Three cool things:
1. The years where Iowa has a “meh” record it has usually dropped one or two games that would’ve increased the “Grumpy Fan Base Index” (GFBI) a few percentage points.
And you can say that about the 2016 team. If the North Dakota State game goes Iowa’s way, even in the most meek way possible, that’s nine. The Hawkeyes fell by a TD at home to Northwestern and dropped an eight-point game to the Badgers.
When the train went off the jump in 2016, Iowa went splat. Every 7-6 or 8-5 season comes with some “what if.”
What’s Iowa’s biggest “what-if” season under Kirk Ferentz? I know you probably don’t want to spend a ton of time here, but let’s pick one.
2008 is your No. 1, right? That is Ferentz’s one and only nine-win team. It lost at Pitt by 1. Shonn Greene got hurt and Iowa fell to Northwestern at home, 22-17. The fullback went the wrong way at Michigan State and Iowa lost 16-13. And then Illinois clipped the Hawkeyes with a hastily put together field-goal unit and a little body English.
Give Iowa two of those wins and 2008 is an 11-2 season. The others receiving votes in this category are 2010, the best Ferentz team that just couldn’t quite, and 2001.
Hear me out on 2001. Iowa finished 7-5. The Hawkeyes bloomed into a war machine in 2002, so the 2001 personnel was there. It just was a team that couldn’t close.
It lost five games by a total of 27 points. That team had the outline to 10 wins and more.
2. Oh, this was that game.
You’ll remember as soon as I start describing the deal.
Iowa won the toss and chose to kick off and defend the north end zone, where the winds blew in. In the second half, Illinois took the ball.
With the Hawkeyes notching their first shutout since 2010 (45-0 over Ball State) and first Big Ten shutout since 2009 (12-0 vs. Minnesota), Iowa didn’t receive a kick.
Illinois did punt. It punted after 10 consecutive possessions. This is the math of scoring zero. Pray you never need this math, Iowa people. Or at least not very often.
3. Does the Iowa walk-on have to make it as far as Riley McCarron to totally earn your respect?
Some of you love your Hawkeyes no matter what. Some of you are skeptical. You need to see it to believe it. And if that’s your starting point with McCarron, after his senior year and 4.3-second 40-yard dash at Iowa pro day and then winning a spot on the Patriots’ practice squad last year, I think you’re a believer now.
I think some of you roll your eyes a bit when it comes to Iowa and walk-ons. You want the human puma or bear or X Man. Any given year, walk-ons from Iowa can make up 20 percent, give or take, of the roster.
Now, imagine being a coach and deciding if the walk-on guy is worth exploring and spending time coaching. None of this is easy and, in my opinion, Iowa really has to sweat these types of roster decisions.
It’s OK to be skeptical. You want Iowa trying to put together the roster that will put it in the Big Ten title game. Keep an open mind, because, if I were a coach or somehow involved in rosters, the thought in the back of my head would be “You never know.”
Quote: Running back Akrum Wadley did go into the doghouse for fumbles early in his career. And then he showed what he could do and Iowa decided the risk was worth it.
Actually, I think I went back to Ferentz with this and he clarified that Wadley was reckless with the ball early in his career and put himself in position to fumble. The fumbles later? Those were deemed more defense than recklessness.
I could’ve written that Iowa was so far beyond Wadley fumbling, but Ferentz had to say it. It means more that way.
“We’re so far beyond that. It’s going to happen. LeShun had a dropped pass today. He didn’t look like he was playing his best early. I’m not saying effort-wise, he just didn’t look like he was in sync. Riley (McCarron) had a tipped ball. Jerminic (Smith) had a ball that was catchable, I thought. Yet, all of those guys came back and played. They really rebounded and that’s what good players do.” — Kirk Ferentz
Note: This is Iowa’s only shutout with Phil Parker as defensive coordinator. Shutouts are tough to come by. For what it’s worth, KF Iowa has only been shut out once, 31-0 at Illinois in 2000.
Why No. 90? — The game really was a mustache-less beard.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2016
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It was kind of all over the place. You really didn’t know how it got where it did or how it was going to end. For a little while, this didn’t look human, but more like something made in a lab with the final product missing a few key ingredients.
Really, this game was Levi Paulsen’s beard.
Paulsen is a redshirt freshman offensive lineman who’s been growing his long red beard since he arrived at Iowa in 2015. It’s bushy and carries some heft but there’s very little mustache.
The Hawkeyes’ 28-0 victory over Illinois was Levi Paulsen’s mustache-less beard. The winds that gusted to 40 mph in and around the 39,091 fans at Memorial Stadium forced this magic trick: Iowa won the toss and chose to kick off and defend the north end zone, where the winds blew in from. In the second half, Illinois took the ball.
With the Hawkeyes (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten) notching their first shutout since 2010 (45-0 over Ball State) and first Big Ten shutout since 2009 (12-0 vs. Minnesota), Iowa didn’t receive a kick.
The game was a mustache-less beard.
It looked like Iowa was finally going to get on the board midway through the second quarter when Iowa running back Akrum Wadley fumbled at Illinois’ 1. Wadley wasn’t thrown in fumble-purgatory. He logged a few carries in the third quarter and scored the final TD, a 2-yard run that gave Iowa its 28-0 lead with 4:41 left in the game.
Wadley finished with 82 yards on 13 carries, second chair in an effective rush attack led by senior LeShun Daniels, who finished with 159 yards and two TDs, including a 50-yard run that made it 21-0 in the fourth.
Wadley isn’t in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s doghouse. He’s out in the yard and he’s still running around.
“We’re so far beyond that,” Ferentz said. “It’s going to happen. LeShun had a dropped pass today. He didn’t look like he was playing his best early. I’m not saying effort-wise, he just didn’t look like he was in sync. Riley (McCarron) had a tipped ball. Jerminic (Smith) had a ball that was catchable, I thought. Yet, all of those guys came back and played. They really rebounded and that’s what good players do.”
Quarterback C.J. Beathard threw slightly behind McCarron early in the second quarter. McCarron tipped the ball and it ended up as an interception. Wadley’s fumble came on Iowa’s next series. There was no next series.
McCarron returned a punt right through the heart of Illinois’ cover team for a 55-yard TD that finally put the Hawkeyes on the board with 4:33 left before halftime.
What set the stage for Iowa’s offense to find itself — find its mustache, if you will — was a shutdown performance by Iowa’s defense.
You kind of wondered where Iowa’s head might be after its gigantic victory over No. 3 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium last week. Iowa’s defense played as if that never happened. In fact, the 201 yards Iowa allowed against Michigan last week was Iowa’s season-best until it held Illinois (3-8, 2-6) to 198 yards of total offense on Saturday.
The Illini marched to Iowa’s 30 on their final drive. Linebacker Bo Bower broke up a pass to seal the shutout. If you don’t think the defense took satisfaction in the shutout — Phil Parker’s first as Iowa’s defensive coordinator — that’s where you’re wrong.
“Yeah, we’ve been striving for one all year,” linebacker Josey Jewell said. “It’s always good to get at least one during the year.”
The Hawkeyes played without a handful of injured players, including offensive tackle Ike Boettger, who missed the game with an injury. That pushed Paulsen into his first career start, moving in at right guard with junior Sean Welsh at right tackle.
The rushing attack stayed in tune against the Illini, with 49 carries for 262 yards. Paulsen was never out of tune with nerves going into his first start. During his childhood in Moville, he learned to play several musical instruments, a little known fact among his teammates.
When Paulsen and backup running back Toks Akinribade walked past a grand piano Friday night at Hawthorne Suites, Paulsen asked Akinribade if he thought he could play it.
“Toks, do you think I could play that?” Paulsen said. “He’s like, ‘No way.’ I’m like, ‘Yep.’”
There’s more to the 6-foot-5, 290-pounder than a big, red beard with no mustache. This game, though, there was a beard and there was no mustache.