Three cool things:
1. OK now, this is the first 2002 game on the list. If some of you do some sort of hand gesture to the heavens over this team, I’m allowing it.
Make no mistake, this was Kirk Ferentz’s best and most complete team. Best offensive line. Best season from a QB. One of the best defenses. Maybe 2004, but that’s a whole other podcast.
Please, read this game story. You’ll see.
All Iowa did was put up the best quarter of football since 1985 and maybe ever (37 points might still be the most, probably is). Iowa gained 593 yards and averaged 9.1 yards on 65 plays.
This was the first game of the season. This is when the Iowa staff kind of shields its eyes, because, hey, there are no guarantees. And this was one of the best offensive performances of the Ferentz era.
Everything worked. Iowa made everything work.
And, at some point, a coach from Akron did flip off the Hawkeyes. I’m not sure it was on SportsCenter then. That happens now and it’s everywhere.
The 593 yards is the No. 2 total offensive output in the Ferentz era. You’ll have to check back for No. 1.
2. This was the Jermelle Lewis debut. Bow your heads. That’s probably the most intriguing career that never was under Ferentz. Two ACLs eventually ended Lewis’ career.
The guy had it all. Hey, read the game story. Fred Russell said he was the best. Notice how running back still isn’t solidified at this point. Maybe Aaron Greving. Maybe Russell. Maybe Lewis. It ends up being Russell, but that seemed in flux at this point.
3. I’ll make a bigger deal of this later, but this was the first game after Ferentz declared, in the glow of the postgame after the Alamo Bowl victory in 2001, that the Hawkeyes had indeed turned the corner.
He did this in a declarative kind of a “hell yeah, the Hawkeyes are back” kind of way. I was kind of caught off guard.
And then I saw this and I knew he saw this coming.
Quote: “I wouldn’t say Aaron’s worried. We all lose sleep. I lose sleep with Jermelle behind me. Aaron and I know that Jermelle is probably the most talented back of the three of us. So, we just push each other.” — Fred Russell
Note: Linebacker Kevin Worthy returned a fumble 72 yards for a score in this one. Of course, Chad Greenway took his job later in the season. Worthy stuck around and, if I remember correctly, reinvented himself as maybe a longsnapper.
Took a lot of fortitude to stick around. Worthy was from Alabama and had every reason to leave. Greenway was a force of nature that wasn’t going to be denied.
Why No. 122? — Akron didn’t belong on this field. Then again, with this Iowa team, neither did Michigan or Penn State or Wisconsin. Would’ve loved to find out about Ohio State. Yes, if there were a Big Ten title game that year, it would’ve been a great game and I would’ve picked Iowa by two scores.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2002
IOWA CITY — On the seismic scale of Big Ten football, where this sits is a guess.
You couldn’t swing a tube sock Saturday without a running back taking it for 10 yards. The quarterback looked OK, calm and decisive. The offensive line was superb. And the defense was a little too generous, maybe.
These are the Hawkeyes, bigger and badder. And that was Akron, smaller and badder, in the bad way.
Akron tried everything to stop Iowa. One Akron defensive coach even flipped the bird after the Hawkeyes went for it and scored on a fourth-and-1 in the second quarter.
With the game out of hand, what the heck. Maybe the finger will work?
Junior running back Fred Russell made the most of his first start, rushing 14 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore running back Jermelle Lewis made the most of his first game, rushing for 123 yards and two TDs. The Hawkeyes (1-0) made the most out of Akron (0-1) being its least, 57-21, before a skimpy Kinnick Stadium crowd of 51,495, the smallest for a home opener since 1974.
“We didn’t take the game too much for granted,” said Russell, whose nifty 44-yard TD run set off a 37-point first quarter, the highest-scoring quarter in Iowa history. “We could’ve just shut it down after the first quarter. You had to stay focused because you didn’t know when it was going to be your turn.”
And that says it all for Iowa running backs. Stay in line, you might miss your turn.
Russell started for junior Aaron Greving, who sprained an ankle last week. Russell went 44 yards on his second touch. He put two paralyzing jukes, and two Zips needed their egos taped.
“I saw the linebacker come up and thought, this guy’s going to crack me, man. He’s going to crack me,” said Russell, who had 141 career rushing yards before Saturday. “Somehow I made him miss, and then it was off to the races.”
When Russell sat, there was no drop-off with Lewis. Try drop-up, maybe.
After sitting out last season because of academics, Lewis backed the hype that followed him to Iowa City when he signed three years ago out of Bloomfield (Conn.) High School.
“I always knew in my heart that I’d be part of the team, somehow, some way,” Lewis said. “I was excited out there. Fred had to settle me down, telling me to just breathe.”
Lewis took his fourth touch 33 yards, setting up the first of his two 1-yard TD runs.
“It was important for Jermelle to get out there,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s kind of funny, because Jermelle has been around. We’ve been talking about him for like a decade.
“I’m exaggerating, but in two years, this was the first time he was on the field. This is a big step for him to get out there and play.”
Lewis averaged 6.5 yards a carry. Russell averaged an eye-popping 12.1. The Hawkeyes averaged 8.4 yards on 45 carries while rolling up 376 rushing yards.
“I knew they were replacing the running back (four-year starter Ladell Betts, who’s now with the Washington Redskins), so I didn’t think the timing would be as good,” Akron Coach Lee Owens said. “It looked like the high-powered offensive running teams from the Big Ten in the past.”
Tuesday, Greving talked about his ankle injury and admitted he was down. It’s easy to see why.
This is how running backs lose jobs.
An injury forces a coach to open the door for an unproven player. Russell and Lewis juked and bulled through that door Saturday.
“I wouldn’t say Aaron’s worried,” Russell said. “We all lose sleep. I lose sleep with Jermelle behind me. Aaron and I know that Jermelle is probably the most talented back of the three of us. So, we just push each other.”
Greving could be back next week when the Hawkeyes travel to Miami (Ohio). He won’t miss a treatment for his ankle, that’s a given.
“Only time will tell,” Ferentz said. “We feel great about Aaron. We certainly thought he was our starter.”
Iowa’s running game was so efficient and so explosive, quarterback Brad Banks was limited to eight passes, hitting five for 125 yards and two TD passes. Banks found senior wide receiver Maurice Brown for a pair of scores, 56 and 36 yards, to close the first quarter, when the Hawkeyes held a commanding 37-0 lead.
Russell scored on 44- and 35-yard runs.
Junior linebacker Kevin Worthy returned a fumble 72 yards for a TD. Akron helped, too, snapping the ball over the punter’s head for a safety.
It was Iowa’s most productive quarter ever.
The Hawkeyes scored 35 points in a quarter against Illinois in 1985.
“We wanted to come out and play sound football,” Banks said. “Running the ball is as sound as it gets. If you can run it, you’ve got to run it.”
Sound offense is 593 yards, averaging 9.1 yards on 65 plays.
Iowa’s defense had a few more new guys, including freshman corner Antwan Allen and first-time starters Howard Hodges and Jonathan Babineaux at end.
Akron quarterback Charlie Frye, who left the game in the second half because of dehydration, completed 21 of 29 for 230 yards and two TDs.
Wideout Matt Cherry caught eight balls for 68 yards and a score. The Zips ran up 363 yards offense, including 296 through the air.
“We still have some questions,” senior tackle Colin Cole said. “But we also answered some questions.”
They didn’t resort to the bird. The bird isn’t sound defense.