STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Prodding reporters and poking fun at himself, Joe Paterno sounded downright giddy Tuesday for someone trying to get Penn State ready to face its Big Ten nemesis.
Iowa is 8-1 against the Nittany Lions since 2000, including three straight wins, though Paterno has chosen to focus on the positives so far this week. The Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-0) and their struggling offense return Saturday to Happy Valley for their conference home opener against the Hawkeyes.
"We're in the middle of trying to do something special," Paterno said Tuesday, "and I think Iowa is the next step."
Perhaps it was the presence of his wife, Sue, watching his weekly news conference from a balcony overlooking the Beaver Stadium media room that had JoePa in a good mood.
Or maybe it was thoughts about the stout defense, fifth in the FBS in total yardage (250.4 per game) even with star linebacker Michael Mauti (left knee) out for the year.
One of Paterno's players even broke from the mold of sticking to a more reserved midweek tone with some good-natured jabs at the Hawkeyes (3-1), who open Big Ten play after a bye week.
"Iowa is a wrestling school and Penn State is a football school, so we've got to take it to them," joked middle linebacker Glenn Carson, a standout wrestler while at Southern Regional High School.
Both schools are also wrestling rivals in the Big Ten, especially since Penn State won the national title this year - an accomplishment not lost on Carson, who was The Press' Wrestler of the Year in 2009 after winning a but chose to focus on football in college.
Despite its success in both sports, Penn State remains a high-profile target for opposing fans in part because of Paterno and the program's storied tradition. So the Nittany Lions got an earful on the sideline from Hawkeyes faithful last year in Iowa City during Iowa's 24-3 win.
"The Iowa crowd was a little bit more hostile," Carson said. "I think it's time we keep them a little bit more humble."
To do that, Penn State may need a better outing from its two quarterback-offense following last week's too-close-for-comfort 16-10 win over conference weakling Indiana.
In five trips last week against the Hoosiers, Penn State had three field goals, a fumble and an interception. On the year, the Nittany Lions are 11th in the Big Ten in red zone offense (76 percent).
"If we just keep pecking away, we pay attention to details, we don't stop ourselves, we'll be fine," said Paterno, who otherwise couldn't pinpoint specific reasons for the red-zone struggles.
There will be no apparent changes in the quarterback system. Rob Bolden has started the season's first five games, throwing 39 of 85 (45.9 percent) for 455 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore has thrown all four of Penn State's interceptions.
Matt McGloin holds a decisive statistical edge despite coming off the bench, throwing 44 of 76 (57.9 percent) for 625 yards and four scores. The offense seems to move a bit crisper with McGloin, though Penn State had problems against Indiana no matter who ran the plays.
"It doesn't really matter who's at quarterback," said receiver Derek Moye, who caught a 74-yard score from McGloin against Indiana. "If we execute ... it shouldn't matter who is back there."
McGloin expressed some frustration after the Indiana game and said he thought his performance the last two weeks - he also threw for three TDs in week 4 against Eastern Michigan - warranted a starting nod.
Paterno said McGloin hasn't expressed frustration to him, nor was he concerned.
"I think there are times when obviously we all get caught off balance, maybe in a mood that we're not receptive to the situation," Paterno said. "I think that may be the case."
The most obvious mood Tuesday was Paterno's energetic demeanor.
When asked about play-calling duties, Paterno said most of the responsibility falls to his assistants, then called himself more of a "cheerleader."
Then Paterno, seemingly recovered now from the hip and pelvis injuries he suffered Aug. 7 after a player ran into him in practice, relayed the story of an observer who recently called and said he should be back "swaggering" on the sideline.
"Pretty tough to swagger on a cane. But I'm good now. I'm going to be swaggering all over the place," he said with a laugh. "Don't get in my way."