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IOWA CITY — An Iowa football player of two decades ago told me Saturday night that he had spoken with an Iowa football player who came a decade before him, and they agreed on this:
Best win ever.
That being the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 demolition of Ohio State that day in Kinnick Stadium.
In terms of what the game meant historically, no, it wasn’t Iowa’s most-significant victory. It didn’t secure a Big Ten title. It wasn’t a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup like the Hawkeyes’ legendary win over Michigan in 1985. It wasn’t one of Iowa’s three triumphs in major bowls.
Just in the last decade, I don’t know you say one memorable win outranks another in importance, be they the walk-offs over LSU in the 2005 Capital One Bowl, or against Penn State in 2008, Michigan State in 2009, Pittsburgh in 2015 or Michigan in 2016.
But you get what those ex-players meant. This was Ohio State, a top-five team in the media and coaches polls with a Heisman Trophy candidate (then, not now) in quarterback J.T. Barrett, and the Hawkeyes hammered them.
Ohio State. The only Big Ten program that has consistently gotten the better of Iowa over the last 40 years.
While all those aforementioned games and others will always burn brightly in Hawkeye hearts, this one struck a deeper chord with those who wore the uniform. This was dominating the dominators.
All the statistical goodies, like being just the third team to score 50 points against Ohio State in the last century and the first to do it against any Urban Meyer-coached team, were great. But it was the way Iowa played from pillar to post against those goliaths that separated it.
Nate Stanley’s fourth-quarter 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson told the game’s story in one play. Buckeye defensive end Sam Hubbard wrapped up Stanley’s left ankle and knocked him slightly off-balance for a moment. Stanley didn’t seem a bit concerned. If anything, he was mildly annoyed. He immediately regained his footing, and whipped the ball to Hockenson in the end zone while the Buckeye pest was still tugging on his leg.
Cornerback Josh Jackson’s third interception of the game, with the result of the game all but decided with 9:38 left, was the showstopper. The leaping one-hand stab at the Iowa 1 was the stuff of Odell Beckham Jr., an All-America play on Jackson’s All-America day.
Those were plays Ohio State typically makes, not surrenders. Even better, they weren’t one-trick ponies. Stanley had five TD passes against the Big Ten’s No. 1-ranked defense. Jackson had three picks against Barrett, who had thrown just one all season and had been dazzling as he completed his last 16 passes against Penn State the week before.
I’ll humbly own my place in the long line of people who couldn’t see the Hawkeyes winning this game. With a good defense, sure, you always have a chance. But I sure couldn’t envision Iowa moving the ball with success given what we’d seen the last several games.
It was a beautifully coordinated and executed offense (and defense, and special teams) Saturday. It goes to show you what we never quite remember. Which is, when a capable college team plays anyone, you never know what’s going to happen.
These are still just college kids, up and down. Barrett went from Superman to Clark Kent in seven days. Iowa’s freshmen offensive tackles, Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs, went from being new kids on the block to men who held up their ends of the bargain against a terrific defensive line.
Days like Saturday are seldom-experienced at most other Big Ten stadiums, or most other stadiums, period. Iowa has had far more than its share. It’s that and something far deeper that explains why so many former Hawkeye stars were back for the game. Desmond King, Jaleel Johnson, Kevin Kasper, Colin Cole, and more.
They didn’t play for a dynasty. But they did play for a program that never listens to anyone who says it doesn’t have a chance against a dynasty.
“Absolutely,” Cole said when I asked him if he saw an Iowa win coming. He paused before adding “but not like this.”