Iowa football: Can Hawkeyes clinch B1G West after lackluster start?
Call it destiny. Call it luck. A bit of both? Maybe so.
Whatever fans want to call the Frankenstein experiment known as Iowa football, so long as the term “winner” is attached to the end of it, they’ll be happy. Winners of 4 straight, the Hawkeyes are no longer that program that took the field and coughed up 6 turnovers against Ohio State in mid-October.
They’re more physical. They’re more battle-tested. Most of all, their confidence is at an all-time high entering the final week of the regular season. One more win and the Hawkeyes are in the B1G title game as the winners of the West.
Did anyone think this was possible following the first 2 weeks of the season? Better yet, did those calling for Brian Ferentz’s playsheet after totaling 151 yards against the Buckeyes think this was a reality?
A Black Friday win over Nebraska guarantees Iowa’s return to Lucas Oil Stadium. Thanks to a last-second field goal from Michigan’s Jake Moody in Ann Arbor, Illinois is now on the outside looking in.
The Huskers, losers of 7 straight to Iowa, might have already waved the white flag before kickoff. Up by 11 entering the 4th quarter, Nebraska allowed Wisconsin to score 12 unanswered points to complete the 15-14 comeback win. And with a sub-.500 record, plus without a coach, what does Nebraska have left to play for?
Here’s everything at stake for Iowa entering Friday’s matchup:
A division title
Let’s get the easiest one out of the way first. If Iowa wins, it’s in the title game. The offense could muster 5 yards and it won’t matter. Spencer Petras could throw 5 interceptions and the outcome wouldn’t change.
So long as the Hawkeyes walk out of Kinnick Stadium with a “W,” they’re going back to Indy. And winning like this only proves that it truly is all about how you finish rather than start.
Remember that Iowa team that needed a pair of safeties to beat FCS South Dakota State in Week 1? How about the roster that managed to post 150 yards and a touchdown in a 10-7 loss to now 3-8 Iowa State? And the version of Iowa that got the short end of the stick in a 9-6 loss to Illinois?
Yeah, that version of Iowa is gone.
Trusting its defense and skating by on enough offensive production, the Hawkeyes have outscored their last 4 opponents 94-36. Petras and the run game have hit their stride at the right moment, and the defense is still nearly pitching shutouts on the regular.
A chance at redemption
Who will Iowa play in the B1G title game? That answer will come Saturday afternoon from Columbus based on the winner of “The Game” between Ohio State and Michigan.
Iowa has faced both already this season thanks to the luck of B1G scheduling. The Wolverines held a 20-0 lead at the Big House before Kaleb Johnson finally scored. Meanwhile, no one in Iowa City is trying to remember what occurred at The Horseshoe following Joe Evans’s 11-yard fumble return.
Momentum has shifted for the Hawkeyes since their return to Kinnick Stadium. Iowa has held opponents to an average of 9 points per outing over the last 4 games. Teams are averaging 264.5 yards of offense during that span. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes have caused at least 1 turnover per outing.
Both Michigan and Ohio State possess offenses with the capability to score fast. They also feature units that can stall for multiple drives, thus giving their opponent a chance to fight back. Maryland nearly pulled off the upset of Ohio State at home, but a Taulia Tagovailoa fumble returned for a touchdown in the closing minute of the 4th quarter halted that possibility.
As for the Wolverines? Check out their red zone scoring percentage. While it might read a 94.5% success rate, Michigan’s red zone touchdown rate hovers around 67%.
Take away their kicking game, and perhaps you stand a chance.
Both teams also are far from at full strength entering rivalry week, and best believe each side is going to leave it all out on the field come Nov. 26. This isn’t a game just for bragging rights. It’s one for a division title and an undefeated season.
Will Michigan’s Blake Corum be back at full strength? How about Donovan Edwards? Will Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba be ready to go for a shot at the College Football Playoff? More so, how can Iowa use this to its advantage in a rematch?
People often will say “well imagine if the game was played now” when their team gets hot. Imagine? A win Saturday guarantees one of those rematches to become a reality.
And with how the defense has played, could an upset be in the works as well?
Brian Ferentz’s job security
When a team struggles, coaches often put the blame on their coordinators. For Kirk Ferentz, football and family are hand in hand. Quite literally.
An 8-4 record might not put Iowa in CFP chatter, but it likely will ease the hot seat of Brian Ferentz. A division title win certainly silence the critics for yet another week. An upset win over either the Wolverines or the Buckeyes?
Are we talking about a contract extension in the works?
Even with the offensive surge as of late, Iowa’s overall numbers remain putrid. Entering Week 13, here’s where the Hawkeyes rank in every major offensive category:
- Passing offense: 152.7 yards per game (129th in FBS)
- Rushing offense: 98.4 yards per game (119th in FBS)
- Total offense: 251.1 yards per game (130th in FBS)
- Scoring offense: 17.9 points per game (124th in FBS)
- 3rd-down conversion rate: 28.99% (127th in FBs)
Most coordinators would have already been sent packing. Most coordinators aren’t employed by their father and have the backing of an athletic director with those numbers. But with back-to-back division titles, why would Kirk Ferentz feel the need to change the offense?
After all, that’s the offense playing for a conference title, so something had to work, right?
Depending on who you ask, not everything is positive with a win over the Huskers. If you’re not a fan of uninspiringly designed runs and pass plays less than 10 yards downfield, this is one you could probably chalk up as a negative.
But wins solve a lot of problems, and sometimes lipstick actually does look good on a pig.