IOWA CITY, Iowa – After what happened on Saturday, it’s probably fair to say that the 2015 Iowa football team has captured the hearts and imagination of fans.
Its latest rallying cry being a 62-16 beat-down against North Texas before a crowd of 56,041 at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes did what they were supposed to do against a 25 ½ point underdog. Instead of playing down to its competition, which has been a problem at times under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa played at a level at which the Mean Green couldn’t match, even with its head coach Dan McCarney leading the way.
McCarney has defied the odds before at Kinnick Stadium by leaving with an unexpected victory against his college alma mater. He coached at Iowa State for 12 seasons from 1995-2006 and led the Cyclones to victories at Kinnick Stadium in 1998, 2000 and 2002.
This time, though, McCarney had no answers for his alma mater. He could’ve delivered the best pre-game pep talk in the history of competitive sports, but it still wouldn’t have mattered.
It wouldn’t have mattered because Iowa was vastly superior in almost every aspect of the game. The Hawkeyes were so dominant that McCarney couldn’t pick one thing that impressed him the most. He raved about Iowa’s offensive and defensive lines, while also praising the Iowa defense and special teams, including Desmond King’s impact as a return specialist.
“Just the whole complete thing, special teams, punter, kicker, returner, the returner, obviously, is going to be playing a lot of years beyond Iowa,” McCarney said of King, who burned the Mean Green for several long returns on Saturday. “If he stays healthy, God willing, he’s going to have a long career in the NFL. He’s that kind of guy.”
McCarney then praised the Hawkeyes for being fundamentally sound and well coached. It was the most points scored by an Iowa team since the 2002 Big Ten champion squad pounded Northwestern 62-10 at Kinnick Stadium.
“They don’t beat themselves,” McCarney said. “Iowa doesn’t beat Iowa. You have to beat them.
“And even though we did some positive things, it got out of reach in the second half, especially with the turnovers that we had. But they’re a complete football team from what I can see.”
The Hawkeyes have given their fans a reason to feel good again about Saturdays in the fall. They’ve answered the plea from fans to become a more entertaining football team, a team that does everything within its power to win instead of playing not to lose.
And they’ve helped to erase the stench from last season when Iowa collapsed at the end, losing its final three games, including a humiliating 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
I remember thinking a month ago that junior quarterback C.J. Beathard was being way overrated. Fans were making him out to be the savior, even though he had started just one game as a Hawkeye.
It’s only been four games this season, but Beathard has been better than advertised. He has shown tremendous poise and an uncanny ability to make big plays at pivotal times with his arm and legs.
Saturday’s performance was more about precision and accuracy as Beathard completed his first 15 passes. His first incompletion didn’t come until the third quarter. He finished with a career-high 278 passing yards, completing all but three of his 21 attempts.
“I didn’t even realize it, I guess, until after the game and people were saying that,” Beathard said of his completion streak. “It’s just a good win all-around.
“The offensive line was given me good coverage all day. So it was easy to pick coverages out and pick apart defenses. The receivers did a good job of getting open and that made it just a little bit easier.”
This marks just the fourth time in 17 seasons under Ferentz that Iowa has started with a 4-0 record. It also happened in 2003, 2006 and 2009. The 2003 and 2009 teams won 10 and 11, games, respectively, while the 2006 squad lost six of its last seven games, including the last four in a row to finish 6-7.
So being 4-0, obviously, helps, but also guarantees nothing because there still is plenty of time to unravel.
“One thing we just tried to share with our football team is just the value of every step along the way and how important each step is,” Ferentz said. “Every game you play presents its set of own unique challenges.
“So I thought the guys did a pretty good job this week of preparing. I thought overall the week went pretty well and they showed up today with good tempo on the game field. We had some plays that weren’t so clean. But I think overall the effort and the attitude of our players helped us move forward.”
Senior running back Jordan Canzeri held up four fingers as he celebrated on the field after Saturday’s victory. Ferentz assumes that Canzeri was referring to the team being 4-0 instead of bringing attention to the fact that he tied a school record on Saturday with four rushing touchdowns.
“Yeah, I would bet on that,” Ferentz said. “He’s not a look at me-type guy.”
As a senior, Canzeri is on a mission to bring the program back to respectability. You could say the same about all the seniors.
“I think our senior class is doing a really nice job,” Ferentz said. “They’re playing their best football. They’re leading our football team, which is a good start.”
Canzeri was among six Iowa players who scored touchdowns Saturday. The Hawkeyes scored in a variety of ways, including linebackers Josey Jewell and Bo Bower both returning interceptions for touchdowns.
Senior receiver Tevaun Smith also caught an 81-yard touchdown pass from Beathard in the second quarter. It was the kind of explosive play that was missing from last season.
“It was a little different,” Smith said of his touchdown. “I’ve never really had shots like that in the past. Those happen in practice. So it was good to have one in the game today.”
One of the best things about Saturday’s victory besides the incredible amount of points scored by Iowa is that the Iowa starters watched most of the fourth quarter from the safety of the bench. There were a few minor injuries, but nothing too serious according to Ferentz.
Smith was asked after Saturday’s victory when he started thinking about next Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.
“As soon as I came out of the game, honestly,” he said. “That’s going to be a big game. We’re going to have to be ready for them.”
Something tells me they will be ready. I’m not ready to pick an Iowa victory. But I will say that Wisconsin had better bring its A game because the Hawkeyes are a determined bunch and are playing well.