Three cool things:
1. This was Jake Christensen’s first start. It was a good result. It wasn’t always pretty and it did come down to a fourth-down completion late in the game to lock this down.
Knowing what we know now, this is a little like reading an alternative reality.
Christensen came through in some pretty dicey moments here. I wouldn’t call this his finest moment as a Hawkeye. There’s a better one that’ll come up later, but he did preserve a bowl game for the 2006 team, which did, in fact, have Marshal Yanda on it.
It’s been 12 years. The 2006 and 2007 seasons were brutal. Christensen was sacked like 46 times in 2007. You can debate it — no idea why — but these were two of the emptiest seasons on Kirk Ferentz’s record. Christensen kept his end of the bargain. He kept things civil even when message boarders (thankfully, social media wasn’t a thing yet) wanted him shot into space.
Certainly a star-crossed career. This eventually worked itself out for the better of everyone.
I hope that’s fair.
And hey, he won this one. The only other games the backup QB won are ... there was 2006 Syracuse and Jason Manson. C.J. Beathard replaced Jake Rudock at Pitt in 2014. James Vandenberg was along for the ride when Iowa muscled Minnesota in 2009. If you guys remember anymore, please, let me know.
2. Here’s our in for writing about Scott Chandler. The Iowa tight end Mount Rushmore (I hate this device, but here we are) is Marv Cook, Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler and ... Scott Slutzker. Wait, what? This is based purely on career yardage — Cook had 1,825, 1,467 for Chandler, 1,281 for Clark and 1,261 for Slutzker — so go ahead and weight that however you want.
My point is Chandler’s career is underappreciated. The NFL certainly was paying attention.
3. The 2006 season really sucked for Drew Tate.
I can speak on how it ended and, I think, this is important.
Iowa had just lost to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Tate poured it out. An average Iowa team just threw a scare into the defending national champions and they did it in Tate’s home state.
Tate was always emotional. It didn’t always come out right. This was the end for him at Iowa and you could see it hit him. He lost it a few times. Teared up, but kept his chin up.
Tate went out swinging.
Quote: WR Trey Stross was always fun to talk with. Fiery guy. Spoke his mind. This was great.
“We were roommates last year, and we’re pretty close friends,” he said. “Jake would always use his ESPN voice. Christensen back to pass. He’s got a man open ...”
Note: Hey, Iowa opens the 2018 season against Northern Illinois.
Ferentz will get his first shot at becoming Iowa’s winningest football coach. The Iowa series against the Huskies is 8-1, with NIU’s lone win coming in the 2013 opener.
Ferentz is 4-1 against the Huskies, including his first victory.
Why No. 129? — The 2006 season is the reason. It wasn’t great. This game had drama, but it also was a non-conference game in late October. I don’t know how that happened, but I’m actually good with late non-cons. Maybe look for someone other than NIU. More than half the games in the series have come since 1999.
NIU has a spot in the Ferentz timeline. Should it? It’s an FBS program three hours away. Sometimes convenience is enough to make things work.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2006
IOWA CITY — Cue the ESPN voice.
Christensen back to pass. He’s got a man open ...
“We were roommates last year, and we’re pretty close friends,” wide receiver Trey Stross said. “Jake would always use his ESPN voice. Christensen back to pass. He’s got a man open ...”
Jake Christensen back to pass. He had tight end Scott Chandler open ... touchdown, Hawkeyes. Crises averted, Hawkeyes. All is well and it’s OK to take a breath now, Hawkeyes.
Starting for injured senior Drew Tate, Christensen hit Chandler for a 10-yard touchdown, converting a fourth-down gamble with 3:56 left in Iowa’s 24-14 victory Saturday over Northern Illinois before 70,585 fans at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten) faced some drama in snapping their two-game losing streak. They faced a fourth-and-4 with a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first career start. They held a 17-14 lead after watching the Huskies (5-4) stride 80 and 78 yards for second-half TD drives.
Cue the ESPN voice.
“They dogged with the SAM on the outside of Chandler,” Christensen said. “He was going to break hot, but he just waited to get past the first-down mark and I just hit him when he broke it.”
OK, not exactly the ESPN voice. That’s more the voice of a quarterback. And, if nothing else, we found out Saturday that Christensen can play quarterback.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder completed 19 of 31 for 256 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, which came on his first pass of the game, a ball he left about a half-foot too high for Chandler. The six inches he was off on that pass he saved for what might turn out to be Iowa’s most important pass completion of the season.
In the face of a blitz, Christensen dropped three steps and thought he threw too wide for Chandler. But Chandler and his ungodly wingspan came through, snatching the ball out of the air and crashing into the end zone with strong safety Mark Reiter in his chest.
Christensen throws to the wrong shoulder on that play, maybe free safety Dustin Utschig picks it and goes 95 yards the other way. But no.
On his first day as Iowa’s quarterback, Christensen gets to use his ESPN voice.
“At the end of the day, all that counts is what you do on the game field,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Really pleased with the way he responded.”
Christensen responded when Iowa needed it most. Iowa watched a 17-0 halftime lead shrink to 17-14 with 8:40 left when NIU quarterback Phil Horvath placed a perfect pass to Britt Davis for a 25-yard TD. The Huskies had scored on back-to-back drives when Christensen stood over center with 8:36 left.
“The momentum had swung dramatically,” Ferentz said. “We knew going on the field that it’d probably be a good idea if we did something with it.”
The drive had its defibrillator moments.
After a holding penalty on center Rafael Eubanks, the Hawkeyes faced a first-and-20 from their 20. After a big 35-yard completion from Christensen to Andy Brodell moved the ball to NIU’s 31, defensive end Larry English sacked Christensen for a 9-yard loss.
On second-and-19, Christensen stepped up in the pocket and threw a perfect strike to Chandler for 24 yards to the 15. Running back Albert Young gained 5 and 1 yards, setting up a third-and-4 from the 10. On third down, NIU blitzed and Christensen scrambled and threw it out of the end zone.
Fourth down and bowl eligibility to go.
“We were driving, we got the penalty, first-and-20,” Christensen said. “We came back, second-and-long and we got the long pass to Scott. That was a back-and-forth drive. It was important for us. We needed to put the game within two scores.”
The drive covered 80 yards in nine plays, rolling 4:44 off the clock, just what the Hawkeyes needed.
“I thought the youngster played well for the first start,” NIU Coach Joe Novak said. “Coming out of Lockport, he was highly, highly recruited. We couldn’t even get in the ballgame with him. He has a good career ahead of him.”
Christensen more than managed the game. He made plays. From Iowa’s end zone, he aired one out for Stross, who made a spectacular diving catch for a 47-yard gain. He took a QB draw 5 yards on a fourth-and-3. He finished a two-minute drill at the end of the first half, hitting Dominique Douglas for a touchdown and turning free safety Marcus Paschal’s interception into six points.
“Jake was relaxed today,” said running back Albert Young. “He didn’t panic even when he was pushed.”
Young’s performance helped the young QB. So did Iowa’s defense, which held NIU running back Garrett Wolfe, the nation’s leading rusher, to 66 yards on 22 carries.
But this was one day, one game, against a Mid-American Conference school. Christensen got to sit in Tate’s chair, literally, conducting his postgame interviews from the same chair, same table where Tate does his.
Tate walked the sidelines with his left arm in a sling and left thumb, the one he had surgery on to repair a torn ligament Tuesday, covered. Tate will return to a hand specialist Monday. A splint is being made Sunday.
If the incision heals, the plan is for him to return Tuesday.
Saturday, though, was Christensen’s. The final drive was his. The most important pass of the season so far was his.
Cue the ESPN voice.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming of my whole life,” Christensen said. “That’s something a lot of little kids dream about and not a lot of guys get the opportunity to do. In those terms, it was a dream come true, just to be out there with the guys, it was a great time. Hopefully, there’ll be many more to come.”