Iowa Football Continues Climb To Prominence

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Iowa Football Continues Climb To Prominence
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

"Daryll Clark had his worst performance of the year against Iowa last season, it won't happen again." 

These were the words of the ESPN College Gameday crew amidst the fanfare of Happy Valley.

It seemed that everyone thought old JoePa was going to avenge last year's BCS crippling loss for the Nittany Lions and put Penn State in position to capture the Big Ten crown.

Well, at least everyone who does not pay attention to statistics thought that.  The Iowa Hawkeyes have now won seven of the last nine contests against Penn State and their victory last night catapults them from an also-ran to a legitimate threat to shake things up in the conference this season.

Iowa certainly did not start out strong against the Nittany Lions; Penn State had a huge opening drive and quickly added a field goal to take a 10-0 lead.  The Hawkeyes, however, have become used to slow starts. 

Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi has been notorious for his first half performances so far this season, but his defense came calling on Saturday.  The Hawkeyes simply would not allow Penn State quarterback Darryl Clark any time to breathe.

Clark was clearly rattled by the constant pressure. Even when he had time his passes seemed forced and off-target.  As a result, the Hawkeyes kept themselves in the game long enough for their offense to get going.

The game's momentum bounced off the hands of Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn when his blocked punt led him all the way to the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

From there, Penn State simply could not get things back on track.  Their offense sputtered and eventually began to turn the ball over.  A fumble after a big run that could have reclaimed the lead for the Nittany Lions followed by an interception on the next possession and the upset was assured.

Just how big of an upset was it though?

I mean statistically it looks big.  It is the first time Iowa has knocked off a top five team on the road since 1990.  Finally, the story of a big Iowa win is not the consequence to the losing team but notoriety for the Hawkeyes. 

The truth is that one team acted like a top-five team on Saturday and it was not the one with a legion of screaming fans in white.

Iowa showed a mental and physical toughness that is hard not to fall in love with.  They took Penn State's best hit, and when Paterno's game plan turned conservative, the Hawkeyes kept battling for a chance to turn things around.

After all, Penn State had not exactly played a killer schedule up to this point.  This was their first test of the young season and clearly were not ready for their midterms.  The fallacy of preseason rankings have once again shined through as all these supposed top ten teams saw their BCS dreams wither away in a flash.

Iowa, although they have faced some ugly bumps along the way, has proven to be one of the best teams in the country.  They have proven just how much a team can grow during the season.

Considering that the Hawkeyes had to block two field goal attempts in the final minute just to survive their season opener against Northern Iowa, to be 4-0 for the first time since 2006 is quite the accomplishment.

Amazingly, though, the Hawkeyes have not started a season 5-0 since 1995.  However, with Arkansas State coming up, Iowa should be on pace to do just that before an epic showdown with the undefeated Michigan Wolverines two weeks from now.

Iowa may still be a work in progress but there is plenty of reason to be optimistic in Iowa City.  

The Hawkeyes have one of the best defenses in the country.  Their speed and strength allows them to pressure quarterbacks and force turnovers.  Tate Forcier and Terrelle Pryor may be talented, but they will have their hands full against a team that is quickly gaining confidence.

Stanzi may have had mediocre numbers against the Nittany Lions (11-of-26 for 135 yards with two interceptions) but his running backs certainly gave Iowa an offensive punch.

Last year it was Shonn Greene who ran over the BCS dreams of Penn State.  This year, Brandon Wegher and Adam Robinson combined for 171 yards in tough conditions, however it was their late game heroics which was most impressive.  With the game on the line, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz took little chances; he simply entrusted his backs to plow his team towards victory.

Mission accomplished.

In Iowa's final two drives, the Hawkeyes ran the ball 13 straight times.  Penn State knew what was coming, they knew they had to make the stop and yet the could not.  There is nothing more demoralizing for a team than knowing what is coming and still being unable to stop it.

For Iowa fans, it was poetry in motion.  With a running attack like that, Iowa can control time of possession and ride their defense towards success.

Now one game does not a season make. Iowa fans have seen strong starts quickly fade in the past.  Iowa's offense must continue to improve and their defense needs to stay healthy if they are to continue their run.

The schedule is also ominous for the Hawkeyes with big road games against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State looming.

Nevertheless, for one weekend at least, Iowa is exactly where they want to be.  What happens next though, is up to them.

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