michigan. We’re back home at Kinnick, back under the lights, and we need to put together a game."
Penn State will give the Hawkeyes little choice.
First-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, is throwing for an average of 288.6 yards per game for a Nittany Lions team which is averaging 47 points per game while allowing just 7.4.
"He’s stepped in and done a good job of running that offense," Stone said. "They’ve got a good quality group of receivers who step up and make plays. They’ll test us in a lot of ways. It’s something we have to be ready to deal with."
Coach Kirk Ferentz labels Penn State the "best offensive team" Iowa has faced during its 4-1 start to the season, a challenge for the Hawkeyes as they work to rebound from last week’s 10-3 loss at Michigan.
"The whole thing is taking what we learned and trying to grow from that," Ferentz said. "That’s really what we are focused on doing. … We are playing a top-10 football team that is playing with great confidence and momentum."
Stone sees that as well.
"They’ve moved the ball pretty much against every one they’ve played," Stone said. "It’s a pretty typical Penn State team, full of talent that can challenge you a lot of ways."
Iowa’s defensive backfield is in a better position to deal with that now than it was several weeks ago.
Free safety Kaevon Merriweather and cornerback Julius Brents have returned from injuries and cornerback Matt Hankins is back at practice as well, providing additional strength to a secondary that was minus four of the eight players listed on the season-opening depth chart because of injury.
"We’ve had to stick together and as guys come back, we’re in a position where even more guys have experience that should help us compete moving forward," Stone said. "We’ve gone through a lot of stuff and now we can benefit from that."
Stone has recorded 20 tackles on the season, forcing and recovering one fumble but, more importantly, providing needed leadership.
"Geno is not a senior, but he’s a veteran player that everybody respects and knows that he will be ready to go when it’s time to go," Ferentz said. "… You rely on those guys, not only to perform well, but to also help steady the ship when things are not going so well."
Stone grew up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, about a three-hour drive from the Penn State campus.
He grew up dreaming of becoming a Nittany Lion, but the Hawkeyes were the only power-five program to offer the 5-foot-10, 210-pound safety.
Stone had one solo tackle and two assists in the Nittany Lions’ 21-19 walk-off win at Kinnick Stadium two years ago as a freshman, and a year ago he took the field at Beaver Stadium for the first time and returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown in Penn State’s 30-24 win over Iowa.
The pick was among four Stone recorded last season, a collection he added to a week ago with his first interception of the season in Iowa’s 10-3 loss at Michigan.
His work has caught the attention of Nittany Lions coach James Franklin.
"It’s hard to watch a young man from Pennsylvania playing at another program in our conference playing so well," Franklin said. "I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He has really developed into one of the premiere players, in my mind, in the Big Ten."
Stone accomplished that by maintaining the type of focus that led him to his first pick of the season last week.
"You talk about guys doing things in practice and having it carry over to a game," Ferentz said. "I think he had two picks last week in practice, maybe not on the same routes or patterns, but doing things right during the week, those things do tend to show up and he’s a good illustration of that."