Nov. 23, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Midway through the football season, a friend who is a knowledgeable fan, asked if I thought the Hawkeyes would win another game. He was serious.
Things were not looking good for the Hawkeyes, who were having issues at quarterback as well as turnovers. As a consequence, they had lost three straight games by a total of nine points. They seemed incapable of winning close games, just as they had the two previous seasons.
Also, the six remaining opponents on their schedule appeared to be playing better football. Things looked grim, it was easy for Iowa fans to be pessimistic, and many were.
Then on consecutive Saturdays the Hawkeyes beat Indiana and Wisconsin convincingly, and looked very good in doing it. The turnovers were zero and the quarterback controversy was resolved.
After a bye week, Iowa took a step backward at Illinois. Fumbles and interceptions once again paved the way for easy points by the opponent, and the Hawkeyes lost another close contest.
If one game saved the season, it was probably Penn State, which came to Kinnick Stadium unbeaten and ranked No. 3 in the nation. Iowa staged a desperate fourth-quarter rally and pulled one of the season’s biggest upsets with a last-second field goal.
A week later the Hawkeyes proved that winning a close game was no fluke by holding off Purdue in the final minute. It was Iowa’s seventh win and guaranteed a bowl berth.
All of this was a prelude to what happened at Minnesota Saturday night, where Iowa and the Gophers staged their annual season-ending battle for Floyd of Rosedale. This was the last time the teams would face off in the Metrodome, and it was expected to be a typically close, hard-fought rivalry game.
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So what was more surprising — Iowa 55 points or Minnesota none? Iowa’s 483 yards of total offense or Minnesota’s 134? Iowa’s 15-minute advantage in possession time?
Even the most wildly optimistic Hawkeye fan was not expecting any of that. Who would have anticipated the most lopsided Iowa victory in the 103 year history of the series? Which is why we play the game, and why we are often surprised and even shocked at the outcome.
Iowa played a terrific game and also got some breaks. The Gophers made bad center snaps. They failed to field punts by banging into one another. Their quarterback badly overthrew a wide open receiver on what was their only chance for a touchdown. Iowa even got away with a late hit out of bounds.
Things sometimes go your way, especially when you’re playing good football.
Although the Gophers were geared to stop him, it was no surprise that Shonn Greene ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns. We have grown accustomed to that from this marvelously consistent tailback, who now owns Iowa’s single-season rushing record.
The defensive performance, highlighted by long interceptions returns by Amari Spievey and Tyler Sash, was superb against a Minnesota team averaging 25 points a game. About the only time the Gophers crossed the 50-yard line was on kickoff returns. They never got a whiff of the red zone.
This was one of those games that was not as close as the score indicates. Coach Kirk Ferentz pulled his starters early in the fourth period, and there was no scoring in the final 11 minutes. Both coaches seemed eager for the game to end.
I have another friend who says Iowa is the best 8-4 team in college football. I would not disagree with that. The Hawkeyes have the complete package, with a balanced offense, a stingy defense and generally good special teams.
It will be interesting to learn what bowl they go to, and who they will play. One thing is certain: Their performance the last half of the season has guaranteed an attractive post-season game.
The Hawkeyes are peaking at the right time. Too bad they can’t play the bowl game next week.