Comparing 2009 Iowa vs. 2015 Iowa; which team was better?
The 2009 and 2015 Iowa squads have been compared frequently in 2015. Both seasons will end in a top-flight bowl with Kirk Ferentz at the center of it.
So which team was better? Let’s take a look at some key factors that might help you decide:
The expectations — Perhaps the biggest difference between these two teams was the way they ended their previous seasons. In 2008, Iowa set the stage by knocking off No. 3 Penn State and by beating South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. That gave the Hawkeyes a No. 22-ranking to start the season. But hype was halted in the season opener when they needed to block two kicks against Northern Iowa to pull out a win. As a result, they fell out of the top 25.
But there were still higher expectations than at the start of 2015. Kirk Ferentz was on the hot seat after blowing a three-possession against Nebraska in the 2014 regular-season finale. Getting waxed by Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl certainly didn’t help. Without quarterback Jake Rudock (transferred to Michigan) and Marc Weisman, the offense was a big question mark and Drew Ott was the only star returning on defense. Iowa would’ve been considered a surprise if it ever reached No. 22 in the 2015 season, much less if it had started there.
The quarterbacks — Ricky Stanzi is an American hero. We all know that. But before he solidified his status as one of the great patriots in college football, Stanzi was a relatively mediocre B1G quarterback. In 2009, he was the heart and soul of that team. When he went down with an ankle injury against Northwestern, the Hawkeyes suffered their only two losses of the season. His return helped lift the Iowa to an Orange Bowl win. He still was never great statistically, but he made key plays in big moments all season.
C.J. Beathard didn’t make second-team All-B1G because of his 15 touchdown passes. He did because of plays like the diving touchdown he made against Indiana, or the go-ahead touchdown pass he threw to Riley McCarron in the fourth quarter against Iowa State. Nobody was happier than Ferentz to see the guy he risked his job to start have so much success. Clutch, live-for-the-moment quarterbacks were the clear, common denominators of these two teams.
The defining moments — Lord knows both seasons had plenty. We already talked about the field goal blocks against Northern Iowa but the Hawkeyes really flexed their muscles by stymying No. 5 Penn State in Happy Valley. A comeback win that day proved to be a theme of the season. When Indiana was in danger of taking a three-touchdown lead deep in Iowa territory, Tyler Sash picked off a pass and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown to turn the game around. That helped the No. 4 Hawkeyes improve to 9-0, which clinched their best start in school history. Still, the lasting image from that season was Ricky Stanzi’s epic post-Orange Bowl podium quote.
Iowa’s 2015 defining moments — at least so far — haven’t been massive, dramatic, turn-of-the-head worthy moments in the eyes of the college football world. Scoring two touchdowns in the final minutes to beat Iowa State was the first time you might’ve realized this team wasn’t going to fold late like the 2014 squad. Marshall Koehn’s 57-yard field goal to beat Pitt was when it appeared that the Hawkeyes might have some magic in them. But Iowa became an elite team the day it went into Northwestern — while dealing with injuries to Drew Ott, Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels — and dismantled one of the nation’s top teams. Still, somehow, college football pundits doubted that Iowa was legitimate. They waited until they nearly knocked off Michigan State in the B1G Championship to make that assessment.
The Kirk — Much has been made about New Kirk vs. Old Kirk. Old Kirk doesn’t go for it on fourth down. Old Kirk pounds the ball using the I-formation. Old Kirk doesn’t sign off on alternate uniforms. Well, the 2015 version of Ferentz is certainly different than the 2009 version, but the question is how much? In 2009, Iowa actually attempted more fourth-down conversions than it did in 2015. The 2009 team also threw the ball five more times per game than the 2015 team.
But perhaps more than a few fake field-goal attempts or rolling with the unproven starter at quarterback, Ferentz embraced the idea of change. He changed practice hours to match studies that showed the time of the day when athletes are at their peaks. The conservative coach mixed up the backfield and used his tailbacks as more than between-the-tackle rushers. He gave C.J. Beathard the freedom to improvise on third down. All of those things helped Iowa get back to the success it had in 2009. Old Kirk worked in 2009 and New Kirk worked in 2015.
The numbers — Comparing the two teams by basic metrics won’t tell you a ton about which team was better. The 2015 squad averaged nine more points but allowed three more points per game. The 2015 squad — largely considered a radically new style for Iowa — actually rushed for 78 more yards game than the 2009 squad did. The 0.7 yards per play difference doesn’t suggest much separation, either.
But the real difference was the 2009 team put Iowa fans through a roller coaster of emotions. Six different times the Hawkeyes trailed in the fourth quarter that season. That doesn’t include the three-point win against Arkansas State, either. Iowa rallied for fourth quarter wins four different times in 2009. In 2015, the Hawkeyes didn’t trail in the fourth quarter until the B1G Championship.
That, by far, is the biggest difference between these two squads. The 2015 Hawkeyes — for as much as it was debated as a fringe elite team — truly was a full head above its competition. There were probably a lot of Iowa’s 2009 opponents that felt they could’ve easily been another ho-hum 8-5 squad if not for a few plays here or there. But there’s no doubt that 2015 Iowa earned its place among college football’s elite by controlling nearly every game from start to finish. That is ultimately what this team will be remembered by.