Three cool things:
1. This is the game we’re going to fight about. What is this jack ball doing putting a 2001 Indiana game at No. 11?
I’ll get to it.
Iowa rolled into this Oct. 20 game at Kinnick at 3-2. The Hawkeyes won their first three and then dropped two in a row, a 23-14 loss at Purdue and a 31-28 loss at Michigan State. Then, it was Indiana and then it was playing host to No. 8 Michigan at Kinnick and then a trip to Madison, where a 34-28 loss was waiting for them.
It was going to be a tough five-week stretch for a team that finished 3-9 the year before. Sure, they got the one they should’ve gotten, but it wasn’t that easy.
Iowa was Wile E. Coyote. Indiana QB Antwaan Randle El was the Road Runner.
They grabbed, he dodged. They pulled, he glided. They set an elaborate Acme Co. trap in the middle of the road, he scooted past, the highway rippling behind.
Randle El was the most elusive quarterback in the Iowa Hawkeyes’ universe. The most elusive I’ve seen.
“There’s not another guy like him out there in the country,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “This guy is a magician.”
The numbers are phenomenal. The Indiana senior owned the Hawkeyes.
In three games against Iowa, Randle El had rushed 47 times for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 29 of 64 passes for 472 yards and five TDs.
And most importantly, he was 3-0.
“In 2 1/2 years in the Big Ten, I haven’t seen a player like him,” Ferentz said. “We have more scar tissue than most teams, so maybe that’s not fair.
“All due respect to Ron Dayne, he ran for about 600 on us two years ago. But this guy, holy smokes, what he does against us. Some of the plays he’s made against us, I hope that’s the end of it.”
Iowa was the only team in the Big Ten that Randle El had a 3-0 record against. So, what is it?
“I don’t know,” said Randle El, who, at this point in his career, had rushed for more than 3,000 yards and passed for more than 6,000. “We’ve just won the close ballgames. I wouldn’t call it a bad matchup. They’ve fought and they’ve played hard and everything. We’ve just won the close ballgames.”
Randle El worked the Hawkeyes’ nerves.
Even when this one was over in 2001, Iowa wanted to make sure.
The Hawkeyes didn’t feel like this one was over until Aaron Kampman was sitting on Randle El’s chest.
“We knew we had to shut him down on the last play to seal the game,” outside linebacker Grant Steen said. “That was like a weight being lifted off your shoulders. You knew you had the win and you beat an excellent player.”
Kampman basked in the moment. For three seasons Randle El had tormented Kampman, who, as a 282-pound defensive end, had watched more than his share of Randle El on quarterback option.
Kampman dumped Randle El on a fourth-and-6 play with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, cementing Iowa’s 42-28 victory. He rocked back on the Kinnick Stadium turf and stretched his arms in victory.
“That was a nice moment,” said Kampman, grinning ear-to-ear. “I knew that they were done. And barring a miracle, we won the ballgame. We hadn’t beaten them for three years.
“But yeah, it wasn’t the prettiest win, but boy, we beat them.”
Overcoming Randle El was part of it. Another part was overcoming themselves.
Iowa lost a few close games in 2000 and 2001. Ferentz’s mantra was learning how to win. This game gave that a push.
Iowa came out on fire, rolling up a 21-7 lead. It was 28-21 in Iowa’s favor at halftime. Indiana crawled within a TD in the fourth quarter and then Kyle McCann threw a TD pass and Iowa had it.
It was back-and-forth and IU had the missile.
And then there was Ferentz’s quick postgame. I want to say it was an ESPN-Plus broadcast (remember that?).
He started to lose it. I taped the game on a VCR. That’s how I did it back in the day. Ferentz’s voice started to crack. I had noticed that, but I thought, why for this one? It’s just Indiana.
It wasn’t “just Indiana.” It was a corner that was starting to turn.
2. I didn’t know there was a Bronko Nagurski defensive player of the week award until Bob Sanders collected 25 tackles against Indiana in 2001.
Email had been invented back then. I remembered getting to the office a little earlier on that Monday because I think Iowa had Sanders down for 23 tackles and I knew that was going to be an award-winner.
Saw the email. Saw it actually was 25 tackles. Yes, this is the Bob Sanders game with the picture of him literally taking off an Indiana player’s helmet with a nasty forearm.
The Nagurski Award is given by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club, so it’s legit. Obviously, so was Sanders.
Iowa’s defense surrendered 468 yards. Still, Sanders got the Nagurski award as well as Big Ten defensive player of the week.
“There’s some irony there,” admitted Ferentz. “You ended up with two pretty outstanding players, number 11 (Randle El) and number 33 (Sanders), and Bob made some critical plays to keep him from converting. Those were big, big plays for us in the second half.”
Sanders was a marvel.
”He packs a punch,” fellow starting defensive back Matt Stockdale said at the time. “He didn’t even lift weights that much before he got here, and he was completely ripped.
“He’s a brick as far as his body and how he uses it. He propels it into other people.”
Sanders made the starting lineup in 2000’s ninth game. He made 11 solo tackles against Wisconsin.
Iowa lost that day, 13-7, but looked like a different team on defense.
“We tried to protect him in that last month last year,” Ferentz said. “We had to. He really wasn’t ready to play that whole scheme.
“This year, he’s a different player. He still has a long way to go, but now we can scheme on defense without saying ‘Where’s Bob going to be on this play?’ Now he makes the adjustments.”
Randle El was the one with the profile in this one. Sanders was the one with 25 tackles.
”He’s a football player,” Ferentz said. “That, to me, is an endearing term.”
3. There used to be a day when football would occasionally come up when football coaches spoke. Ferentz doesn’t do much X and O. And now, it’s more about anything other than football.
We used to have real football lead-ups for football games back in 2001. Sanders and Randle El didn’t need an introduction.
“Their secondary is more physical than last year. That I noticed on the film,” Randle El said. “No. 33 (Sanders) their strong safety, he’s their core. He plays safety, but he’s like the centerpiece of their defense.
“He’s the guy who gets them going.”
Gotta say, Randle El read that one pretty well.
Quote: “There must be something about Indiana and basketball. I feel like we just came out of a basketball game.” — Kirk Ferentz
Note: Iowa finished the 2001 regular season 6-5. Without this one, no 2001 Alamo Bowl. Without that, Ferentz isn’t declaring in the postgame that his team had turned the corner.
This was a sneaky big victory.
Why No. 11? — Iowa had to win one of these before it knew what it could be capable of in 2002.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2001
IOWA CITY — They can laugh about it now.
Antwaan Randle El slashed them and dashed them for three years and did it again another four quarters Saturday. But it’s OK to come up for a breath. They can relax, release a collective sigh.
The scary good man is gone now. Randle El ate them alive one last time and they lived to tell about it.
The Hawkeyes lived, snapping a three-game losing streak to Indiana, 42-28, before 68,295 fans at Kinnick Stadium. He did it again. Randle El conducted an offense that churned out 468 yards, including 308 rushing yards, but it’s OK.
If the Hawkeyes have a facial tic, it’s called Randle El. He had them twitching one more time, running the Hoosiers’ option offense to perfection.
But they can laugh about it, now. The scary good man is gone. The Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-2 Big Ten) can laugh.
“Maybe later,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I didn’t see anything too funny out there today.”
Or sigh, a good sigh and wipe of the brow is in order. Randle El can’t hurt them anymore.
“I’m not Pop Warner or Alonzo Stagg, but I don’t know if I’ve seen a better college football player,” Ferentz said.
The whole game was something never seen before, at least before the Big Ten season started.
The Hawkeyes’ offense, a sputtering proposition the last two weeks, punched in. Quarterback Kyle McCann was dead on. Receiver Kahlil Hill was a weapon. And running back Ladell Betts was a bully.
Iowa ran 50 offensive plays to Indiana’s 84 and gained 454 yards, averaging 9.1 yards a play to Indiana’s 5.6. The Hawkeyes were a perfect balance, rushing for 226 and passing for 228. They scored touchdowns on their first four drives, and played a game of one-up with Randle El, matching and surpassing him along the way.
“It was a lot of fun,” said McCann, who completed 12 of 16 for 223 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, bouncing back nicely from last week’s four interceptions at Michigan State.
“We were able to do whatever we wanted, running the ball, throwing the ball, making big plays. That makes it fun.”
The duel with Randle El started right off, third play of the game. Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe snared a play from Central Michigan’s playbook, running Hill in motion and stopping him behind the left guard before the snap.
Indiana linebacker Justin Smith blitzed as McCann rolled out and hit Hill, who made a reverse pivot into the flat. Tight end Dallas Clark and wideout Chris Oliver landed blocks and Hill toed the sideline for a 75-yard TD.
“I knew it was going to be a good play,” said Hill, who caught three passes for 93 yards and two TDs. “If the guy bit, I thought maybe 15, 20 yards. But Chris was banging heads down field, so it went the distance.”
Indiana (1-5, 1-3 Big Ten) answered. Holy Cow, the Hoosiers answered.
Iowa had the Hoosiers with a third-and-7 from their 5-yard line, but Randle El rolled out and took off for 11 yards, setting the tone for a monster 14-play, 98-yard TD drive.
And the game was on.
Randle El against McCann. Randle El against Hill, Clark, C.J. Jones. Randle El against Betts, who ran like a mad bull, rushing 22 times for 172 yards.
In the end, Iowa had just enough defense. Indiana had no defense.
“It wasn’t like it was one mistake after another in this game,” said Indiana Coach Cam Cameron. “It was our inability to ever get them stopped that cost us the game.”
The Hawkeyes made one defensive stop in the first half to get the crack they needed.
Behind the offensive line’s best performance since Kent State, the Hawkeyes marched 80 yards on 11 plays to take a 14-7 lead with two minutes, 27 seconds left in the first quarter. Sophomore running back Aaron Greving scored the first of his two TDs, but Betts did all the work, gaining 50 yards on six carries.
“We felt like we couldn’t stop anybody,” Indiana linebacker Devin Schaffer said.
Then, the stop, the one real stop. Randle El was stopped for a 6-yard gain on a third-and-9. Advantage Iowa.
With time enough to write the Great American novel, edit, publish and market it, McCann hit Jones on a crossing pattern. He caught the pass at Indiana’s 40, broke one tackle, got a late block from Clark and scored from 59 yards, his first TD.
That gave Iowa a 21-7 lead, a two-touchdown safety valve that came in handy when the Hoosiers twice pulled within seven points in the second half.
Iowa’s offensive line pummeled the Hoosiers.
“It’s about time,” said offensive line coach Joe Philbin. “I think we can have a hell of an offensive line before it’s all said and done.”
Still, the Hawkeyes were nervous. That was the scary good man, after all.
Randle El accounted for 301 yards and scored two TDs. Tailback Levron Williams rushed for 144 yards on 24 carries and scored two TDs.
“It’s kind of like a seesaw battle,” Randle El said. “When that happens, you’ve got to just continue to do your part on offense and score. We just continued to believe our defense is going to give us a chance and get them stopped.”
But Randle El is one man, with, seemingly, six legs and four arms. The Hawkeyes defense is 11, actually way more than 11 Saturday. The Hawkeyes constantly rotated fresh defenders into the game.
They needed them all.
“I was getting tired,” said outside linebacker Grant Steen, whose pale face and bluish lips said tired. “I don’t know how Randle El does it. He’s all over the place and he doesn’t seem to lose a beat.”
But the Hawkeyes won. Their stats are sprained, but they lived and now can laugh it off.