Iowa Football

Cold and clear: There's joy in this Iowa football season after all

Kirk Ferentz has a mic drop after his team dropped Minnesota with a thud

Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg (97) gets one of his three sacks of Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan during the
Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg (97) gets one of his three sacks of Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan during the Hawkeyes’ 35-7 win Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (Stacy Bengs/Associated Press)

Two weeks ago, the word “joyless” was used here to describe Iowa football.

That didn’t mean it had to remain the case. That was up to the Hawkeyes. Were the two close, agonizing losses to Purdue and Northwestern going to stir up frustration that led to more trouble, or were they going to dig in and push forward like many Iowa teams have done over the years?

A season that comes to mind is 2008. The Hawkeyes started the season with three non-conference wins, then lost to Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Michigan State by a total of eight points. They couldn’t close, they weren’t going anywhere. Wrong.

The Hawkeyes finished with a 9-4 record. Their season closed with a 55-0 clubbing of Minnesota before a 31-10 win over Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina team in the Outback Bowl.

Here we are two weeks after the joyless start of 2020, two losses by a total of five points against Purdue and Northwestern. Iowa is 2-2 with a 35-7 win at Minnesota Friday night on the heels of its 49-7 pounding of Michigan State the Saturday before.

“How did they beat Michigan?” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit asked about Michigan State Saturday morning on College GameDay. “That’s what I want to know.”

“Maybe Iowa’s pretty good,” said host Rece Davis.

“I think they are,” Herbstreit said.

“I do, too,” said Davis.

So does Tyler Goodson. “We expect great things in the future,” the premium sophomore running back said after rushing for 142 yards, “and I believe this team can make those great things happen.”

This is the first time in the Kirk Ferentz era in which Iowa has beaten two straight Big Ten teams by at least 28 points. The most-reasonable facsimile was the end of the 2002 season when it hammered Northwestern 62-10 and then clinched its Big Ten title share with a 45-21 win at Minnesota.

Iowa has what has started looking like a vintage Hawkeyes offensive line in the last two weeks. Alaric Jackson and Tyler Linderbaum showed 18 NFL scouts at TCF Bank Stadium that they’l soon be ready for The League.

The Hawkeyes also have wide receivers and tight ends and a fullback whose blocking is getting it done. Brandon Smith didn’t have a catch Friday and still had a fine game just because of his downfield blocking.

“We’re really finding out who we are as a team,” Goodson said after the game, praising all the blockers.

It’s not a mystery who they are. They’ve been winning the battle up front on both sides of the ball, and demonstrably. On offense, they’ve topped 200 rushing yards for two straight weeks against two defenses that can’t defend the run.

Defensively, how can you quibble with holding your foes to just 314 yards per game (Iowa averages 376) and picking off eight passes in four contests?

The special teams? Great all season. Thanks to Tory Taylor, Iowa’s net punting is 46.2 yards per kick, second in the nation entering Saturday’s games.

The enduring story of the game in Minnesota, though, is something else. It was cold in TCF Bank Stadium, and that’s not a reference to the weather.

Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck called a timeout at the Iowa 4 with 19 seconds left and the Hawkeyes ahead 35-0. Fleck did not want to get shut out.

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Maybe I read way too much into it, but there seemed to be something burning in Ferentz’s eyes on the sideline when that happened. Why? Was it the timeout itself? Was it things that have occurred on the recruiting trail? Does he not care for, shall we say, Fleck’s constant volume level?

Ferentz called three straight timeouts. Subtle, it was not. Minnesota scored after play finally resumed, but it didn’t matter.

“I figured we’d take Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here,” Ferentz said.

Does that replace “That’s football,” as his most-remembered line after a game? It was the greatest mic drop from a coach who has been the opposite of a mic-drop guy.

It was cold and clear. Judging from the reactions of Hawkeye fans to the remark Friday night and into Saturday, it meant this season now is anything but joyless.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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