Wine Online: A Little About Everything

Oct. 31, 2004

An inconspicuous item in Sunday’s sports section grabbed my attention.

In a small-college game in Nebraska, a quarterback named Tom Lensch threw an NCAA record 101 passes, completing 56 for 507 yards. Hastings beat Dana 60-35, and despite the staggering numbers put up by Tom Lensch, he was on the losing team.

Which illustrates something I pointed out in this space a few weeks ago — teams that run the ball successfully almost always win, teams that rely heavily on the passing game often lose.

You may have noticed the Hawkeyes have featured the forward pass more and more as their season unfolds. This is not by design, but by necessity. After losing two more running backs in Saturday’s 23-13 victory at Illinois, Iowa is being squeezed badly at that important position.

That the Hawkeyes have won consecutive road games the past two weeks is a tribute to the coaches and players. They’ve been winning with an exceptional defense, a good passing game and sound, fundamental football.

Only three players (none would be a factor under normal circumstances) are now available to accept a handoff from Drew Tate. This has put enormous pressure on the sophomore quarterback, his receivers, his linemen, and the Iowa coaching staff.

Yet some way, some how, the Hawkeyes managed to sweep all four Big Ten opponents on their October schedule and are now surprise contenders for the league championship and a January bowl game. All they have to do is run the table in November, starting with Purdue at home this week, followed by a game at Minnesota, followed by Wisconsin back home.

Ah, if it were only that easy!

As of last week, all three remaining foes were nationally ranked, but Purdue and Minnesota have stumbled recently. The Boilermakers come to Iowa City riding (or hiding) a three-game losing streak. The Gophers have lost three of their last four games. Wisconsin had the week off and is still the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten.

It’s hard to imagine Iowa beating any of these three without some semblance of a running game, but where is it going to come from? Illinois has the poorest rush defense in the Big Ten and one of the worst in college football, but held the Hawkeyes to 76 yards on the ground.

The word’s out – Iowa is crippled at running back. Plenty of scouting reports and videotape are circulating on the Hawkeyes at this point in the season. Don’t fear their running game, say the reports.

That the Hawkeyes have won consecutive road games the past two weeks is a tribute to the coaches and players. They’ve been winning with an exceptional defense, a good passing game and sound, fundamental football.

But Penn State and Illinois are still looking for their first Big Ten victory. Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin are all looking for the best possible bowl game. The strength of schedule is about to increase.

Iowa has two factors working in its favor, however. One is home-field advantage. The Hawkeyes have won 16 straight games at cozy Kinnick Stadium, where they will entertain Purdue and Wisconsin before the usual raucous capacity crowd of 70,000..

Then there is the improvement factor under Kirk Ferentz. His previous five teams at Iowa, including the first two that had poor records, were better in November than they were in September. Kirk’s record after October is 12-8 (60%). In the last four years it is a remarkable 12-5 (70.6%).

By comparison, Forest Evashevski’s record after October in nine seasons was 20-12-2 (61.8%). Hayden Fry’s was 49-30-1 (61.9%) in 20 seasons.

Yes, Ferentz’s Hawkeyes are tough to beat in November. But they have never gone into the final month of the season handicapped this seriously. It will be interesting to see if they can succeed with an offense that has become — because of the high number of injuries at running back – one dimensional.

REVIEWING ILLINOIS – Less than five minutes into its game at Illinois, the Hawkeyes were looking at a 7-0 deficit and Aaron Mickens being put in an ambulance. The game was delayed 15 minutes as Mickens, who took a helmet-to-helmet collision, lay motionless on the field.

How would the Hawkeyes react to this scary moment? With great determination and resolve – the way we’ve come to expect. They tied the score in the second quarter, then, with a strong wind at their backs in the third period, put the game away by scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions, with a safety squeezed in between.

Mickens suffered a concussion and might play this month. Bob Bowlsby went to the field from the press box to accompany Mickens to the hospital. It was an appropriate move by the Iowa athletic director that showed both concern and class.

ABOUT THE OFFICATING – Normally I don’t like to hear radio announcers criticize officials. It detracts from the game and makes the announcers sound like homers. But when Ed Podolak and Gary Dolphin came down hard on the officiating at Illinois, it was justified. The refs failed to call obvious holding on Illinois (especially against Matt Roth), and ruled a backward pass by the home team an incomplete pass. They also had problems spotting the ball. Hey, they had a bad day and should be held accountable.

Editor’s Note: George Wine, the University of Iowa’s long-time sports information director who is now retired and living in Coralville, Iowa, is the author of George Wine Online. George has remained very close to the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI since his retirement and, in fact, has authored two books during that time. The first was a collaboration with the subject of today’s editorial, Hayden Fry, and named “A High Porch Picnic.” The second, “Black & Gold Memories, The Hawkeyes of the 20th Century,” included many of the essays George originally wrote for “The Voice of the Hawkeyes.” As he wrote in the book, “Collectively, they serve as a historical reference, and hopefully provide entertaining reading.” “Black & Gold Memories” is currently available at Barnes & Noble book stores across Iowa and on the world wide web.