With the sting of 'Purdue 24, Iowa 7' lingering ... 6 losses that still haunt Hawkeyes fans
Note: This is part of a series that will run periodically during the season. Gloat while you can, fans of the B1G’s other top programs. Your time is coming. Badgers fans have already had theirs. Nittany Lions fans too.
Is it happening again?
The best Iowa seasons of the Kirk Ferentz era have ended with 2 losses (2002, 2004, 2009, 2015 and maybe even 2020). The Hawkeyes get to that point in every way possible, all the way from losing the first 2 to losing the last 2.
With that, you know you didn’t win the big one — 2007 LSU and 1960 Minnesota are the only 2-loss national champs — and there’s a good chance there was at least one win that got away.
Oddly enough, if it weren’t for the 1991 Hawks’ 10-1-1 Holiday Bowl season, the same 2-loss narrative could be applied to the very best of Hayden Fry’s teams.
Perhaps in the future we’ll assemble “the ties that still haunt Hawkeyes fans,” because ending up bound to LaVell Edwards’ BYU squad at 13-13 in San Diego left a lasting distaste until overtime came along 5 years later.
But today, we’re picking apart the painful parts of the pigskin while ruing a 24-7 loss to Purdue that ended a 12-game run of perfection. Being No. 2 was fun while it lasted. … The games that still get your blood pressure boiling after all these years:
2002: Iowa State 36, Iowa 31
The Hawkeyes were up 24-7 at the half before Seneca Wallace led the Cyclones’ comeback in the air and on the ground with 29 consecutive points. Brad Banks didn’t have his best game as a Hawkeye, with 2 key fumbles, but he ended up in an Orange Bowl as the Heisman runner-up, so it’s low on this list.
Ask any Hawkeyes fan about a game they’d like to have back, and this one probably comes up, but the truth is it shows how inconsequential the Cy-Hawk rivalry game is to Iowa’s season. Would the BCS have elevated the undefeated Hawkeyes above Miami or Ohio State that year to play for a national championship? It’s possible, but probably not. Iowa still got a piece of the Big Ten championship and calls for a title game intensified because Hawkeyes-Buckeyes never happened. But in the BCS era, it showed the Big Ten had an advantage by not having one. Send one co-champ to the Rose Bowl and the other to the Orange. Win-win.
2007: Western Michigan 28, Iowa 19
Picture this: It’s Senior Day and you’re not a very good Iowa team. After all, 3 Hawkeyes teams finished at No. 8 already this decade and you still need a win in your finale to extend your bowl streak to 7. What Big Ten rival awaits? None. Luckily, it’s 3-7 Western Michigan.
Or maybe not. The Hawkeyes fell behind 19-0 and allowed 489 yards, including 116 yards rushing and 93 receiving to Brandon West. Perhaps Michigan would have been a better matchup that year. If Appalachian State could do it … no, never mind. It might be best there was no bowl bid.
2017: Penn State 21, Iowa 19
Iowa faced ranked Penn State 3 consecutive years and walked away with 3 one-score losses. Each ended after dark and all were brutal in their own way.
Not just missed opportunities like a win in the glorious return of the wings — in all gold no less.
— Brian Ray (@HawkeyeBRay) June 28, 2019
Missed calls, too. (Just blow the whistle already!)
But the worst was the first in that stretch. A game that was 7-5 at one point (because of course it was) due to a safety came down to the final play. Trace McSorley hit Juwan Johnson for 7 yards in the end zone as time expired for the win.
In between, it was a back-and-forth affair, with Saquon Barkley and Akrum Wadley trading blows and leading their teams in rushing and receiving. Wadley’s fourth quarter included an electrifying 70-yard reception and a 35-yard run to put the Hawks up 19-15 with 1:42 left. Just one stop (that’s foreshadowing) ends it, but Penn State drove 80 unchecked before heading back to State College on I-80.
Iowa finally got some revenge vs. the Lions this year at Kinnick, only to crash and burn at home a week later vs. Purdue.
2009: Ohio State 27, Iowa 24 (OT)
While it would be easy to choose the Northwestern loss a week earlier, injuries happen. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi’s rolled-ankle rollout carried over into the Hawkeyes’ trip to Ohio State, but backup James Vandenberg got it together in time to rally Iowa from 14 down with 11 minutes left and force overtime in his first college start.
Because the Buckeyes had lost to Purdue, everything was still on the table for the shorthanded Hawkeyes. But Iowa went backward to start overtime and then a desperation heave was picked off. Ohio State countered with matriculation and a game-winning field goal, sending the Buckeyes to their first Rose Bowl in 13 years. The once 9-0 Hawkeyes were suddenly 9-2 and would need to wait another 6 years before theirs — that’s another haunting peppered throughout this piece — and once again made a consolation trip to an Orange Bowl.
1986: UCLA 45, Iowa 28, Rose Bowl
These choices are supposed to be recent, but I couldn’t help myself. It’s been 36 years this season and the pain endures over generations. This game always comes up, as does Ronnie Harmon’s name. Maybe you’ve heard the story. Four fumbles — four times what he had in the regular season — and a dropped pass in the end zone.
As this column reminded Hawkeyes fans just last year — Harmon was a star as a receiver and a running back. The pain of the loss is stronger because of the way Harmon was remembered — for one game instead of a career that surpassed 2,000 yards in both rushing and receiving, for conspiracy theories instead of recognizing real emotions. Head coach Hayden Fry credited UCLA’s hard hits for the turnovers in his book. Harmon finally got to talk through it, as we’re doing here, but what about the rest of the game?
On the other side of the ball was Eric Ball, who tied a modern Rose Bowl record with 4 touchdowns. A second-string running back, his touchdown runs of 40, 32, 30 and 6 yards accounted for 108 of his 227 yards. That was a running back reversal of fortunes.
Had Iowa won, plenty fell into place for the Hawkeyes to at least claim a national title and at best finish No. 1. So that added some insult to this injury. No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Miami lost, but No. 3 Oklahoma was the team that beat the Nittany Lions. Iowa came into the game at No. 4. When it comes to “what ifs,” this one is full of them.
2015: Michigan State 16, Iowa 13, B1G Championship Game
Just. One. Stop. Or even just 1 yard at the very end. A grind of a game was suddenly up for grabs by an 85-yard touchdown pass from C.J. Beathard to Tevaun Smith on the first play of the fourth quarter. Smith dabbed. The stadium shook. Gus Johnson’s voice almost broke.
Iowa was up 13-9, but it would all come down to the final drive for the never-before 12-0 Hawkeyes.
L.J. Scott capped a 22-play, 82-yard drive that ate 9:04 by crossing the goal line for the Spartans for the first time that night with 27 seconds remaining. Not sure if words can do that slow death justice, but let’s try.
Michigan State reached Iowa’s 34 with 4:59 left and never threw the ball again. Quarterback Connor Cook ran for 7 yards, then it was all Scott and his offensive line against an Iowa defense that had bent, but not broken. Just 3 field goals allowed to that point.
Six Scott single-digit gains and 2:26 later, the Hawkeyes called timeout to prepare for 4th-and-2 at the 5. Cook got the 2 yards he needed, then Scott ran 3 times to get those last 3 yards, getting just enough to stretch across and end Iowa’s undefeated season, sending the Hawks to a 45-16 slaughter by Stanford in Pasadena. Let’s just say I’m not picking Christian McCaffrey first for my fantasy football team — if I had one, that is. But I’m not putting that blowout bowl loss among these picks, either. All was lost in Lucas Oil Stadium among a sea of surprisingly defined black-and-gold stripes.
— Ryan Jaster (@Hawkologist) December 5, 2020
One stop away. One yard. One inch, really. There’s pride, but more pain.
Not sure this exercise was cathartic. I wish you nothing but joy the rest of this fine college football season.