More than halfway through the regular season and still undefeated, the Iowa football team continues to prove me wrong.
My latest miscalculation being Saturday’s 40-10 victory over Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.
I was convinced that a depleted Hawkeye squad finally would meet its match against Northwestern on Saturday. I figured the Wildcats would rally around their highly passionate head coach Pat Fitzgerald and rise to the occasion on homecoming.
I figured that having approximately 80 members of Northwestern’s 1995 Big Ten champion team on hand for the game, along with former head coach Gary Barnett, would provide an extra spark.
I figured that Fitzgerald would’ve found a way to make last Saturday’s 38-0 loss at Michigan work to his advantage while preparing for the hated Hawkeyes.
And I figured that Northwestern at 5-1 overall heading into the game, including victories over Stanford and Duke, would’ve had enough firepower to derail the Hawkeyes.
But I was wrong to underestimate this Iowa team again. My record fell to 4-3 in predicting Iowa’s games this season, with Iowa State and Wisconsin being the other two misses.
With so many story angles from which to choose, it’s hard to know where to shift your focus.
Akrum Wadley’s stat-stuffing performance, which included 204 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns, was certainly a key storyline in the wake of Jordan Canzeri’s ankle injury, as was the performance of the Iowa defense in holding Northwestern to just 51 rushing yards.
C.J. Beathard also became the first Iowa quarterback to win his first eight career starts, and he did so on a day in which his body ached almost from head to toe.
Like I said, there was so much from which to choose, but I figured it was time to praise the Iowa offensive line and offensive line coach Brian Ferentz for a job well done under tough circumstances.
As impressive as Wadley was in shredding the Wildcats, the holes he ran through were equally impressive.
Saturday’s 30-point beat-down was a case in which Iowa dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage. I didn’t think that would be possible with Iowa missing its two starting tackles in sophomores Boone Myers and Ike Boettger because of injuries.
I’m not ready to say that the Big Ten Bullies have returned to Iowa City, but the Iowa offensive line overpowered Northwestern on Saturday and did so with a true freshman (James Daniels) starting at left guard and a former walk-on starting at left tackle in Cole Croston.
For a second, I thought it was the 1980s again because the Wildcats looked helplessly overmatched on Saturday, just like they did back then.
I’m still not ready to promote the chance of Iowa finishing 12-0 because that would go against everything the team stands for with regard to seizing the moment. It’s also a little silly and disrespectful to the teams left on Iowa’s schedule to think so far ahead.
Just enjoy the moment because it doesn’t come around very often as evidenced by the previous five seasons. This marks just the second time under Ferentz and just the third time since 1985 that Iowa has been 7-0.
That’s impressive by itself, but then consider all the injuries and it’s incredible what this team has accomplished.
Depth is rarely a strength for Iowa, but it’s also not a weakness, either. You don’t win at Northwestern on homecoming, and with a lineup that was as depleted as Iowa’s was on Saturday without having some quality depth.
Iowa made one key position change, moving sophomore Sean Welsh to right tackle and James Daniels to left guard. The move, obviously, paid huge dividends, considering Iowa’s dominance in the trenches.
The Iowa players haven’t been shy about saying the current team is more unified and better than last season’s team that finished 7-6, losing its final three games. I sort of resented hearing that at first because it came at the expense of last season’s team.
But so far, it’s true. The current team is better than last season’s team and has the record and stability at the quarterback position to show for it. Last year’s team was divided by the quarterback controversy involving Beathard and Jake Rudock. It’s reasonable to think that the uncertainty at quarterback affected Iowa’s performance on the field.
Critics will rip Iowa’s 2015 schedule and use that to minimize what this team has accomplished. But you can only play the teams on your schedule.
Iowa has played seven teams on its schedule and defeated all seven of them. It’s impossible to do any better than that.
Ferentz’s job wasn’t in jeopardy when the season started, but he had used up all his good will with most of the fans. His only cure was winning, and that’s all this team has done so far.
The Hawkeys now have two weeks to heal with a bye week coming up next on the schedule followed by a game against Maryland on Oct. 31 at Kinnick Stadium.
Sorry Maryland, but I’m picking Iowa.