Top 10 Things Iowa Football Fans Should Give Thanks for This Holiday

Michael MaxwellCorrespondent INovember 24, 2009

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Head coach Kirk Ferentz of the Iowa Hawkeyes shakes hands with head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittnay Lions after defeating them 21-10 on September 26, 2009 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that the Hawkeyes were blocking back-to-back field goals at the end of the game against in-state rival Northern Iowa? So much has transpired this season since those two fateful plays. 

Of course, Thanksgiving is upon us this week, and this holiday happens to coincide with the end of the regular season. What better time to reflect on the season that was?

Here is my stab at 10 things Hawkeye fans should give thanks for this Thanksgiving.

No. 10: Ricky Stanzi’s Injury Wasn’t More Severe

I hate to say it, but it might have been the play of the year, as it turned out for Iowa. Leading Northwestern 10-0, off a play fake, Stanzi rolled to his right out of his own end zone. But Northwestern defensive lineman Corey Wootton wasn’t fooled, and he met Stanzi head on, causing a fumble that Northwestern pounced on for the touchdown. 

However, the far more critical issue was that the full weight of Wootton’s 280-pound frame landed on top of Stanzi, bending his leg backward awkwardly. Stanzi lay on the turf motionless for several minutes before getting to his feet and walking gingerly off the field.

We all know the rest of the story. Stanzi is lost not only for the rest of the Northwestern game, but the rest of the regular season as well. Iowa as unable to get the momentum back after that play and would go on to lose to Northwestern and at Ohio St. the following week.

So where is the silver lining? The way Wootton fell on Stanzi’s leg with all his weight, it could have been a far more severe injury—maybe even a career-ending injury, which would have been a tremendous shame, given that Stanzi is still only a junior.

All accounts are that Stanzi should be back at the helm when the Hawkeyes take the field against a bowl opponent.

No. 9: The Officiating in the Indiana Game

Although Iowa defeated Indiana going away 42-24, a couple of controversial calls contributed to Iowa seizing the momentum against Indiana. The most impactful call erased an Indiana touchdown after it was overturned upon instant replay review.

I don’t think these controversial calls were the difference in the game, as Iowa definitely made the plays on offense it needed to in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, all over the country, people dubbed Iowa the luckiest team in America. 

I am a firm believer that things have a way of evening out in the end...remember the “Even Steven” episode on Seinfeld ? Well, the officials took care of that the following week against Northwestern, as Iowa had a long touchdown run by Brandon Wegher called back on a questionable holding call on center Rafael Eubanks. You win some, you lose some, as they say.

No. 8: Broderick Binns and Jeremiha Hunter’s 6’2” Height

First Broderick Binns blocks a 40-yard field goal with only seconds remaining in the first game of the year against Northern Iowa. However, several things conspired against the Hawkeyes to eventually allow Northern Iowa another shot at a field goal:

* The kick never went beyond the line of scrimmage (very difficult to tell in real time);

* The kick occurred on first down;

* Instinctively, no Iowa players covered up the blocked kick, as it appeared that would be the last play of the game;

* Northern Iowa eventually fell on the ball; and

* One second still remained on the clock when the officials blew the play dead.

After a lengthy review, it was determined that it was Northern Iowa ball at the Iowa 24-yard line, second down. Northern Iowa would get a second crack at a game-winning field goal. 

Amazingly, the second kick was blocked again, by linebacker Jeremiha Hunter. It was the first time in NCAA history that a game had ended on two consecutive blocked field goals.

However, had either Binns or Hunter been an inch shorter, Northern Iowa is celebrating a shocking victory at Kinnick Stadium on opening day.

No. 7: A Very Bright Future

The Hawks sent a great group of seniors out on a high note by defeating Minnesota 12-0 and keeping the Floyd of Rosedale trophy in Iowa City another year. 

Iowa has received great senior leadership this year, no question. Yet there are only three seniors on offense and two on defense that started the majority of the games this year. These players will be big shoes to fill, but the nucleus of this team is made up of underclassmen. 

You have tight end Tony Moeaki, guard Dace Richardson, and center Rafael Eubanks on offense and A.J. Edds and Pat Angerer on defense. This year, both Moeaki and Richardson have missed significant time due to injury, so experienced underclassmen are waiting in the wings. Edds and Angerer have been stalwarts all season from the linebacker position, and their shoes will probably be a bit harder to fill.

While there will be a few underclassmen considering a jump to the NFL next season (most notably junior offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and fellow junior defensive end Adrian Clayborn), we are potentially looking at as many as 17 of the 22 starters on offense and defense returning next year (plus the starting placekicker and punter).

As good as this year has been, even better times might be just around the corner.

No. 6: Trophy Triumphs

For the second year in a row, Iowa has swept all three of the trophy games on the schedule, snagging the Cy-Hawk Trophy from Iowa St., the Heartland Trophy from Wisconsin, and the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy from Minnesota. 

Coach Kirk Ferentz knows who Iowa’s key rivals are and usually has his team ready to play in these contests where often records are thrown out the window.

It should be particularly gratifying that both the Cy-Hawk and Heartland Trophies were earned on the road this year.

A little aside here—I think the Cy-Hawk Trophy itself has to be one of the cheesiest in all of college football. That trophy should be retired in favor of something more befitting of the heated rivalry this has become over the years.

No. 5: Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker

Defensive coordinator Norm Parker has been with Coach Ferentz since the beginning—a time spanning 11 seasons now. His résumé is very impressive. He has been a coach on the defensive side of the ball at the NCAA bowl subdivision level for a total of 37 years.

His defensive schemes are about as vanilla as they come. Yet year after year, Iowa is able to find athletes that are a perfect fit for Norm’s system. This season, his opportunistic defense led the nation most of the year in interceptions. 

One of the big reasons the secondary is able to grab so many balls is that the defensive line is able to pressure the quarterback without having to rely on massive blitzing. 

The Iowa defense is the classic bend but don’t break philosophy, and it has really worked to perfection most of this year.

No. 4: Pat Angerer

This guy is a machine. It seems his motor is always running. And could you even make up a better name for a linebacker? I’m sure George Costanza himself couldn’t come up with a fake name any better than this!

One of my favorite stories about Angerer came out when James Vandenberg took over at quarterback. Apparently, the two of these guys would at least occasionally engage in some wrestling matches. In attempting to demonstrate Vandenberg’s toughness, Angerer indicated that he had wrestled James until he passed out—a small exaggeration, perhaps, but I think the point about the freshman quarterback’s toughness was made.

Angerer was recently named a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski award, which goes to the Football Writers Association of America’s defensive player of the year.  

Angerer led Iowa in tackles with 135 this season. After also leading the team in tackles a year ago, Angerer has led the Hawkeyes in tackles the last nine games of the year. He had 16 tackles in the win against Minnesota, 12 tackles in wins over Indiana and Michigan, and nine at Michigan State. He collected a career-high 17 tackles in the loss to Northwestern.

No. 3: A Phenomenal Defensive Line

Most “in the know” football people will tell you that football begins and ends in the trenches—“the big uglies,” as the all-time great broadcaster Keith Jackson used to say.

Iowa’s stellar defensive play this season has started with the front four along Iowa’s defensive line. They are comprised of Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns at defensive end and Karl Klug and Christian Ballard at defensive tackle.

They were the biggest reason for Iowa walking into Happy Valley in September and walking out with a win. Who could forget Clayborn’s blocked punt and touchdown return that turned that game completely around?

Given that there isn’t a senior among this entire group, the rest of the Big Ten had better be ready for bigger and better things in 2010.

No. 2: A Passionate and Dedicated Fanbase

I always knew Iowa had great fans, but I have found this out firsthand over the last couple of years, as I have marketed my book, The 50 Greatest Plays in Iowa Hawkeyes Football History . The response to the book has just been tremendous, and I am very grateful for the whole experience.

I have had a chance to meet many fans during a couple of different book signings. The support I have gotten from the voice of the Hawkeyes, Gary Dolphin and color man and former Hawkeye great Ed Podolak, has also been phenomenal. Dolphin graciously contributed a foreword for the book. It is clear that people like this really do care about the program and the university. 

The great fanbase is going to serve the football team well this bowl season. One thing about the bowls is that play on the field might get your foot in the door of a bowl game, but it will only get you so far. The cold hard fact is that in this day and age, money talks. 

You can debate the merits of this team and that against Iowa all you want. In the end, it is going to come down to which team the bowl committee thinks will have a greater economic benefit to the game and the host city. 

Iowa’s track record in this regard is probably second to none, so I feel comfortable that Iowa will be playing in a real quality bowl game come January.

No. 1: Head Coach Kirk Ferentz

The master of all of the domain discussed above is of course head coach Kirk Ferentz. 

Where would Iowa be today if those calls for Kirk’s head a couple seasons ago were acted on by the Iowa administration? I hate to think.

If there is a classier college coach in all the land, I’d like to meet him. With Ferentz, what you see is what you get. He says what he means. He genuinely cares deeply for his players and his staff. He is always willing to shoulder the blame in bad times but very willing to give credit to his players and coaching staff for a job well done.

I maintain that Ferentz gets the most out of the talent he has on his team of anyone in the country. Time after time, he has taken great advantage of walk-ons and also had great successes at converting players to new positions.  Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas Clark, for example, came to Iowa as a linebacker, believe it or not.

Ferentz has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year for the third time this week.  This tremendous honor really puts him in rarified air, as only legendary Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler has won the award more often.

At this point, of course, the secret about Ferentz is out. Year after year, Kirk’s name routinely is connected to various high-profile openings in both college and the NFL. Yet he maintains that he is genuinely happy in Iowa City and has no reason whatsoever to consider another job, at this point. It is so refreshing not only to hear someone say that, but to have it backed up by his action (or inaction, in this case).

Unfortunately for those annual suitors that always seem to come a-calling, Ferentz is under contract at Iowa through the 2015 season.

Here’s hoping that the best of the Kirk Ferentz era at Iowa is yet to come.


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