IOWA CITY, Iowa – The numbers seven and five keep showing up every time I think of the 2015 Iowa football team.
Or in other words, slightly above average and more of the same, which is probably the worst scenario for those longing for change.
Things might look different with C.J. Beathard playing quarterback instead of Jake Rudock, and with LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri sharing the load at running back instead of Mark Weisman’s grind-it-out solo act.
But the end result will be identical to last season when the Hawkeyes also finished 7-5 during the regular season.
I don’t see Iowa having a double-digit win season, but nor do I see the team collapsing in Kirk Ferentz’s 17th season as head coach.
And that’s a concern because more of the same would lead to more apathy. You can’t fire one of the greatest coaches in school history after a seven-win season. But it’ll take more than seven wins to galvanize fans and show that Ferentz still has what it takes to be successful.
Here’s what I see happening:
Iowa 31, Illinois State 27: The Hawkeyes avoid a meltdown with their fans by driving 80 yards in the final 2 minutes for the game-winning touchdown. Senior receiver Tevaun Smith makes two key 3rd-down receptions that gain a combined 40 yards and sophomore Derrick Mitchell gains 23 yards on a screen pass from quarterback C.J. Beathard. After throwing back-to-back incompletions, Beathard scrambles out of the pocket and throws the game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Henry Krieger Coble, a 12-yarder in the corner of the end zone with 23 seconds remaining. Senior defensive end Drew Ott finishes with three tackles for loss, but the Hawkeyes allow 240 rushing yards.
Iowa State 30, Iowa 27: A healthy Sam Richardson keeps each of Iowa State’s four scoring drives alive by scrambling for first-downs on broken plays. Both teams finish with over 400 yards offense, but a Hawkeye turnover on a fumbled punt midway through the fourth quarter sets the stage for Iowa State’s game-winning scoring drive. Richardson caps the drive by scoring from seven yards on a broken play with 10 seconds remaining.
Iowa 24, Pittsburgh 23: Marshall Koehn keeps the Hawkeyes from starting 1-2 by making a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. Desmond King sets up the game-winning field goal by recovering a fumble at the Pittsburgh 48-yard line with barely more than one minute to play. Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis surprises everybody by running Derrick Mitchell on a draw play on first down that gains 11 yards to the Panther 37. However, the play also burns 20 seconds and the Hawkeyes are without any timeouts. Beathard then throws and incompletion on first down before completing a 13-yard pass to Matt VandeBerg, who steps out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 21-yard line with 17 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Koehn.
Iowa 38, North Texas 20: Despite being overmatched physically, the Mean Green keep the game close for two quarters by feeding off the emotion and energy from head coach and former Hawkeye Dan McCarney. A chorus of boos can be heard late in the second quarter after North Texas scores a touchdown, narrowing the gap to 21-20 at halftime. Iowa then dominates the second half, holding the Mean Green scoreless and to just 67 yards. Drew Ott has three sacks in the second half and Desmond King intercepts two passes in the fourth quarter. Iowa shreds the Mean Green for 288 rushing yards, led by LeShun Daniels with a career-high 147 yards and two touchdowns.
Wisconsin 28, Iowa 24: A disturbing pattern continues as Iowa puts a scare in the Badgers before coming up short at the end. Beathard has his first 300-yard passing game as a Hawkeye, but the Badgers counter with 254 rushing yards, led by Corey Clement with 210. Iowa also surrenders two long punts returns, including one in the fourth quarter that helps set up a 24-yard touchdown run by Clement with 2:25 remaining that proves to be the game winner. The Hawkeyes drive 33 yards to the Badger 47 before running out of time.
Iowa 31, Illinois 20: The Hawkeyes prevail in a must-win situation against an Illinois team that is gaining steam after playing better than expected in the first month of the season. The firing of Tim Beckman as the Illinois coach seems to have inspired his players. But the Illini have no answer for Iowa’s balance as Beathard throws for over 200 yards to complement Iowa’s 200 rushing yards.
Northwestern 30, Iowa 28: With his team trailing 21-3 at halftime, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald for dramatic effect chugs 10 raw eggs and a glass of vinegar before delivering a passionate speech in which he reminds his players how much he despises Iowa dating back to his time as an all-America linebacker at Northwestern in the mid-1990s. Fitzgerald’s message has a stunning effect as Northwestern outscores Iowa 27-7 in the second half.
Iowa 34, Maryland 27: Still disgusted that his team attempted 56 passes in the loss to Maryland in 2014, Ferentz puts an emphasis on the running the ball and it pays huge dividends. Daniels and senior Jordan Canzeri both rush for over 100 yards, while Beathard provides just enough balance with 177 passing yards. Maryland makes a few outstanding individual plays, but not enough to prevail in its first trip to Iowa City.
Iowa 41, Indiana 38: A game that has nearly 900 total yards is decided by a defensive play as Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin intercepts a Nate Sudfeld pass with slightly less than one minute to play and returns it 33 yards for a touchdown. After yet another Marshall Koehn touchback, Indiana takes over at its own 20-yard line with 52 seconds remaining and then drives to the Iowa 37. The Hawkeyes prevail when Indiana’s 53-yard field-goal attempt falls inches short as time expires.
Minnesota 23, Iowa 21: The Gophers somehow prevail despite only completing five passes. Iowa self-destructs throughout the game, committing four turnovers, including losing three fumbles on a wet and windy mid-November night in which the temperature drops below 20 degrees.
Iowa 35, Purdue 21: A season-low crowd of 54,874 watches as the Hawkeyes roll past Purdue to improve to 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten. Beathard throws three touchdown passes, including a 67-yarder to freshman Jerminic Smith in the first quarter, while Daniels leads a balanced rushing attack with 88 yards.
Nebraska 27, Iowa 17: The Cornhuskers outscore Iowa 10-0 in the fourth quarter. Iowa is hurt by several dropped passes on this bitterly cold and windy Black Friday in Lincoln, Neb. Beathard passes for 225 yards, but the running game sputters in the second half.