By RICK BROWN
Leading up to the 2016 season opener against Miami of Ohio on Sept. 3 at Kinnick Stadium, hawkeyesports.com’s Rick Brown is taking a game-by-game look back at the University of Iowa’s historic 2015 season.
With perspective from Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, his staff and players, we hope to give you some insight into a season that will never be forgotten.
Iowa 29, Illinois 20
Oct. 10, 2015, Kinnick Stadium
Iowa City, Iowa
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis had no idea his play calling had a hand in Iowa football history until the game was won. That’s when Chris White, the Hawkeyes’ running backs and special teams coach, broke the news to him.
“He said, ‘Did you realize Jordan (Canzeri) carried the ball 43 times?'” Davis said. “I did not realize he had until Chris told me. I said, ‘The ball is not that heavy, Chris.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but those guys going after the ball are. Jordan did yeoman’s work that day.”
A school-record 43 carries, 17 more handoffs than Canzeri had ever taken in a college game, resulted in 256 yards rushing. He got 75 of them on a career-long touchdown run in the third quarter. The 256 yards rank third all-time at Iowa, trailing only Tavian Banks (314) and Ed Podolak (286).
But more impressive than all those yards was a sequence in the fourth quarter. Illinois had just cut the Iowa lead to 23-20 on Wes Lunt’s 53-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison with 10:13 remaining in the game.
The Hawkeyes took over at their own 25. Davis called Canzeri’s number on the first play. And the second. And the third. In fact, Canzeri carried on 11 consecutive plays, moving the ball to the Illinois 17. He averaged 5.6 yards a carry. His longest gain in that sequence was 13 yards. And the drive burned almost 7 minutes off the clock.
Canzeri’s carry streak ended with an incomplete pass on third down, and Marshall Koehn kicked a 34-yard field goal with 3:20 to play.
Eleven straight carries, in a bruising Big Ten football game.
“Unreal, right?” Iowa running back LeShun Daniels, Jr., said when looking back at what Canzeri had done. “That’s the heart of a champion right there. I know he was probably dying out there, but he knew he couldn’t come out of the game. The coaches were putting it on his shoulders. He put the team on his back by running the way he did. It was incredible to watch.”
Daniels was injured and couldn’t play against the Illini. Only two Iowa players carried the ball the entire game — quarterback C.J. Beathard and Canzeri. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz elected to stick with his dependable senior running back at a crucial moment of the game.
“Jordan, I don’t know if he had ever carried it 43 times,” Ferentz said, in reference to Canzeri’s prep career at Troy High School in Troy, New York. “I know he never did after that. On that day and that moment, he wasn’t coming out of the game. We weren’t taking him out unless he just looked at us and said, ‘I’m outta here.’ But he wasn’t about to do that. It was just one of those neat moments that you’ll remember for a long time.”
After the Lunt to Allison score, Iowa’s defense matched Canzeri’s intensity on the field of play. And they did it with a touch of “Next Man In.”
Standout defensive end Drew Ott suffered a season-ending knee injury rushing a punt in the third quarter. In stepped Parker Hesse, who first filled in for Ott when Ott injured an elbow in the second game of the season at Iowa State.
“The first time was probably more nerve-wracking,” Hesse said. “For the most part, there really isn’t any time for any emotions, or thinking, ‘What do I do?’ Here we go. The game is still going. You’ve got to fall back on what the strength staff and coaches have taught you. That’s what we do here.”
On the first play from scrimmage following Koehn’s 34-yard field goal, Hesse whacked Illinois running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and forced a fumble that linebacker Josey Jewell recovered at the Illini 25. Three Canzeri carries later, Koehn kicked a 40-yard field goal with 2:11 to play to make it a two-score game at 29-20.
Next Man In. Next win.
“We give our guys a lot on the two deep, and they have to be ready just as much as the starters,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “Parker Hesse is a charger, he’s going to go all the time and is a smart football player. He’s very similar to Drew. He’s not as big and strong, but he has a high motor like Drew. And that’s what you need.”
In two Illinois possessions after Canzeri’s 11-carry drive, Iowa’s defense yielded just 19 yards and no first downs at crunch time.
“You have to keep playing,” Parker said. “You have to go 60 minutes and see where you end up. That was a lot closer game than a lot of people really remember.”
The Illinois game marked the midway point of the regular season, and the Hawkeyes just kept finding a way to win. The Iowa State and Pittsburgh games had been tied in the fourth quarter, the lead was a precarious; three points in the fourth quarter against Illinois and four points at Wisconsin.
“We were West Division champs, not Big Ten champs, but to win a championship you’re going to have games like that,” Ferentz said. “I think back to 2002, when we went to Indiana and Grant Steen had three picks in the red zone against a team that didn’t win a game. (Iowa won, 24-8, and went on to become Big Ten champs). We thought Illinois was a good football team, and it was going to be tough. And it was.”
But Iowa had Canzeri, and that tipped the scales in the Hawkeyes’ favor.
“Jordan was the huge difference in that game, needless to say,” Ferentz said. “He took ownership and illustrated the way the seniors operated last year. We found a way to win.”
About the Author
Rick Brown is a native of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and a University of Iowa graduate. He covered Iowa athletics for the past four decades for the Des Moines Register prior to his retirement in December.