Three cool things:
1. Optics matter to college football teams. Almost as much as they do to politicians.
You can never show weakness. You’re the coach of super heroes. The man in charge of coaching super heroes, well, he’s got to be Odin, right?
Impeccable. Unimpeachable. Wise. Mighty. Just all of the stuff that projects strengths. If you see a college football coach who looks like he’s winging it, you’re seeing unemployment.
Then-Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker was asked about Iowa’s running game after this one.
“I bet their practices are like a bloodbath, because both sides of the ball kind of emulate that,” he said.
Iowa rushed for 264 yards, three touchdowns and held the Huskers to 90 rushing yards.
In early January 2017, Nebraska head coach Mike Riley fired Banker over the phone. They coached together for 19 years. It didn’t matter.
Now, I’m not saying “bloodbath” was the reason why Banker was fired. It probably had a lot more to do with the rushing numbers.
Still, the timing suggests you can’t say too nice of things about your rival. Fans don’t forget that stuff. If I were a college football head coach, I’d hand credit to rivals. In this case, credit equals a dozen rotten eggs. I like the gamesmanship, but not saying the other team’s name or calling it the “team from up north” and not its proper noun, that’s babytown frolics.
2. TE George Kittle caught two passes for 7 yards in this one. Those two receptions were TDs. Kittle had a rotten year in 2016 with injuries. A foot sprain against Purdue limited him in the second half of the season. So, he celebrated this one like it was 1999.
Enthusiasm was never a problem for Kittle.
3. You guys remember 2016 Penn State for all of the wrong reasons. Iowa lost 41-14 and allowed 599 yards.
In the three games after that, the Hawkeyes allowed just 616 yards.
None of those teams had Saquon Barkley.
Quote: When Kirk Ferentz starts using words like “fortitude,” he likes what he’s seen. He didn’t go quite that far here, but it was in that league.
“It just takes grit. We’ve had our issues — guys in, guys out, and everybody out there is not 100 percent, obviously, but the guys, they stay positive. They focus on what they can work — focus on improving. They focus on what they can do to help the football team, but it all starts ... they care, and they care greatly about what they do and their performance, and they’ve worked hard.”
Note: This number probably tells you something you already know. Bo Pelini was a lot better at coaching defense than Riley was.
In Iowa’s last three games vs. the Huskers, all wins, the Hawkeyes have averaged 243.3 rushing yards and have run for 11 TDs. That’s 11 rushing TDs.
Every Nebraska fan knows, their road to relevance is going to be paved with Blackshirts.
Why No. 71? — When the Big Ten brought the Huskers in, Iowa had some long and embarrassing streaks to wipe away. This was Iowa’s first win over Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium since 1981.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2016
IOWA CITY — In the end, things went the way they were intended.
That was the Hawkeyes you thought would be there for the entirety of 2016. The Hawkeyes (8-4, 6-3 Big Ten) who herded No. 16 Nebraska around Kinnick Stadium like goats, those are the ones you picked to win the Big Ten West Division and play in Indianapolis for the league championship for the second consecutive season.
It was the Hawkeyes they thought you’d be seeing for all of 2016.
It all showed up for Iowa’s 40-10 body slam of the Huskers (9-3, 6-3) before 69,814 fans Friday at Kinnick Stadium.
Senior running back LeShun Daniels rushed for 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Junior running back Akrum Wadley got the ball rolling with a jump cut that opened the Huskers defense like a tuna can for a 75-yard run. He finished with 105 yards on 11 carries.
Even Iowa’s passing game, which has been ashes in an urn most of the second half of the season, got into the act. Quarterback C.J. Beathard hit senior wide receiver Riley McCarron for a 77-yard TD in the first quarter.
Iowa’s offense reeled off plays of 75, 77 and Daniels’ 56-yard run and scored on drives of two, one, four and three plays en route to a 20-3 halftime lead.
This was Iowa’s first victory over the Huskers at Kinnick since 1981, which also happened to be Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’s first season in Iowa City, when he started his nine-year run as Hayden Fry’s offensive line coach.
Iowa’s offensive line went through six lineup changes this season because of injury. Ferentz used that unit as a symbol for a team that, yeah, went through kind of a washing machine of emotions in a year in which it lost to an FCS team, then beat the No. 3 team in the nation at Kinnick.
“It just takes grit,” Ferentz said. “We’ve had our issues — guys in, guys out, and everybody out there is not 100 percent, obviously, but the guys, they stay positive. They focus on what they can work — focus on improving. They focus on what they can do to help the football team, but it all starts ... they care, and they care greatly about what they do and their performance, and they’ve worked hard.”
Iowa’s offense delivered that classic churn game. The Hawkeyes rushed for 264 yards on 47 carries. The Hawkeyes defense delivered what it’s been delivering since being punched out at Penn State. Iowa held the Huskers to 90 rushing yards on 31 carries (that’s just 12 yards more than the 78 yards Ohio State held the Huskers to in its 62-3 victory four weeks ago).
“I bet their practices are like a bloodbath, because both sides of the ball kind of emulate that,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker said in the postgame.
Daniels and Wadley went into the game with around 850 yards apiece. With the bowl game counting, you figured Iowa would have a 1,000-yard back for the first time since 2011 (Marcus Coker had 1,384 yards).
Daniels crossed that finish line in the fourth quarter. He now stands at 1,013 yards this season. Wadley isn’t far behind at 966. Iowa has never had two backs reach 1,000 yards in the same season.
“I’m kind of glad it was LeShun today,” offensive tackle Boone Myers said. “I’m not dissing Akrum, but it’s LeShun’s senior day, his last game in Kinnick, it’s good to get him that. We’re going to get Ak his.”
The bloodbath spilled into Iowa’s defensive effort, too. Since the dam broke and Penn State piled 599 yards on Iowa to begin November, Iowa’s defense has held its last three opponents to just 616 yards.
And now the Hawkeyes are 3-1 for the month and everything feels in place.
“We played our best football the last three weeks,” defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said. “The Penn State loss was a punch in the face. After that, we homed in on the little things we needed to do. Whether it was getting to bed early or just the little things that add up to being a good team.
“Just the little things. There’s no special formula that we put in. There’s no secret sauce.”
Blood doesn’t count as a secret sauce, FYI.
George Kittle feature from 2016
IOWA CITY — This was the scene of a massacre. Actually, this setting was somehow more frightening than the field that produced a 41-14 defeat for the Hawkeyes.
It was rounding toward midnight in Beaver Stadium. In the stadium underbelly, a table with bags of food were set out for the Hawkeyes. The lighting was shadowy. Machines that cleared garbage whirred in the background, creating an ominous hum.
Iowa had just suffered its worst loss of the season at the hands of Penn State. This was the time where you see players shuffle the same six words during the postgame and then sleepwalk to the bus and then to the plane and then back home in Iowa City.
Senior tight end George Kittle put down his gear and faced the cameras. You could immediately see his mind was on fire. His eyes were embers. He was locked into everything that went wrong during the game.
The senior tight end, who’s been limited the last few games with an ankle/foot injury suffered four weeks ago, had something he wanted to say.
“I fully believe that every game I go into — I have since I was a little kid — that I’m going to win the game,” Kittle said. “I don’t care who I’m playing. Next week we’re playing Michigan. I fully believe that I’m going to win that game and we will. It’s hard for me, it’s hard for this team, just to not show up like this. I don’t really have the words to explain it.”
Last week’s loss dropped Iowa to 5-4 (3-3 in the Big Ten). Michigan comes into Saturday’s game at Kinnick at 9-0 (6-0) and No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
The Wolverines have some mean and massive blowouts on their 2016 resume, including a 78-0 victory at Rutgers and last week’s 59-3 rout of Maryland. Everyone in college football wants an accurate assessment of their team. You can only hide behind Miami (Ohio) and Purdue for so long.
The Hawkeyes have been found wanting against two ranked teams already this season (No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 10 Penn State). Going back to the final two games of 2015, Iowa has dropped four straight to ranked teams. Michigan might be the best of that bunch.
The motivation is to put up a representative effort, to not get dragged up and down the field like a blocking sled.
Kittle’s message was clear. He won’t yield to defeat.
“Motivation?” he asked. “I want to win. I know this team wants to win. That’s going to be our motivation.”
The cameras have followed Kittle since he arrived in Iowa City. Wait, reverse that.
Kittle will graduate in December with a degree in communications and a minor in business entrepreneurship. The Kittles have deep roots in Iowa. His dad, Bruce, was an offensive lineman at Iowa, a four-year letterman and co-captain of the 1982 Rose Bowl team. His mom, Jan, was a star athlete at Winfield-Mount Union. Basketball was her best sport. She’s in the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Hall of Fame and scored 1,846 points at Drake.
The Kittles have roots in Iowa, but didn’t plant roots here. George was born in Madison, Wis. He attended three different high schools as a sophomore: Iowa City West, Cedar Falls and then Norman High School in Norman, Okla., when his dad took a job on Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma staff.
So, of course, as an 18-year-old frosh from Norman, George took a summer internship at KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids. Never mind that he hadn’t lived here for a while. Never mind that he was 18. There’s an intrusive nature to carrying a TV camera into state tournament softball games, which could yield one of life’s greatest moments or bitter disappointments.
Never mind that he was the same age as most of the players.
“He’s always had an ESPN, broadcaster kind of slant,” Bruce Kittle said. “Basically, he drove all over Eastern Iowa covering baseball games. He videotaped some stuff and kept track of the scores. He likes the sports angle and was thinking about an ESPN thing. He still thinks he’s the next ESPN guy when he’s done playing.”
Former KCRG-TV9 sports director John Campbell, now retired, said he didn’t regularly have 18-year-old interns carrying cameras around. The guideline was interns had to be at least a sophomore or junior in college. But sports never stops and Campbell needed a shooter.
“We needed one,” said Campbell, whose list of KCRG-TV9/Hawkeyes interns includes Kittle, J.C. Love-Jordan, Paul Burmeister and Lew Montgomery. “He was a good fit. He had some experience. He’d done a few things with a camera. He was interested in sports, obviously. It worked out really well. He helped us out with some editing. It was fun to have him in there.”
Around the same time, Kittle had the word “Believe” tattooed on his right triceps.
In a tattoo world of dragons, panthers, swords, snakes, dice, crosses and flaming skulls and crossbones, Kittle, around his 18th birthday and before he shoved off from Norman for Iowa City, went with the word “Believe” in block letters.
Kittle picked inspiration over, well, intimidation.
The Kittle family sets goals. Their goalsetting is probably a little different from yours.
“We’ve always been really big on visualization,” Bruce said. “After visualization, you have to believe in the vision. Part of my kids’ other educational trauma with me was, at an early age, they were required to set goals and prepare action steps for those goals.
“Part of the goalsetting process included visualization successfully accomplishing your goals. The whole ‘Believe’ thing, part of that, too, is he’s a big Kobe Bryant fan. Kobe was big on ‘Believe.’ Part of that for him (George) was coming out not very highly recruited.”
The results are there. George’s sister, Emma Krieger Kittle, played volleyball for the Hawkeyes. Before a future as a sports anchor moves into view, George will have a shot to play in the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 252-pounder has been listed as Pro Football Focus’ top senior tight end for the 2017 draft class.
“Believe” was there from the beginning for Kittle at Iowa.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz guided Bruce during his days as Iowa’s offensive line coach. Sure, this was an “in” for George at Iowa, but not after the Hawkeyes struck out on a pair of running backs on 2012 signing day. In the afternoon on that first Wednesday in February, Ferentz called and offered his former offensive tackle’s son a scholarship.
Everyone knew the son likely was headed toward tight end. And everyone could see he weighed around 190 pounds.
So yeah, “Believe.”
“I think that was always a reminder to always be clear about who you are as an individual and where you want to go and believe in yourself to get there,” Bruce said.
“Believe,” it’s the perfect thought for the Hawkeyes to carry Saturday.
PS — Kittle was hurt, but this ran the morning of Iowa’s upset over No. 3 Michigan in 2016. “Believe” really sort of worked that night.