COLUMBUS - A tough road game is a tough road game, right? Seen one, seen 'em all, right?
Top-ranked Ohio State traveled to Austin a couple of weeks ago and faced the purported wrath of the defending national champions and their passionate following. After weathering Texas and its fans with apparent ease in a 24-7 victory, this week's journey to Iowa should be just another stagecoach ride, in theory.
But that premise dies right where the Mississippi River bisects the Quad Cities, an hour east of ground zero - Iowa's Kinnick Stadium.
The Longhorns fans were decked out in pressed oxford shirts, Tony Lama boots, and designer jeans, but in Iowa City, they'll be covered in war paint, and if they're wearing shirts at all, they'll be T-shirts, and they'll be bright gold.
Texas was a cordial, gentlemanly, southern crowd. At Iowa, they won't spit on you - until they run out of insults.
The tailgaters in Austin drank chardonnay and snacked on crab cakes and julienne carrot sticks. In central Iowa, if it doesn't start with a "B" - as in beer, brats, burgers - you won't find it anywhere near the stadium.
In Texas, there were more Escalades in the stadium parking lot than pickups. This Saturday, there'll be enough stakebeds, duallies, and four-wheel drive F-250s on the grounds to stage a land rush.
The Buckeyes are expecting a charged, volatile atmosphere, and with a 7 p.m. local time kickoff, the locals will have plenty of time to put on their game faces.
"The place has an atmosphere all its own," Ohio State wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez said. "Their crowd really gets into it, and they are all over you from the moment you get there. That might bother some people, but for me, I really like that. It's part of what makes the Big Ten so competitive, that kind of passion."
Gonzalez and the other veteran Ohio State players remember the pounding they took on their last visit to Iowa's Kinnick Stadium two years ago. The Buckeyes got whacked 33-7, their worst defeat of the Jim Tressel era. Ohio State, 0-2 entering that game, got serenaded with the Iowa fans chanting "oh and 3, oh and 3" as time ran out.
Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who saw his first significant action in that game when he replaced an injured Justin Zwick, said the 2004 Iowa game was a cold slap of reality for the Buckeyes.
"That was a wake-up call for all of us," Smith said. "In that game, they let us know that if you come into a Big Ten stadium and you are not focused, then this is what could happen to you."
The Buckeyes returned the favor last year, winning 31-6 in Ohio Stadium, but Smith does not want to look at Saturday's game as just the latest round of some team trying to right a wrong.
"I don't want to see our guys motivated by revenge because of what Iowa did to them in the past," Smith said. "We just have to go out and play every week in a different way, and hopefully, we can get wins. We have to put in our work in preparation, and, hopefully, we come out focused."
Tressel said yesterday that the Hawkeyes are looking for their first 5-0 start in more than a decade and can match the Buckeyes in momentum. He expects a frenzied environment when the evening kickoff rolls around.
"They're going to have a tremendous atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium," Tressel said. "And it goes without saying that when we enter that stadium, we'd better be tremendously poised. There's going to be all of those gold shirts in the crowd Saturday night, but you'd better not use that as an excuse. This is Tuesday, and you know they're gonna be there."
Tressel said he anticipates the toughest of circumstances at Iowa, adding that Ohio State is circled on everyone's calendar, and the Hawkeyes are certainly going to be jacked up about playing the No. 1 team in the country.
"I think adversity like that and more difficult situations always help you get better," he said. "We have some great challenges on our schedule, and the next one is a big one."
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