It was a situation Iowa fans have become familiar with. The Hawkeyes were heading into halftime down 17-10. It was a rivalry game and the rival in question, Iowa State, was outplaying the Hawkeyes. More than outplaying, the Cyclones were more emotionally and mentally in the game. Iowa State had come in with a predictable game plan—stack the box and blitz on defense; attack the perimeter and quick passes on offense—and Iowa stubbornly refused to do the things that would negate such a game plan. There were multiple sloppy penalties, quarterback C.J. Beathard seemed unsettled, and the offense went away from the one area that was working: straight-ahead rushing.
On top of that, Iowa lost its starting running back, LeShun Daniels, to an ankle injury, and its most indispensable player, defensive end Drew Ott, to what might be a broken wrist. Throw in questionable play calling, clock management issues, poor special teams, and yes, poor execution, and things didn't look good for the Hawkeyes. In fact, this was a situation that Iowa has regularly found itself in over the past five years, and more often than not, it has crumbled, found a way to lose.
This time was different. Iowa won the second half 21-0. The Hawkeyes allowed only four first downs to the Cyclones, and one was via a penalty. The Iowa State receivers—one of the three best groups of receivers Iowa will see this year—were held to 44 yards receiving in the final two quarters. The ISU running game was negated.
And the Iowa offense, an offense that has lacked playmakers for the past three seasons—found a star in quarterback C.J. Beathard. In the first half, Beathard kept Iowa in the game by force of will. In the second half, he won it with natural talent. His second-half passes were NFL quality.
In the waning seconds, the Hawkeyes didn't bum-rush the Cyclones' side of the field in order to grab the trophy. They grabbed each others' hands and swarmed to the sideline, taking the trophy as a team.
After the game, former Iowa and Indianapolis Colts middle linebacker Pat Angerer tweeted:
This a group that battles. They have taken it upon themselves to change the culture of the last couple years. Proud of these guys. Well done— Pat Angerer (@PAngererUSA) September 13, 2015
I still have qualms about this team. There is a lack of depth at almost every position. The talent level in some areas is meh. The receivers have only shown up two out of the eight quarters played this year. The tight ends, a staple of Ferentz-ball, have been generally unspectacular and specifically poor blockers. The special teams still haven't put together a full game. So much of the offense seems to hang on Beathard. A better team than Iowa State would have been up 24-7 at the half, and such a lead would have been insurmountable against a better team. And it's difficult to picture the Iowa defense maintaining the ferocity it has shown so far if Drew Ott is lost for more than a game or two.
However, this team seems to have what other great Iowa teams under Ferentz have had: grit, guts, ganas, balls, call it what you will. The best Ferentz-led Iowa teams have battled. They have made their name on how they handled adversity. They have won games they often had no business winning, banding together as a team to be better than their individual parts. 2004 is the most obvious example, but 2003 and 2008 also came out of nowhere. Furthermore, we only realized how talented 2002 was in retrospect.
It's hard to say if 2015 Iowa can finally begin the fabled Ferentz 3.0. But it has filled the Hawkeye universe with something that has been missing since the early parts of 2010: excitement.