Historic Hawkeye Comeback!

September 17, 2011

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

Iowa’s 31-27 win against Pittsburgh on Saturday was historic.

It was the largest comeback in the history of the football program, as the Hawks were down by 21 points 3:11 to play in the third quarter.

It was at that point in time that Iowa scrapped its traditionally offensive attack that wasn’t producing much on the day and had shot itself in the foot too many times to win, and went to a two-minute offense.

Boy, did James Vandenberg and the offense look like a totally different football team.

Iowa scored 28 points in the final 16:16. James Vandenberg threw for nearly 190 yards in the fourth-quarter alone.

Yes, Pitt wasn’t as aggressive in their blitz game with such a big lead and it hurt them. However, Vandenberg had hardly been sharp prior to the fourth quarter and he found his rhythm.

Boy howdy did he find his rhythm.

He finished the game 31 of 48 for 399 yards, three touchdown passes and one interception. Vandenberg was at home in that style of attack and while it won’t always be that easy and the circumstances made some of those underneath opportunities available, the game was played at the speed he excels in.

He is the most prolific passer in Iowa high school football history, and he looked like it.

He found numerous receivers on the day:

-Keenan Davis had 10 catches for 129
-Marvin McNutt had 8 for 122
-Kevonte Martin-Manley had 4 for 76 and two touchdowns

While the passing game came to life, like most of us expected it could this September, the defense also was just salty enough and did it’s part.

Yes, there were two huge breakdowns that led to easy Pitt touchdowns, things you have not seen from the Iowa football program in recent years and things we have seen in each game thus far.

However, the defensive line was better this week. Iowa moved Dominic Alvis out to defensive end, and that seemed to really set the tone early. Micah Hyde moved back to corner and he had two interceptions. Tanner Miller was the free safety, and this may go down as the worst game he will play, but he’s an inexperienced football player so you have to expect mistakes.

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Iowa’s linebackers, down Tyler Nielsen (ankle) did a good job in coverage underneath. Pitt was just 4 of 13 on third downs in this game, a marked improvement from last week. Iowa also forced them off the field on a late fourth down attempt, something Pitt may now regret going for as it opened the door for the Hawks.

The offense was all too eager to take advantage of it.

Ed Podolak said on Soundoff last week that he had never seen a player improve so much from one week to the next as Steele Jantz did. I agreed with him, and will say that I have never seen such a complete and total turnaround from three quarters to the fourth as what we saw from Iowa and its offense today.

Sure, Iowa came back against Indiana in 2009…but they did it with two passes, two long touchdown plays. It was not that easy for Iowa today…they had to put drives together…each of Iowa’s three fourth quarter touchdowns took seven plays and came from 73, 64 and 64 yards.

Those are not flukes…that is execution, something Iowa had been lacking much of the day.

The fourth quarter performance by the offense and defense could turn out to be one of the biggest and most meaningful 15 minutes in recent Iowa football history.

This is an inexperienced team, returning the fewest starters of any team in the Big Ten and all but two in all of FBS.

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A win like today, a comeback like today, a performance like today can bring a team closer together more quickly than anything I can possibly think of…especially on the heels of a gut-wrenching loss last week to your arch rival.

All of these reps go in the mental bank…do you think James Vandenberg is going to let a first quarter performance rattle him in the future? I think not. Do you think this team will ever quit this year? I think not.

Do you think the Iowa coaches learned a lot about a lot of players, and perhaps are one step closer to figuring out the offensive and defensive identity of this particular team?

I sure hope so…I said this week that I felt the offense was going to break out. I felt that they would get the win, beat Louisiana-Monroe, get to the bye week 3-1 and tweak the strategy for the rest of the year.

I said I felt that the tweaks were going to have to feature the passing game more for this particular team, namely because of the loss of Mika’il McCall, his skill set and the lack of a #2 who is quick.

There are too many excellent options in the passing game on this team, and we all saw it today.

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I also think Ken O’Keefe got his way late in the game…how many of you expected Iowa to run its normal offense once it got the ball back down three points with just over four minutes to go in the game?

They didn’t HAVE to keep playing hurry up at that point…not at all.

But they did…they kept pushing it, and Pitt had plenty of time left on the clock.

Iowa’s defense made a stop…and the Hawkeyes win.

Folks, that was hardly conservative out there…for most of the game, Iowa killed itself and numerous penalties killed so many drives…players were not executing the plays well, either.

When the Hawks were backed into a corner and had no other options left but to open up their offense, it worked…and it worked again…and it worked again…and it worked a fourth time in the span of 16:16.

I don’t expect Iowa to come out in a spread offense or hurry up mode as its modus operandi the rest of the year. However, I do expect for this performance to open a few eyes and perhaps allow for some tweaks in philosophy for this particular season.

In my opinion, the genie is out of the bottle now and she had best not go back in. The passing game will have to lead the way this year, and that’s OK. It worked in 2004 (with a great defense) and they have a chance to be very, very potent.

In the fourth quarter, James Vandenberg looked every bit the best pure passer in the Big Ten, something the Big Ten Network crew said before the season.

We’ve all seen it now; no more hiding who Iowa is this year.

The arm must lead the way.

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