Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach Kirk Ferentz has taken his share of heat lately, most of it deserved.
However, it is worthwhile to consider some of the great moments he has brought to Iowa football. It is also worthwhile to keep in mind that while his current contract may be absurd, and it makes him effectively untouchable, he did earn it.
Lastly, there has been a positive return on the investment in his time at Iowa thus far. Therefore, absurd contract or not, he has earned one more chance to turn this program around.
The following will recount Ferentz's 14 greatest individual wins as the Iowa head coach. That is one for each year he has been in Iowa City, though, admittedly, the majority of the wins came between 2002 and 2004, an era that seems so long ago.
The wins are listed from least greatest to greatest.
The ranking not only takes into consideration the game itself, but also the importance of the game to the program and whether it contributed to a successful season overall.
For example, the 2006 Syracuse game, while exciting to watch—or at least overtime was exciting—was one small glimmer in an abysmal year. It was also against a team that finished the season 4-8 and whose head coach was pretty abysmal.
Enjoy, Hawkeye fans. I can remember where I was during all of them. Can you?
This might have been quarterback Drew Tate's finest individual performance in a season that saw him win the Big Ten Offensive Most Valuable Player. He finished the game having completing 26 of 39 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran one in.
His top receiver, Clinton Solomon, caught seven passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the defense, led by Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux, Abdul Hodge, Chad Greenway and Sean Considine—all of whom enjoyed or are enjoying sustained NFL careers—dominated Ohio State. The Buckeyes only managed 177 yards and 12 first downs.
Their solitary touchdown didn't come until the final quarter, by which time the backups had been cycled into the game.
Yes, this was Jim Tressel's worst team as the Buckeyes head coach—record-wise—aside from his first year at the helm. His Bucks wound up 7-4 during the regular season, though they got much better as the year progressed.
Still, a win over Ohio State is a win over Ohio State. To do it in such a dominant fashion and in such a memorable season made it especially meaningful.
Final Score: Iowa 33, Ohio State 7
Remember when Iowa used to not only beat Minnesota but destroy it?
2008 was the pinnacle of those bright days.
Both teams came into the Battle for Floyd with 7-4 records. However, the Hawkeyes had won two straight and four of their previous five, while Minnesota, which began the season 7-1, had lost the previous three.
Shonn Greene was Iowa's star, having rushed for at least 100 yards per game in every game en route to a Doak Walker Award-winning season. Moreover, this might have been Ferentz's best defense. It finished the year as the fifth-ranked scoring defense in the country.
Minnesota was desperate to close the season on a good note and opened the game by throwing everything it had at the Hawks. Iowa withstood the initial onslaught and led 3-0 at the end of the opening quarter.
Having spent themselves, it was open season on the Gophers for the remainder of the game.
Iowa put up 27 second-quarter points, which was capped by a 57-yard Amari Spievey interception return for a touchdown.
The game was effectively over by halftime, but Ferentz kept the first-stringers in through the beginning of the fourth quarter by which point Iowa had a 48-0 lead. Even the second-stringers beat the Gophers, as Minnesota failed to put up any points and Iowa's second-team offense scored seven more.
Among other things, this game was a testament to how good Iowa was at the end of 2008. In fact, this was arguably Ferentz's ideal team, which is not to be confused with his most talented team.
The 2008 Hawkeyes had a great offensive line and running back, a strong field general (to be differentiated from a quarterback) and an impenetrable defense.
In short, it was a team made to play Ferentz-ball.
This was also the Gophers' farewell the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, as they moved into TCF Bank Stadium in 2009.
Final Score: Iowa 55, Minnesota 0
Coming into the matchup, Kirk Ferentz had a record of 2-18 as the Iowa head coach.
Earlier in the season, the Hawks beat at-the-time ranked Michigan State, but any momentum built off that victory had been squashed in three straight losses.
Meanwhile, Penn State, which finished the season 5-7, wasn't especially good either. However, the Nits had won three of their last four and a win in Happy Valley is never a small thing.
Consequently, it was a surprise when Iowa opened up with a 13-point lead.
The Nits quickly moved down the field at the end of the first half and closed the margin to 10 points. The second half was a defensive and special teams showdown and the fourth quarter ended with a 16-16 tie.
So it was off to overtime—the first overtime the Hawkeyes had ever played, as it wasn't instituted in college ball until 1996.
The teams traded touchdowns, and then the Hawks recorded a field goal, giving them a 26-23 lead.
Penn State got the ball back, and on the first play quarterback Rashard Casey dropped back and threw it into a mass of bodies. After brief confusion and a number of Hawkeyes pointing toward their side of the field, it became apparent that the ball had landed in the hands of Iowa safety Ryan Hansen. Iowa wins!
The Hawkeyes still finished 3-9 but a win the following week over ranked Northwestern solidified this as the game where the program turned around.
Apart from the win itself, it was also a coming-out party for two freshmen who would go on to become legendary Hawkeyes. Bob Sanders made the second start of his career, and as would become typical of the diminutive strong safety, he was all over the field. Also, kicker Nate Kaeding iced four of four field goals.
Final Score: Iowa 26, Penn State 23
Just three years before, Iowa hired a new coach who led them to a woeful 1-10 performance. One year later, there was progress, but the Hawkeyes were still 3-9 and bowl-less.
In 2001, the change began to pay off. The Hawks finished the regular season 6-5, thereby putting them in their first bowl game since 1997.
The plan going into the game was to rely on Ladell Betts' dependable legs en route to a ground-and-pound offense. However, Betts pulled his hamstring during the pregame warm-ups, and the Hawks had to depend on rarely-used Aaron Greving to move the ball.
They also had to stop Mike Leach's air-raid attack, which was responsible for 35.09 points per game in 2001, good for 15th in the country.
In the end, this turned out to be a kicker's delight. Nate Kaeding made four of four field goals, including the game winner—a 47-yarder with less than a minute on the clock. His Texas Tech counterpart, Clinton Greathouse, made three field goals of his own.
Perhaps this game, just like the past three seasons, could serve as a reminder how quickly things can turn around. Of course, the 2001 turnaround was of the positive variety, but that doesn't mean there might not be more positive turnarounds in the near future.
Either way, the 2001 Alamo Bowl and the 2001 season were just a glimpse of what was to come.
Final Score: Iowa 19, Texas Tech 16
Michigan began 2003 ranked No. 4 in the country. Iowa came into 2003 riding the momentum from 2002, but c'mon, it's Iowa. 2002 was a fluke right?
The Wolverines' national championship hopes took a shot in an early loss to Oregon, but they were still 4-1 and had a chance to make the big game.
Iowa was also 4-1, but looked inept in a 20-10 loss the previous week at Michigan State. The defense and special teams were staunch, but the offense was a patchwork of left tackle and eventual Outland Trophy winner Robert Gallery and whoever else the Hawks could drag up.
The game began with Chris Perry, John Navarre, Jason Avant, Steve Breaston and Braylon Edwards running roughshod over the Hawks en route to a 14-0 lead by the middle of the first quarter.
Then the Hawkeyes settled down and closed to within seven.
It was back and forth through the second quarter, and the teams went into the locker room with Michigan holding a 20-17 halftime advantage.
Then Iowa grabbed the lead in the third on the back of two Nate Kaeding field goals. Midway through the fourth quarter, "Razor" Ramon Ochoa hauled in a 31-yard pass from Nathan Chandler, and that was all Iowa needed.
Michigan added a late touchdown, but it wasn't enough.
This was not only two in a row—the first time that had happened since 1984-85—but it was some sort of verification that Kirk Ferentz knew what he was doing. He could beat Big Blue and their All-Americans and future NFLers with his rag-tag bunch of nobodies.
The Iowa Hawkeyes were indeed here to stay.
Final Score: Iowa 30, Michigan 27
What was this team doing ranked, let alone in the hunt for a Big Ten title?
The success was due to a wrecking ball of a defense, quality special teams and a miracle worker in the frame of a sophomore gunslinger out of Texas by the name of Drew Tate.
After starting off the year 2-2, including a 44-7 beatdown at the hands of Arizona State, the Hawks put up six straight wins and were one win away from Iowa's second (co) Big Ten championship in three years.
The Badgers started the season with nine straight wins before dropping the previous week's meeting to Michigan State. However, a win against Iowa would lock up their own (co) Big Ten championship and guarantee them a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Tate began the game shakily. He threw interceptions on the Hawks' first two drives, giving Wisconsin the ball inside Iowa territory both times. Nonetheless, the Hawkeye defense was dominant. The Badgers gained a total of three yards on the two drives, and all they had to show for two drives was a turnover on downs and a missed field goal.
The Hawks and Badgers traded touchdowns, leaving the score 7-7 with 1:43 to go in the half.
Then Tate did what he did all season—he miraculously evaded the pass rush and found one of his receivers downfield. In this case, that receiver was Clinton Solomon giving Iowa a 14-7 lead going into the half.
Though the score indicates a blowout, the game wasn't anywhere near out of reach until the end of the third quarter, by which time the Hawkeyes had a 24-7 lead.
In 2004, back when Kinnick Stadium was locked down by the Hawkeyes, no team scored more than 21 points against Iowa's defense, and the Badgers certainly weren't going to do it.
In the culmination of perhaps the most improbable season ever, Ferentz and the Hawks were Big Ten champs. It was also this season, more than any other, on which Ferentz built his reputation.
Final Score: Iowa 30, Wisconsin 7
Heading into the contest, Iowa was unranked and 4-1. Hawkeye fans were excited because this team seemed like it could win some games.
On the other hand, Iowa had blown a 17-point halftime lead in its loss to Iowa State. It had almost blown a 35-14 lead against Penn State the previous week before pulling out the win in overtime.
In short, there was talent, but it was talent that seemed one play away from a win or a loss.
Meanwhile, the Boilers were 3-2, but as Iowa fans came to learn, their "basketball on grass" offense was custom-made to beat the Hawkeyes
And beat the Hawks it did, to the tune of 31 first downs, 410 yards through the air and 507 total yards. The Boilers had two receivers put up over 100 yards each.
Nonetheless, this game serves as a lesson to those who forget how important and how good the Iowa special teams were in those early Ferentz years.
Despite the Boilermaker offense doing whatever it wanted and the Iowa offense sputtering and stuttering, the Hawkeyes had a 17-14 lead midway through the third quarter. All of Iowa's 17 points came via special teams. These specifically included a 51-yard Nate Kaeding field goal, a Bob Sanders' field goal block that Antwan Allen returned for an 85-yard touchdown and a Sean Considine punt block that Jermire Roberts recovered in the end zone.
Purdue failed to score in the third quarter, but still moved the ball easily. The Hawkeye offense went nowhere until quarterback Brad Banks threw a simple out route to his tight end Dallas Clark who raced 95 yards for the go-ahead score.
Purdue, which Iowa still couldn't stop, put together two fourth-quarter scoring drives en route to a 28-24 lead with 5:45 left to go in the game. The Hawks then went three-and-out and miraculously forced the Boilers into only their three-and-out of the game.
With 2:16 to go and no timeouts, Iowa got the ball back at its 13-yard line.
Then Brad Banks took over. He went 44 yards on a quarterback draw, putting the Hawks into Purdue territory. Then he hit receiver Mo Brown with a 20-yard pass. Two plays later, he went back to Clark, who moved the ball to the Boiler 9-yard line.
The Hawks now had time to spare, so they went to the running game which left them at the seven with 3rd-and-goal and 1:12 left.
Words don't do justice to the end of the game, so you'll have to watch the video.
This may have been the best individual game of the bunch. Going forward, no team during the 2002 regular season came within two touchdowns of stopping the Hawkeye express.
Final Score: Iowa 31, Purdue 28
The Hawkeyes came into the game 7-1. After close calls against Penn State and Purdue, Iowa steamrolled Michigan State. The following week had been shaky against Indiana, but the Hawks pulled out the 24-8 victory due to three Grant Steen interceptions.
However, that was Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State and Indiana. This was 6-1 Michigan. In the Big House. Hawkeye fans would find out if their team was the real thing.
The Hawks got out to a 10-0 lead before a blocked punt led to a Wolverine touchdown (along with a failed two-point conversion), and they later added a field goal.
But that was it.
The offense was good—Brad Banks passed for 222 yards and three touchdowns, Jermelle Lewis ran for 109 yards, C.J. Jones made eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns—but the defense was painful. At least, it was painful if one was a Wolverine.
As The Cedar Rapids Gazette noted:
On Michigan’s fourth play, defensive tackle Colin Cole sacked Wolverines quarterback John Navarre, knocking Navarre out of the game. He missed only one play, but Navarre wasn’t the same.
“You could tell,” Cole said. “He wasn’t setting his feet, he was always looking around, thinking about who’s coming next. He wasn’t the same.”
The Hawkeyes racked up five sacks and had countless hits on Navarre. But that tells only half of what was a three-hour submission hold on Michigan’s offense.
It was the birth of the Bullies of the Big Ten, and it was notice to the country that the 2002 Hawkeyes weren't a fluke.
Final Score: Iowa 34, Michigan 9
This game was over at the half, by which time Iowa had a 20-7 lead, and Florida looked confused and beaten.
At the end of the third quarter, the Hawks were up 34-10, though, as the Cedar Rapids Gazette noted, the Gators continued to trash talk. It's hard to imagine what they were talking about given how thoroughly they were manhandled. In that respect, perhaps they were a representation of their coach, Ron Zook, who has gone down in both Florida and Illinois infamy.
Perhaps that was what made the win special, especially given that it was sandwiched between the 2002 magic carpet ride and the miracle 2004 season.
It was a win over Zook, who famously mistook Hawkeye All-American kicker Nate Kaeding for Iowa's running back. It was a sound beating of an SEC giant, even before the SEC became the leviathan it is today. It was the Hawkeyes' first New Year's Day bowl win since the 1959 Rose Bowl.
Also, many considered the 2002 Hawks to be a flash in the pan. 2003 validated Ferentz's Hawkeyes, and to some degree, set the stage for the improbable 2004 run.
In the end, Florida put up 325 yards of offense, but 70 of it was the Gators' lone (meaningful) touchdown of the day.
Meanwhile, running back Freddy Russell put up 150 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Receiver Mo Brown, who missed most of the season with injuries, caught six passes for 96 yards and one touchdown. Lastly, the gangliest quarterback of all time, 6'7" Nathan Chandler, had an understated and efficient day, passing for one touchdown and running another in.
And running back...errr...kicker Kaeding scored 13 points on three field goals and four extra points.
Final Score: Iowa 37, Florida 17
How often do an away team's fans storm the field and tear down the opposing team's goalposts?
I don't know if it had ever been done before or since, but on Nov. 16, 2002, the Hawkeyes came into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, soundly beat the Gophers and their fans took the Minnesota goalposts as a souvenir.
As Tom Powers of Twincities.com reported before this season's Iowa-Minnesota game, the Gophers still use the 2002 game as motivation.
The Hawkeyes came into the annual Floyd of Rosedale matchup with a 9-1 record. They were 7-0 in conference and looked to be on their way to Pasadena. Quarterback Brad Banks was on the Heisman short list and the offensive line had come together as the best in the country.
Minnesota was in the second year of the Glen Mason era. It began the year 7-1, but Ohio State and then Michigan had crushed them in the previous two weeks preceding the Iowa matchup.
In the end, Banks barely had to do anything with his arm. He only threw 17 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
The defense forced six turnovers, and the Hawkeye running game piled up 365 yards. Banks ran in two touchdowns, while running backs Freddy Russel and Jermelle Lewis each took one into the end zone.
Ultimately, this victory was less the individual game than a culmination of a great season. The game itself and resulting celebration were representative of the year Iowa had in 2002.
Final Score: Iowa 45, Minnesota 21
Iowa came into the game 7-0, and it was an unlikely 7-0. The Hawkeyes needed two blocked field goals to beat FCS opponent Northern Iowa. They needed an onside kick recovery to hold on to a victory over Arkansas State.
They also had impressive wins over Penn State and Wisconsin—both on the road and both against teams that would finish the year with 10 wins of their own.
On the other hand, MSU was feeling the wrath of Lady Luck. The Spartans, under third-year head coach Mark Dantonio, were 4-3. They had opened 1-3 but had reeled off three straight victories heading into the confrontation with Iowa.
The game itself was dull.
The teams spent the better part of the first three-and-a-half quarters trading field goals—three for Iowa and two for Michigan State—and punts—six each.
With 2:56 to go in the final quarter, kicker Daniel Murray put the Hawks up 9-6, and it looked to be up to the defense to hold on. Odds seemed good that the Spartans would be unable to score, as they had only put up 250 yards of offense up to that point.
Then, on 3rd-and-18, MSU dialed up what would have been its play of the year if it had won—a hook and lateral that went for 38 yards. Two plays later, Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins hit receiver Blair White, and Michigan State was up 13-9 with 1:37 to go.
After that, the Iowa offense came alive, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi put together the best drive of his career.
The Hawks began at their own 30. Eleven plays and 95 seconds later, they were on the MSU 7-yard line looking at 4th-and-goal.
Iowa called its final timeout and receiver Marvin McNutt came to the sideline. As Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported, due to the previous coverage he had seen, McNutt "encouraged Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe and quarterback Ricky Stanzi to throw to him on the inside."
One play later, Iowa was 8-0 for the first time in program history.
Final Score: Iowa 15, Michigan State 13
Iowa came into the Orange Bowl a weather-beaten 10-2.
Aside from the previously mentioned close shaves against UNI and Arkansas State, it needed a miracle to beat Indiana. Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi's leg snapped against Northwestern, which led to a loss to the Wildcats, and it was followed up by a loss to conference-champion Ohio State.
However, the Hawks—sans Stanzi—came back to shut down Minnesota in the season finale, which led to the BCS bowl berth, for which the Americanzi would be back and healthy.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech ran the triple option. They were one of the top offenses in the country and the No. 2 rushing offense. The only team that held them to fewer than four yards per carry (YPC) was Miami (FL) in the third game of the season. Only two teams held them to fewer than 28 points.
As Heather Dinich of ESPN asked, could Iowa stop the triple option? The win or loss would come down to that.
And as this columnist, writing one of his first articles for Bleacher Report noted, the 2009 Iowa Hawkeye defense, masterminded by defensive coordinator (DC) Norm Parker, was "built to shut down the triple option."
When the dust settled, the Yellow Jacket offense rolled up only 143 yards rushing and 155 total yards.
Though the final score indicated a close game, Georgia Tech never got enough momentum to make it close.
More than anything else, this victory was a testament to Norm Parker. For those who think any DC could have built the defenses Iowa had during the Ferentz era, watch this game.
As Stanzi said in the postgame interview, the win was "the greatest feeling. If you don't love it, leave it. U.S.A. number one." A legend was born.
Final Score: Iowa 24, Georgia Tech 14.
The Hawkeyes came into 2008 as a damaged squad.
After looking like they were on the precipice of the mythical "next level," the Hawks crashed to the ground in 2006 and 2007. They failed to go to a bowl in 2007 and were beset with a slew of legal and disciplinary issues. It looked as if Kirk Ferentz had lost his team.
Iowa began the year 3-3, dropping close ones against Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Michigan State. Then it looked as if the corner had been turned. The Hawkeyes took convincing victories against Indiana and Wisconsin, as running back Shonn Greene ran over every Hoosier and Badger in his path.
However, the next week saw Iowa take a step back, losing 27-24 to a hapless Illinois squad.
On the other hand, Penn State was 9-0 and looked to be on the way to the national title game.
The offense averaged 41.8 points per game, and the PSU defense, as usual, was one of the best in the country. The previous week saw the Nittany Lions go into Columbus and beat a solid Ohio State squad.
With their final games against Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State, the national championship game seemed to be a matter of course.
And in the first half, it looked like Penn State would roll over the Hawks. The Nits held onto the football for almost 24 of the first 30 minutes. They piled up over 200 yards in the first half, while Iowa squeaked out 70 total yards.
Nonetheless, due to a botched PSU snap and the Hawks forcing the Nits to settle for field goals, the halftime score was 13-7.
The second half began badly, with Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi throwing an interception. Penn State once again couldn't get the ball into the end zone, so it took the field goal and a 16-7 lead.
Then the Iowa offense came alive, moving the ball 73 yards in 10 plays and bringing the Hawks to within two points of mighty PSU.
The defense forced a three-and-out, but Iowa fumbled the ball away, and Penn State scored four plays later.
The two teams headed into the fourth quarter by trading punts, and then Iowa drove the ball 44 yards to close the lead to two points. The only problem was there was just over nine minutes to go, and Penn State had the ball.
The Nits played the possession game, moving the ball 37 yards and taking over five minutes off the clock. Then they got greedy—the bend-don't-break does work—and were picked off.
The Hawkeyes had the ball at their 29 with 3:46 to go. Fifteen plays later, Kirk Ferentz opted to go with his more experienced kicker—who hadn't attempted a field goal since missing opportunities at Pitt and Iowa State—and Daniel Murray booted a 31-yarder, which threw PSU out of the national title game and threw Iowa back into the national spotlight.
Final Score: Iowa 24, Penn State 23
2004 was the season that made Kirk Ferentz's reputation.
He lost every scholarship running back to leg injuries. He had a great defense, but the offense had no running backs and Kirk Ferentz wouldn't know what to do with an air-raid offense.
Yet, the Hawkeyes went 9-2 (7-1 in conference) and won a share of the Big Ten title.
The LSU Tigers won the BCS National Championship the previous season. They went 9-2 in 2004, which was good for second in the SEC Western Division. However, one week before the Capitol One Bowl, Nick Saban announced he would be stepping down as the Tigers' head coach, effective after the bowl.
Iowa scored the first points, with Tate catching LSU in a blitz and hitting Solomon for a 57-yard touchdown pass.
Due to turnovers and good field position, the Tigers came back, notching two field goals.
Then Iowa blocked its second punt of the game, recovered the ball in the end zone and took a 14-6 lead, but before going into the locker room, LSU running back Alley Broussard took one 74 yards and brought the Tigers to within a field goal.
That play aside, the Hawkeyes continued to dominate through the beginning of the fourth quarter, putting up another 10 points and swallowing up three different LSU quarterbacks.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with Iowa nursing a 24-12 lead, the third of those quarterbacks—then redshirt-freshman JaMarcus Russell—shredded the Hawkeye defense. He marched the Tigers down the field on back-to-back drives, and LSU had its first lead of the contest, 25-24, with 46 seconds remaining.
After a decent kick return to the Iowa 30, Tate moved the ball 19 yards on two consecutive passes.
Iowa followed with what Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette accurately called "a huge screw up"—boggled clock management and a poor two-minute offense have been Ferentz hallmarks even when things go right.
One play later, little-used senior receiver Warren Holloway was in the end zone, and the Hawkeyes had their first back-to-back-to-back double-digit win season in program history.
Final Score: Iowa 30, LSU 25