Conceivably, a horseshoe can be a crab, an adrenal gland, or even a stadium.
For the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday, however, it will transform into the proverbial lion’s den—the place where a defiant Daniel was sent without weapons to meet his fate against overwhelming odds before a packed house.
According to the story, Daniel emerged unharmed because of divine intervention. Is that possible on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio? If you believe so, you are among the few.
The injured and indefatigable Iowa Hawkeyes will be met by 105,000 screaming, blood-thirsty Buckeye fans who want to shoot down the winged black bird. Ohio State intends to bring him crashing from his lofty flight.
In their excitement, fans have forgotten that Buckeyes themselves can’t fly unless they are launched from a slingshot.
Red-shirt freshman James Vandenberg will be given the task of propeling the Hawkeye offense. Prior to taking the reigns last Saturday, as the Hawkeyes fell to the underrated Northwestern Wildcats, Vandenberg had thrown three passes in 2009. These all came during the Iowa State game after Iowa had built a comfortable lead.
Iowa has not had many of those “comfortable” leads this season, as most of its finishes have gone down to the wire.
The backup quarterback’s sudden appearance early in the second quarter last week left the inexperienced Vandenberg wobbly in the pocket, as Iowa failed to score against the Wildcats. Vandenberg ended up completing 9-of-27 passes for 82 yards, as Iowa lost for the first time in 2009, by a score of 17-10.
Vandenberg hails from Iowa, the Hawkeye State. During his high school career in Keokuk, he threw for over 7,700 yards and 93 touchdowns. He does know how to do it. He just needs to be in sync with his receivers.
The question is, just how quickly can the young man from Keokuk come up to speed? For the Iowa faithful, it must be very quickly, or Iowa’s storybook season will surely come to an end.
The real tale of the season is, truth be told, not Iowa’s win-loss record. Iowa did not win nine games in a row because of Ricky Stanzi, although the Iowa starting quarterback often breathed life into a stagnating offense. More important, Iowa won as a team and lost as a team.
Last year Iowa had the luxury of Shonn Greene, the school's consensus All-American who ran the football for over 100 yards each and every game. A feat so impressive it is the dream of every football coach in America.
This year, the expectation of success has shifted squarely onto Stanzi’s shoulders, and winning has become his beast of burden. Most of the time he has handled it well, but he has never assumed, nor have the coaches assumed, that this was a one-man show.
What has been the hallmark of consistency this season is Iowa’s defense and its efforts on special teams. Timely turnovers have provided a platform for victory for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Blocked field goals, recovered fumbles, and interceptions have paved the way for the offense to shine. No one understands that better than Norm Parker, Iowa’s defensive coordinator, and Kirk Ferentz, Iowa’s head coach.
It has nothing to do with luck, magic, or even divine intervention. It has to do with hard work, dedicated practices, belief, and working as a team. If there is any magic to be wielded on the afternoon, it should come from Iowa’s Big D.
As the Hawkeyes head into the Horseshoe in Columbus, the odds will not be in their favor, even though they have not lost on the road this year.
Ferentz does not own a victory in the Horseshoe. Iowa’s record there is 8-28-1, and four of those victories took place in the 1920s. Iowa last won in Columbus in 1991—18 years ago. In fact, the Hawkeyes are not only consistent losers in Columbus, they lose big.
Iowa has not played Ohio State since 2006, when the Hawkeyes lost by a 38-17 margin in Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes have not played in Columbus since 2005, losing once again, 31-6.
But is this what Ferentz and Co. are pounding into the Iowa squad? What the coaches are emphasizing is that Ohio State is vulnerable this year. They are not the juggernauts blocking the road to victory that they have traditionally been.
"It's going to be exciting," Vandenberg told HawkeyeSports.com. "It's a great atmosphere, they're a good team and it should be a very exciting place to play. That's what you dream about. I have to make sure I'm on top of the ball on everything now. Now I'm in the light and it's my job to get prepared as much as I can."
Stanzi will be making the trip to Columbus to serve as team captain and mentor to the young Vandenberg. Stanzi will not be playing because he is recovering from ankle surgery.
The thing about being an underdog is that no one expects you to win. Iowa comes in a huge underdog to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, especially because they are rolling out an untested quarterback. It is the Hawkeyes' bit of bad luck for the season—the loss of Stanzi.
Ferentz, ever the philosopher, believes in the "what will be, will be" approach to football. If Iowa wins, then it was meant to be.
Iowa, 9-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big Ten, will face off tomorrow against Ohio State, 8-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference.
One team will emerge from this game with an inside track to Pasadena and at least a tie for the Big Ten championship.
Will the Horseshoe prove disastrous once again for the Iowa Hawkeyes, or can they turn the thing upside down for a change of luck in 2009?