It’s rarely a walk in the ballpark for Iowa.

“Football is not an easy game,” running back Tyler Goodson said. “We know that. … It can be frustrating, but this team does a good job of not letting that get to our heads and just keep fighting and fighting.”

His quarterback echoed that sentiment.

“We just kept fighting,” Spencer Petras said.

Games like the 51-14 blowout at Maryland a week prior are few and far between. Saturday’s battle with Penn State was never going to be as smooth — and the Hawkeyes did themselves no favors in the first half.

“We got off to a tough start, slow start,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Our guys just kept working, kept pushing through it.”

The offense gets the attention when things head south, but even the defense thought they could have played better early on.

“First half was iffy for the whole team,” defensive back Matt Hankins said. “But in the fourth quarter we came back and finished.”

Petras said he wasn’t sure the 23-20 win was in hand “until that final knee” with 2 seconds left.

“You can’t relax until that clock really strikes zero in a game like that,” Petras said.

Teachable moment

The hope is that these Hawks learned something from it.

“Playing a game like that where it was tough, it was really gritty, that’s going to be a good thing for us,” Ferentz said. “I think that will serve us well down the road. … Sometimes you’ve got to just keep playing and hope something — somebody — sparks you or something good happens. And teams that do that — learn how to do that — have a chance to be successful.”

Even if the high profile of Saturday’s game is unmatched the rest of the regular season, Ferentz knows it won’t be the last with a high level of difficulty.

“The last 23 years, to me, it seems like usually they’re all tough,” Ferentz said. “And as soon as you start thinking it might be a little bit easy, that’s when the door slams in your face. That’s the trick. You’ve got to get everybody else to understand that. Because we’ve been there. And we’ve had games right out here not that long ago that were really disappointing. So it’s not ancient history.”

Statement win

But rallying from 14 down in a Top 4 battle and coming away on top meant a little something extra.

“One of my favorite wins,” Goodson said. “The guys on the team came together and got stronger throughout the game. It’s only going to give us momentum going into the next couple weeks.”

If you’re still not impressed by the undisputed No. 2 team in the country, look again.

“We definitely feel like this was a statement win,” defensive back Jack Koerner said.

Ferentz knows his Hawkeyes earned every note of that postgame victory polka.

“They fought like hell today. And they deserved the win.”