In this day of ultra over analysis by fans, radio talk shows and touchy print columnists, winning sometimes isn’t good enough. Style points count. Perfection or near perfection are expected.
There seemed to be a certain sense of dissatisfaction with Iowa’s 21-16 victory against Minnesota on Saturday in listening to post-game radio shows and reading message board banter. Many of the recurring complaints surfaced, basically focusing on an inconsistent offense with quarterback Jake Christensen and coordinator Ken O’Keefe at the head table.
Little of that seemed to matter to the Hawkeyes as they raced across the Kinnick Stadium turf to grab Floyd of Rosedale. They piled on the pig so raucously that the box holding it crumbled into pieces.
“The wood was, ah, sharp,” said a smiling Seth Olsen, who was first to Floyd which meant he was on the bottom of the stack of happy humanity.
Nothing has come easy for the Hawkeyes this season, so it made sense that Iowa had to fight to the finish to become bowl eligible at 6-5. They’ve now won four of their last five contests and each win has come the hard way. They eked out a four-point win against Illnois, slipped past Michigan State in double overtime and got by Northwestern with just the second fourth-quarter comeback in the Kirk Ferentz era.
“A win is a win in the Big Ten; in college football,” Iowa Senior Mike Humpal said. “Some are ugly, some are pretty, but you can’t be disappointed with a win. Nothing comes easy. The guys hung in there and kept playing tough throughout the whole game. Minnesota made some plays there at the end. They had a chance, but everybody just kept playing.”
Said Iowa Sophomore A.J. Edds: “An ugly win is a lot better than a pretty loss. We’ll take a win any way we can get it. Sure we want to play better, here and there, but a win is a win and we have the pig back.”
Saturday, Iowa rolled out to a 21-7 lead and hung on against a Minnesota defense that statistically ranked among the worst in Big Ten history. The Hawkeyes, who struggled mightily on offense in the first halves the two weeks prior to this, stumbled after halftime on Saturday, producing 70 yards and zero points after coming out of the locker room.
The Golden Gophers entered Saturday’s game ranked dead last in the country in total defense, allowing 548.50 yards per game. They lost to a 9-0, DI-AA North Dakota State team 27-21 in Minneapolis. The Bison rolled up 585 yards of offense, including 394 on the ground.
Iowa’s 296 yards of offense on Saturday were by far the fewest against the Gophers this season, whose previous lows were Ohio State (459) and Indiana (463). The other eight opponents went over 500, including 655 by Illinois last week.
That was the down side of the statistical battle on Saturday. Minnesota’s 315 offensive yards represented its fourth lowest total of the season. Only Ohio State and Michigan held the Gophers to fewer points in 2007.
“We just want to win,” Christensen said. “We really don’t care how many yards or points. It really doesn’t matter to us. We just want a W.”
Christensen completed 9 of 13 first-half throws for 106 yards and a score. He finished 14 of 25 for 157 with a touchdown and a pick. The interception came on a ball thrown deep to receiver James Cleveland on a play where tight end Brandon Myers appeared to be wide open.
“We hadn’t repped it out very much, and our defense always takes that away so you don’t see it in practice hardly ever,” Christensen said. “That’s just something I’ll learn with experience. He was open but it was a case where we haven’t repped it out hardly ever.”
Those expecting an Iowa blowout on Saturday were misguided. Ferentz laughed on Tuesday when asked about exploiting the Gophers’ defense. The thought of the Hawkeye offense exploiting anybody made him chuckle.
Iowa looked pretty smooth in jumping to 21 points, but the second-half struggle should not have surprised anyone. That’s the Hawkeyes this year, folks. Too many routes are run inconsistently, blocks are missed too often and throws are errant too many times.
Iowa might put it all together next week against Western Michigan, but don’t bet on it. Just hope for a win and then look forward to a bowl trip to a sunny location.
It’s remarkable that this team is in this position considering what happened against Penn State, Purdue, Iowa State and Indiana. It’s even more amazing when you consider the shortcomings listed above. This team will be remembered for guts more than highlight reel plays.
Nothing is a given in this conference this season. Purdue pounds Iowa at home then loses there to Michigan State, who fell to Iowa at Kinnick. Iowa wins at Northwestern who then takes one at home this week against Indiana, who topped the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Illinois falls at Iowa then wins at previously undefeated and top-ranked Ohio State on Saturday. You figure all that out.
Iowa lost four games in a row this season and still stands a chance to go bowling in a place as grand as Arizona on New Year’s Eve day. Few, very few, thought that possible even a month ago. There was no margin for error. It was win four in row or sit on your couch watching other teams play during the holidays.
“There was a sense of urgency knowing you have to win out to go to a bowl, but everybody in college football wants to get there,” Olsen said. “If you’re home for Christmas in college football, you had a crappy season. It sucks. It’s about the process and playing the Iowa way.”
You should appreciate how Iowa is finishing this season with victories instead of crumbling in October and November a year ago. This has looked a lot more like the Hawkeyes of old that got better as the season progressed. Iowa finished 2-6 in Big Ten play in ’06 and wound up 4-4 this fall.
“We knew we could, we knew we had the capability of it,” Humpal said of overcoming a four-game losing streak this year. “It was just a matter of whether we stayed together. We couldn’t be divided. We knew we had a lot of young guys. Last year, we divided a little bit, not completely, but we wanted to stay away from that sort of mentality and not give up until it’s over.”