Iowa Hawkeyes: Contenders in the Big 10 Race?
The State of Iowa breathed a collective sigh of relief on Saturday afternoon before breaking into a traditional down-home ritual:Dance of Joy!
The Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the Indiana Hoosiers 45-9 on the road. They squelched a potential third conference loss in a row, staving off bowl ignominy for another week or—dare we hope—another season.
All the while, the Iowa faithful sat huddled in front of their bigscreen televisions waiting for the probable collapse, especially when Indiana marched down the field and scored just before halftime, reducing their deficit to only eight points.
This is the same posture fans held during the last gasps of the Iowa vs. Northwestern contest two weeks ago, as their vaunted Hawks stood ready to score on the Northwestern eight-yard line.
The Hawks had 90 seconds on the clock and five chances to punch it in and win the game at home. Five pass plays later, they remained locked out—losing a game 22-17 they should have won.
Last weekend on the road, the Hawkeyes lost to a very good Michigan State squad 16-13, despite a record-breaking day by runningback Shonn Greene with a career high 160 rushing yards. They had ample chances to win but self-destructed.
For the past three weeks, it has always been close, but no cigar.
The Hawkeyes lost the previous three contests by a combined total of seven points. While the defense soared, the offense squandered opportunities and turned the ball over repeatedly. The offense was definitely sputtering behind new quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
In defeating Indiana, the Hawks were finally clicking on all cylinders. They barely faltered on passing, punting, and returning as they improved to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in Big 10 play.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa head coach, characterized the victory as a great team win.
Iowa fans realize that with just a little bit of luck, the Hawkeyes could be 7-0 right now and contending for the Big 10 Conference Title.
Ah, make believe!
On Saturday, they had no turnovers. They held onto the ball and caught it when it really mattered. Greene ran again for over 100 yards. He has done that in each of the last seven games while establishing a new Iowa record with that feat.
Not only that, but Greene’s backup, Indiana native Jewel Hampton, also piled up 114 rushing yards.
Greene was playing on a tender ankle. He suffered a slight injury on the second play of the game—but persevered in spite of it.
“My ankle got caught in the pile,” Greene said. “I’ll be all right. There was pain, but it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I can’t go’ pain.”
The stellar defensive—led by Mitch King and Matt Kroul—grinned ear to ear. They finally had a win after all their hard work.
Iowa’s defense ranks second in the nation in scoring. They allowed only nine points to a usually high-scoring Indiana offense.
Next week, the Hawks take on Wisconsin in Iowa City. The Badgers were waxed by Penn State 48-7 at Wisconsin. Wisconsin is winless in the Big 10 conference.
This game is a real opportunity for Iowa to put its stamp on the 2008 season.
Iowa has two remaining road games at Illinois and at red-hot Minnesota, plus home games against Wisconsin, Purdue and Penn State.
Iowa is the best 4-3 team in the nation.
Somebody said that today and I believe it.
They looked razor sharp and full of confidence at Indiana. The Big 10 is up this year even though Michigan is not having a stellar season.
But, as in all things, we need to approach the rest of the season one week at a time. The best fans in the nation remain a bit paranoid, waiting patiently for the next game, hopefully signally a chance to enjoy theDance of Joy, Part II.
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