AMES, Iowa – The way in which the Iowa football team prevailed against Iowa State on Saturday was vintage Tyler Sash.
The Hawkeyes seized the moment by making plays when they absolutely had to with state bragging rights on the line.
Instead of buckling under pressure, Iowa scored two touchdowns in the final 2 minutes and 14 seconds to escape from sold out Jack Trice Stadium with a 31-17 victory.
The victory capped an emotional week for the Iowa players and coaches. It started with Sash, a former Hawkeye defensive back, being found dead on Tuesday in his hometown of Oskaloosa at the age of 27.
Former Hawkeye basketball great Roy Marble also lost his battle with cancer on Friday, adding to the emotion.
“We’re just always going to remain positive no matter what comes our way,” said senior running back Jordan Canzeri, who rushed for a game-high 124 yards on Saturday. “And that’s something we harped on this whole offseason.
“There are going to be ups-and-downs throughout the game. But it only matters how you see it and how you take it and how you respond to it.”
Iowa had its share of adversity during Saturday’s game, but the players persevered and met the challenge like Sash often did while twice earning first-team all-Big Ten accolades.
Junior quarterback C.J. Beathard improved to 3-0 as a starter by making just enough plays when he had to. In addition to rushing for 77 yards, Beathard completed 15-of-25 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns.
He also avoided throwing an interception for the second game in a row.
But it was Beathard’s legs that helped to shift the momentum at two crucial times during Saturday’s game. He had the two longest runs in the game that covered 44 and 57 yards, respectively.
“C.J., obviously, made some great plays with his feet,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “He made some great plays with precision throws.
“But I think the thing I was most impressed about the way C.J. played is him keeping his poise. When you talk to him or see him on the sideline, he never looks any different and he doesn’t get rattled.
“It would’ve been easy to get rattled today. And I’ve seen quarterbacks get rattled in here on our team. So I’m just really proud of what he did.”
Junior receiver Matt VandeBerg deserves some credit for helping Beathard stayed composed. VandeBerg probably isn’t Iowa’s most talented receiver, but he might be its most reliable pass catcher. The South Dakota native finished with nine catches for a career-high 114 yards and one touchdown on Saturday.
Adversity always seems to surface in this game, as was the case again on Saturday.
All-Big Ten defensive end Drew Ott was injured in the first quarter and didn’t return. He watched from the sideline in the second half with his left arm in a sling.
Starting running back LeShun Daniels injured his ankle in the second quarter and didn’t play in the second half.
Canzeri also lost a fumble in the fourth quarter, but the Iowa defense bailed him out by forcing Iowa State to punt.
Junior cornerback Desmond King returned the punt 37 yards to midfield. Beathard and his cohorts then drove 50 yards in seven plays for the go-ahead touchdown.
Beathard capped the drive by throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to receiver Riley McCarron with 2 minutes, 14 second remaining.
“You know where he is going to be at all times,” Beathard said of McCarron, who joined the Iowa program as a walk-on. “He’s a smart guy. He does the right thing at all times. I was happy for him. You know it was his first touchdown in a college game, and no better way to score in a game like that against Iowa State.”
As for King, he didn’t always do the right thing on Saturday as a punt returner, but he kept battling and finally came through at the end. King also was part of an Iowa defense that held Iowa State to just 66 yards in the second half.
The Cyclones also were held to 62 rushing yards for the entire game, while Iowa finished with 260 on the ground.
“Just being resilient, that’s one of our keys,” King said. “Being a resilient defense and coming back strong.”
It also helps to be unified and the current Iowa teams appears to have that quality in abundance. There is no quarterback controversy like there was a year ago. But there is a sense of urgency.
So far, that’s proving to be a winning formula.
Ferentz also showed a willingness to take chances when he called for a fake field goal on the final play of the first half. Senior kicker Marshall Koehn gained 17 yards on the play before being tackled at the Iowa State 5-yard line as time expired.
Even though the play didn’t work, it was another example that the usually conservative Ferentz will do whatever it takes this season to gain an advantage. He also tried a fake field goal in the season opener against Illinois State that failed.
My only problem with the fake field goal on Saturday is that Iowa allowed too much time to burn off the clock. Other than that, fans should be excited that Ferentz is more willing to take chances than he used to be.
It’s always a huge relief for Iowa fans to get past the pesky Cyclones with a victory. Saturday’s victory was just Iowa’s second in its last five games against Iowa State.
When the game ended, the Iowa players instead of rushing to the Iowa State bench to get the Cy-Hawk trophy walked hand-in-hand across the field in a swarm.
The trophy will be on display in the Iowa Football Complex until the teams play again next season. Iowa lost all four of its trophy games last season, leaving the display case empty.
The players were so frustrated looking at the empty display case that the coaches decided to smash it in preparation for Saturday’s game.
"We have a trophy case and it’s been empty for a long time and we smashed it because we were getting sick of looking at an empty one," Canzeri said. "And we’re not going to replace it until we get a trophy.
"So that’s what we wanted to do today and we got it done."
The challenge now is to keep building momentum because there still is plenty of time with 10 regular-season games remaining for this team to either sink or swim.
Ferentz wasn’t sure about the health status of Ott or Daniels. But if they can’t play against Pittsburgh next Saturday, somebody else will have to answer the bell because injuries are part of the game.
Somebody else will have to be the next man in and seize the moment by making plays. That’s basically what happened Saturday. Iowa made more plays than Iowa State for a change.
That was the best way to honor Tyler Sash, by playing the same way he used to play as a Hawkeye.