Howe: Hawkeyes’ Signature Win Highlights What Might Have Been
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The fans stormed the field. Kirk Ferentz cried. Kinnick Stadium had done its thing again. All was right in Hawkeye Nation.
Michigan and Ohio State saw their Top 10 rankings and unbeaten seasons end here in recents Novembers. Saturday, No. 8 Minnesota’s perfect campaign came crashing down in a 23-19 defeat.
A “Rest In Peace” sign should hung in the visitors’ locker room here.
The Hawkeyes wore smiles a mile wide. After losing three games to ranked teams this season by a total of 14 points, they broke through for a signature victory.
“To be out there when the clock is running down in Kinnick Stadium, that’s a pretty good feeling. I’m just happy this team, this ’19 team, got to experience one of those. We’ve come up short three times now, so it was good to finally push one through,” Ferentz said.
The Iowa coach in his 21st season has enjoyed multiple memorable home triumphs through the years. Saturday was not the same as beating Rutgers and Middle Tennessee here back in September.
Not all wins are created equal despite Ferentz and his players telling us they treat every game the same. They’re respecting all their opponents, as they should.
The Hawkeyes deserve plenty of credit for getting back up after losing a game at Wisconsin last week that for all intents and purposes cost them a chance at a West Division title. That’s not as easy, especially with 18-23 year olds looking through a limited career window.
Iowa kept alive hope of winning 10 games and getting to its best bowl opportunity. Winning that many contests always has represented a solid achievement, and rightfully so.
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But, dang, how can we not think about what might have been? Had the Hawkeyes just pulled out one of those earlier setbacks against Michigan, Penn State or Wisconsin, Saturday’s win would have held even greater meaning. They’d be alive in a chase for a championship.
Minnesota beat Penn State. Michigan was smashed by Wisconsin, whom Iowa only lost to by two points. There were so many missed opportunities. And too often the Hawkeyes lacked the aggression they showed on Saturday.
They came out firing on the Golden Gophers. They attacked. Anybody who watched them this season saw a difference not only in energy but in play calling.
“We knew we had to put points on the board. We were more aggressive than usual,” receiver Nico Ragaini said.
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Said fellow wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette: “We knew we had to be aggressive. It was balls to the wall this game. You have to go and give it everything you’ve got. It’s a Top 10 team. Open up the playbook.”
Ferentz also addressed Saturday’s approach.
“We knew we were going to have to score points today. No mirage, the points they’ve scored, yards they’ve had. We had tremendous respect and still do for their football team, offensive football team. Felt like we had to kind of lay it out there a little bit more,” he said.
Running back Tyler Goodson looked like the most explosive player at his position weeks ago. Saturday, the true freshman from Georgia was inserted into the starting lineup. He carried 13 times for 94 yards and a touchdown ripping off a 26-yarder on the game’s first series via a pitch play we hadn’t seen much. It set the tone, leading to a touchdown. Minnesota trailed for the first time since Oct. 5.
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“Just felt like he gave us our best chance to do things. I’ve said it all along, we really like all three of our backs. The guys that are playing are doing a great job. Just thought it might be the best answer for today’s game. We’ll assess as we go,” Ferentz said.
Could Goodson have helped a sputtering offense with more snaps against Michigan and Penn State, when the Hawkeyes were held to a combined 15 points? Would more than six carries last week in Madison made up the two-point margin of defeat?
We’ll never know. And it’s not like fellow running backs Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent have been ineffective. They each average more than 4.5 yards per carry. Still, they lack Goodson’s explosiveness.
Feel good about Saturday’s showing by your team. The coaches and players do, and they should. They work hard for limited opportunities. And a loss in this one would have been a gut punch.
On the other hand, this latest performance teased us with Iowa’s potential once again. Oddsmakers saw it, making the Hawkeyes the favorite against an unbeaten, Top 10 team. It left us wondering what the West Division standings would look like if there would have been more of a killer instinct earlier in the season.