Every week, the Big Ten Blog will break down one classic game from the Big Ten's long and storied history. Today, we're going all the way back to 2002, to a win that had absolutely no business happening.
The 2002 Iowa football team was, at the time, an utter anomaly unfolding before an unsuspecting conference's eyes. The team was full of former walk-ons, guys playing new positions, and first-year starters—and it was going absolutely bananas.
But in the early going of the season, there wasn't a very strong sense of just how good this team was. It had beaten Miami University (and Ben Roethlisberger) in Week 3, sure. But Iowa had also blown a 17-point second half lead and lost 36-31 against Iowa State in Week 2, and in the week before the Purdue game, Iowa choked away a 35-14 lead at Penn State before prevailing in overtime.
So this was still an unknown quantity of sorts, and if there was anything approaching a narrative about the Iowa team at this point, it was more of a "combustible pile of oily rags" than a "battle-hardened crew of champions" thing going.
And then the Purdue game happened.
As with most of the highlight videos that get posted in our classic football section, this is compiled by a fan of the winner and thus heavily skewed toward positive plays for said winning team. That's rather misleading, because Purdue absolutely moved the ball at will against Iowa. Kyle Orton and Brandon Kirsch combined for over 400 yards passing on the day, and Purdue racked up 30 first downs and over 500 total yards.
And, um, Iowa...didn't.
Were it not for special teams, this game wouldn't have been close. Iowa started the scoring with a 51-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding, who was rounding into form as one of the best kickers in the nation. Purdue answered with a long touchdown pass on the ensuing drive, and after an Ed Hinkel fumble at the Purdue 30—remember that yard line, by the way—the Boilermakers struck again, with Orton leading the team 71 yards for another touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
And to the dismay of the fans at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa didn't really respond to Purdue's onslaught. Iowa's offense sputtered mightily in the first half, and Purdue controlled field position throughout the game. With five minutes left in the first half, Iowa went three-and-out, couldn't push Purdue past midfield on the punt, then escorted the Boilermakers to the red zone on the ensuing possession with 30 yards in penalties over the next four plays.
The rout looked to be on.
But Purdue's offense stalled after a 1st-and-10 at the 11, and with 1:36 left in the half, Bob Sanders blocked a Purdue field goal attempt, and Antwan Allen scooped the ball up and took it 85 yards to the house to bring Iowa within 14-10. Iowa fans were happy for the first time in about an hour.
The half ended without incident, and shortly after the third quarter began, Iowa's Sean Considine (one of those former walk-ons) blocked a punt deep in Purdue territory, leading to a Jermire Roberts recovery in the end zone for a touchdown. All of a sudden, Iowa had the 17-14 lead, entirely from special teams.
Purdue's offense was still rolling against the Iowa defense, and even when it wasn't getting points (which it didn't in the entire third quarter), it was putting pressure on the Hawkeyes by pinning them deep in their own territory to start drives, and Iowa's offense showed no signs of being able to do anything about that.
After a punt from Iowa's 40 late in the third quarter, Purdue had the Hawkeyes backed up to their own 3-yard-line to start a drive, and the prospect of scoring off that drive seemed bleak—especially when it turned into 3rd and 7 from the 5-yard-line.
Iowa called a simple out-route for Dallas Clark (former walk-on), and the tight end secured his spot in Hawkeye lore by hurdling one defender after the catch and outrunning the rest (again: former walk-on tight end) for a 95-yard touchdown. Tight ends aren't supposed to do that.
Still, Purdue didn't go away, because Purdue was moving the ball at will. With Orton sidelined with a mild concussion, Kirsch entered the game and led Purdue on two sustained fourth-quarter touchdown drives, silencing the Kinnick Stadium crowd with the go-ahead score with 5:45 left in the game. 28-24 was Purdue's lead, meaning Iowa needed a touchdown to get into the game—and the odds weren't good that the special teams would be there to save the Hawkeyes again.
Things went from bad to worse when Iowa's ensuing drive petered out in Purdue territory with three minutes left. The Hawkeyes had all three of their timeouts, sure, but this was a Purdue offense that had gone three-and-out once all game long. And yet, Purdue's high-powered aerial attack went run-run-run, gaining all of eight yards and taking all of 44 seconds off the clock before Iowa had one last shot.
It was, to be sure, a long shot for Iowa. The Hawkeyes had 87 yards to go in 2:16 without a timeout left. The offense hadn't put together a serious drive all day long. And laying up short for Kaeding to nail a field goal from deep wasn't an option.
So with no way to stop the clock without running out of bounds or spiking the ball, on Iowa's very first play, the Hawkeyes went with a quarterback draw up the middle—and it was a game-saver.
Banks weaved 44 yards for the first down, knocking out half of the needed yardage in one fell swoop and taking Iowa into Purdue territory. On the very next snap, Banks found Maurice Brown for a 20-yard pass, and Iowa was at the Purdue 23-yard-line.
It was Iowa's first snap inside the Purdue 30-yard-line of the entire game.
Two plays later, Banks found Dallas Clark again, and Clark rumbled ahead to the 9-yard-line, which meant Iowa had gone 78 yards in just 29 seconds, dramatically altering the landscape of the endgame. Hurrying up was no longer a priority. Could Iowa even score too quickly?
With time on its side, Iowa went back to the ground game, but that proved to be a flawed strategy. A Banks keeper and Fred Russell dive netted a total of two yards, and an incomplete pass on 3rd and goal left Iowa 1:12 on the clock and seven yards to gain for the score.
And Dallas Clark was once again the hero.
On a brilliant play call, Clark faked a block from the end position as the receivers flooded left, then released away from his defender to a wide-open right side of the field as Banks floated a pass to him with about a half-second to spare before being taken down by Purdue blitzers. The ball landed softly in Clark's hands, he got into the end zone without incident, and Kinnick Stadium erupted into a euphoria that still brings tears to the eyes of those who were there to witness it.
Of course, there was still a minute to play, and remember: Purdue's passing offense was shredding Iowa's secondary. So not only did the Boilermakers get into field goal range with time to spare, they got close enough—the Iowa 25—that even scoring a touchdown was back on the table.
But on the first play after reaching the 25, Kirsch's pass caromed off of Taylor Stubblefield's hands into the arms of little-used cornerback Adolphus Shelton, and Iowa's alternatingly grotesque and beautiful win was complete.
This is my favorite game I've ever witnessed in person—and that includes last year's Big Ten Championship. Pretty sure I've never seen a game unfold like this before or since. And if you're a Purdue fan, I'm sorry for making you throw a javelin through your computer, because I totally would if my favorite team were on the wrong end of something like this.