Hlas: The day Iowa football had minus-19 yards

It was 1941, and the Big Ten says so

The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald report from Wisconsin's 23-0 win over Iowa in 1941, in which the Hawkeyes reportedly accumulated minus-19 yards.
The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald report from Wisconsin's 23-0 win over Iowa in 1941, in which the Hawkeyes reportedly accumulated minus-19 yards.

Having never seen a 66-yard offensive output in my days covering major-college football, it’s hard for me to shake what I saw from Iowa in its game at Wisconsin last Saturday.

Fortunately, I hadn’t been subjected to the Kansas-TCU game of last month. The Jayhawks had a Big 12 record-low 21 yards in that dismal affair.

But Iowa isn’t Kansas, and 66 yards remains a mind-bender. Especially since the Badgers’ defense, as good as it is, had allowed at least 192 yards in each of its other nine games.

And, since Iowa hadn’t been held under 200 yards in any of its previous 101 games. The last time was 171 yards against Minnesota in a 12-0 home win.

Some sadists scrambled Saturday night and Sunday to find Iowa’s previous worst offensive output. I would have guessed it had occurred in the early 1970s. The 1971 Hawkeyes were held to seven points or fewer in five of their nine Big Ten games, then were shut out three times the following year.

But no. It appears Iowa’s worst offensive showing since Saturday was in a 46-0 loss at Minnesota in 1944. I’ve seen the Hawkeyes credited with 15, 16, and 19 yards that day.

But the low-point was at Wisconsin in 1941. Iowa was defeated 23-0 after accumulating minus-19 yards, assuming you can accumulate a minus.


Wisconsin doesn’t call that its best defensive effort ever. Instead, it says that distinction belongs to its 2005 team, which limited Temple to 45 yards in the Badgers’ 65-0 trouncing the Owls. That’s plus-45 yards.

The Badgers’ 2017 media guide doesn’t list anything before 1946 among its single-game records. But that 1941 total is listed in the 2017 Big Ten media guide as a conference record.

Fewest yards gained: Iowa -19 (-87 run, 68 pass) 10/18/1941

“The Iowa eleven somewhat bewildered by the Badgers’ early onslaught, never got going for any sustained march,” said Associated Press’ story about the game. Even back then, people liked to pretend football games had things in common with military operations.

The rest of that paragraph: “The hardcharging Badger forwards all but bottled up the Hawkeyes’ passing attack, and sound tackling made short work of the running game.”

I’m not sure how statistics were kept then. There may be good reasons why Wisconsin isn’t claiming that day in 1941 as its best defensive showing.

In Patrick Garbin’s 2008 book “About Them Dawgs: Georgia Football’s Memorable Teams and Players,” he wrote “Georgia’s official team and individual football statistics are not available before the 1947 season. Before this date, game statistics were usually kept and reported haphazardly by newspaper writers covering college football games.

“Also, if games were covered by more than one writer, their statistics frequently conflicted and were tallied differently by each of the sources keeping the statistics. For example, some statisticians did not figure negative losses into net gains.”

How a football team could have minus-87 yards rushing in a game is a bit mind-boggling. But that wasn’t the worst major-college rushing or offensive performance of the decade, let alone all-time.


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In 1947, Penn State held Syracuse to minus-47 total yards in its 40-0 win at Penn State’s New Beaver Field. Syracuse had minus-107 rushing yards.

It’s not like everyone ran backward back then. That ’47 Penn State team rushed for 271 yards per game.

Seventy years later, Iowa rushed for 25 yards and passed for 41 in the same game. I normally would insist you’ll never see such futility from a Hawkeyes team again. But after Iowa’s last two games, the only safe declaration is to declare anything is possible.



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