Iowa football: Hawkeyes are battle tested entering Heroes Game
Jack Campbell is a man who believes in the process. A program won’t be built in a day. Wins will come when earned.
That starts with buying into the long-term plan. Culture can carry programs through tough times, but it also can ignite a fire internally that those who are fully invested knew was there all along.
“If you buy into just doing the little things consistently, it’s going to add up. You might not see it Day 1. You might not see it Day 43,” Campbell said. “But you might see it on Day 122. And that’s where I feel like this push-through has happened.”
As Iowa looks to keep its 4-game winning streak alive Friday against Nebraska, the fight inside Iowa’s locker room has flown to new heights. A 13-10 win over Minnesota has pushed the Hawkeyes (7-4, 5-3 B1G) firmly into the driver’s seat for the B1G West title.
Win, and they’re in. It’s that simple for a program that looked D.O.A. less than a month ago when leaving Ohio Stadium with its feathers plucked and no sense of direction.
No, Iowa isn’t perfect. Even over its 4-game surge, the Hawkeyes have been prone to multiple mistakes through 4 quarters. One week, the offensive line looks like it’s ready to hoist up the Joe Moore Award. The next? Six sacks to go along with 11 pressures against Wisconsin.
Entering the Heroes Game, maybe that’s a positive. Nebraska (3-8, 2-6 B1G) has made its fair share of blunders and still can’t get it right. The Huskers fired Scott Frost after a 1-2 start and have gone 2-6 since. A change at quarterback did little to fix the offensive production. The firing of defensive coordinator Erik Chinander hasn’t stopped teams from averaging 28.5 points per game.
Iowa fans should exhale a sigh of relief entering Friday. The reason? This version of the Hawkeyes is battle tested. A win over Nebraska should come as second nature.
Defense wins championships
Both sides of Huskers’ football will require a tune-up in the offseason. Here’s a look at Nebraska’s offensive numbers through 11 games:
- Total offense: 345.5 yards per game (101st nationally)
- Scoring offense: 22.5 points per game (103rd nationally)
- Rushing offense: 129.9 yards per game (95th nationally)
- Passing offense: 215.6 yards per game (88th nationally)
Iowa is worse offensively by almost 100 yards per game, but its defense evens the playing field. Take for instance Saturday against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers outgained the Hawkeyes 399-280. They totaled more 1st downs (17-13), finished with more yards per run (6.2 to 2.8), and converted nearly double the amount of 3rd downs.
The difference? Turnovers.
Deontae Craig’s fumble recovery deep in Iowa territory halted a scoring drive for Minnesota. Campbell’s interception with 2 minutes left set up the game-winning field goal from Drew Stevens.
That’s how Iowa wins. It’s its best chance to pick up the “W” each week. Even though the Hawkeyes have outscored opponents 94-36 during their winning streak, how do you think the totals are so low?
Iowa ranks 18th nationally in turnover margin at +0.64 per game. Nebraska? It enters Friday ranked 109th at -0.55.
A hot streak at the right moment
Winning streaks help regardless of the timing. For Iowa, it’s better to be scorching late than mild early with little left in the tank.
Four games following what could be only described as stomach-churning play against No. 2 Ohio State, there’s a new Iowa roster staring fans in the face on Saturdays. It’s a roster that hasn’t allowed more than 13 points in an outing. It’s a program that’s averaged a 23.5 points per game against conference opponents.
Spencer Petras has found his stride (or whatever you would call his recent success) with pass-catchers Sam LaPorta and Nico Ragaini. His completion and passer ratings have gone up while his turnovers have declined. Since Week 9, he’s completed 62.5% of his passes for 3 touchdowns against zero picks.
Is Petras Tom Brady 2.0? No, but he’s coming up clutch at the right time. Without his 33-yard pass to Luke Lachey following Campbell’s pick, does Iowa win? Does Iowa have anything to play for entering Friday besides pride?
Offensive production has improved. Defensive production hasn’t diminished. And the result? A win away from returning to Indy back-to-back years for the 1st time in program history.
Deeper into the season, a team’s persona might outweigh its talent. Iowa is playing hot football. Bet against it, and perhaps you’ll be burned.
History on Iowa’s side
Wins are one thing. Winning consistently is another. So far, Iowa has both over Nebraska.
The Huskers haven’t defeated Iowa since 2014 when Bo Pelini gave life to the program. Two coaches have been fired and freshmen in high school are set to graduate college since a win came for the Huskers.
It’s so much more than that. Iowa has owned the series. Its closest win — a 27-24 victory in Kinnick Stadium in 2019 — only occurred because the defense blew a 24-3 lead at halftime. In all 7 games, the Hawkeyes have scored at least 26 points.
Mike Riley and Frost never were able to conjure up an efficient enough game plan to debone the Hawkeyes’ offensive production. Even in 2014’s 37-34 loss, Nebraska needed to score 17 4th-quarter points to send the game into overtime. If not for Kenny Bell’s 9-yard touchdown in OT, the losing streak is pushing a decade.
Since 2015, Iowa has outscored the Huskers 236-137. Even when the offense has looked anemic — from play-calling to execution to consistency — the Huskers have either had to play from behind or looked abysmal through 4 quarters.
And that was with a permanent head coach standing on the sidelines. What’s Iowa’s excuse for Friday?
Remember Campbell’s comments about buying into the culture? No more has that been true than Saturday on the road at Huntington Bank Stadium just outside of Minneapolis.
Down by 3 with less than 200 yards of offense, Iowa could’ve quit. A 7-5 season after the turmoil that plagued the offense to begin the year might not look bad on paper. And everyone is allotted a down year every once and a while, right?
Nope. Not this Iowa program.
Resiliency has carried the Hawkeyes through their 4-game streak. Players have bought into the preaching from the Book of Ferentz, and continue to ride the momentum each Saturday until the final whistle.
Culture? Grit? Passion? All of the above?
Nebraska might give up a fight. It does every year with the intent of finally saying “this is our year” toward every losing streak. But following a 12-point implosion in the 4th quarter against Wisconsin that led to a 15-14 loss, that felt like the writing on the wall for 2022.
With 6 minutes remaining vs. the Gophers, Iowa responded. A fumble here, an interception there and a throw later, the Hawkeyes were playing to hold the lead rather than capture it.
Resiliency has been the storyline for a program that was sitting at 3-4 midseason. That same program is a win away from returning to Lucas Oil Stadium.