PASADENA, Calif. – Nobody can erase or diminish what the Iowa football team accomplished during its record-breaking 2015 season.
Sadly, for the Iowa players, coaches and fans, nobody can erase the disaster that occurred at the Rose Bowl on Friday, either.
This was the TaxSlayer Bowl all over again, only on a bigger stage against a better opponent with more at stake and with a much larger viewing audience.
Iowa continued a disturbing trend in the Rose Bowl by playing horribly in the first half and then losing 45-16 to an explosive and fundamentally sound Stanford squad. Iowa has been outscored 95-17 in the first half of its last four Rose Bowl games.
Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey showcased all of his immense talent while shredding the Hawkeyes for 368 all-purpose yards, including 248 yards in the first half.
The Iowa defense had nearly a month to prepare for McCaffery, but it’s impossible to emulate his athleticism in practice.
“Obviously, when you’ve got a guy who’s a Heisman Trophy finalist, it’s going to be tough to emulate anywhere,” Iowa senior linebacker Cole Fisher said of the 6-foot, 201-pound McCaffrey. “In the open field, he was about as dangerous as anybody I’ve ever played against.”
The game was a mismatch from the beginning as McCaffrey scored on a 75-yard reception on the first play from the scrimmage that took 11 seconds off the game clock.
Stanford led 21-0 after the first quarter and 35-0 at halftime.
Proof of Stanford’s dominance and its explosiveness on offense is that it led 28-0 after running just 12 offensive plays.
Iowa might have had more missed tackles in Friday’s beat-down than it had in the previous 13 games combined. Much of that was because of McCaffrey’s immense talent, but the Iowa defenders also were caught out of position multiple times.
Combine that with all the missed tackles and the fact that Iowa couldn’t run the ball or protect quarterback C.J. Beathard in the pocket and it was a recipe for disaster.
The vaunted Iowa rushing attack was held to just 48 yards on 38 carries, which is 144 yards less than it’s per-game average. Any chance of keeping the explosive McCaffery off the field ended with the Iowa rushing attack being a non-factor.
The absence of a rushing attack also kept Beathard from using play-action passes. He was too busy running for his life against a Stanford defense that was on the attack from start to finish.
It was a horrible way to end a historical season in which Iowa (12-2) set a record for most wins in a single season.
“We’ve had some pretty mediocre seasons in the last couple years,” Fisher said. “You hope it’s not remembered by this loss in the Rose Bowl.
“Hopefully, people remember that, hey, these guys kind of got the ball rolling again.”
It’ll probably take some time for fans to remember that because there was so much riding on Friday’s game, and yet, the Hawkeyes looked overwhelmed by Stanford’s talent.
In addition to Stanford’s dominance on offense, the Cardinal defense also sacked Beathard seven times and pressured him throughout the game.
“Hats off to them, they played tough and we just weren’t ready to go today,” Beathard said.
A game that looked evenly matched on paper looked anything but that on the field. Stanford looked quicker, faster and was more physical at the point of attack.
“Everybody has bad days,” Beathard said. “Hats off to them. We just didn’t come out ready to play.”
Beathard mentioned several times that Iowa didn’t come out ready to play. He then was asked why, given everything that was at stake?
Iowa was playing in its first Rose Bowl in 25 years and was trying to win the Rose Bowl for the first time in 57 years. You’d think that being ready to play wouldn’t have been an issue for a team that has rallied behind strong senior leadership all season.
“We were excited and we felt like we were ready all week, but that’s not always the case when it translates over to the game,” Beathard said. “They came out and got after us quick. And it is what it is.”
The way in which McCaffrey sliced up the Iowa defense might have looked like a one-man show to the casual observer. But Stanford’s offensive line destroyed Iowa in the trenches pretty much from start to finish.
It was the same situation on the other side of the ball as the Iowa offensive line performed more like a sieve, letting one Stanford defender after another loose in the backfield.
“It was a lot of things, execution and being outplayed and things like that,” said Iowa senior offensive guard Jordan Walsh. “Statistically, it’s been a real good season. But we didn’t finish how we wanted. So that’s disappointing.”
Iowa has now lost four bowl games in a row by a combined score of 142-72. This loss hurts the most though because of everything that was at stake and because the Hawkeyes offered little resistance.
Iowa actually gained respect on the national level for almost defeating Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game, but much of it was lost on Friday as the Hawkeyes wilted under the national spotlight.
“Obviously, I’m very, very proud of the way the guys have done things, and that really goes back 12 months,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “So this game hurts. We’ll learn from it. We’ll move on. We’ll improve. But right now it certainly hurts and it’s something that we’ll deal with.”
Being embarrassed on national television should hurt. It should motivate the Iowa players during the offseason to work even harder.
“Obviously, anytime you’re playing in the Rose Bowl it means you had a great season,” Beathard said. “We came out in 13 games and played really hard and tough. That wasn’t the case today. But I think it will give us some fuel going into the offseason and going into next season.
“We don’t want to do this again. We’d like to come back here and win it.”
Beathard was asked if there was something that just wasn’t clicking during Friday’s game.
“Everything, really,” he said. “They scored on the first play of the game on a play that our defense had seen on film multiple times. We just didn’t play it right.”
Beathard also made sure to blame himself. He threw an ill-advised pass that was returned 66 yards for a touchdown by Stanford defensive back Quenton Meeks with 4 minutes, 7 seconds left in the second quarter.
That put Iowa into a 21-0 hole from which it couldn’t recover.
“The pick-six, that’s on me,” Beathard said.
The Iowa special teams also contributed to the misery by allowing McCaffrey to return a punt 63 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
“We know McCaffrey is the best in the country and we had to cover him and we didn’t cover well,” Beathard said. “They just got up real quick and it’s tough to come back from that.”
Time ultimately will help the Iowa players recover from Friday’s loss. But it won’t change what happened.
A team that captured the hearts of its fans picked the worse time to play its worse game.
“It sucks,” Beathard said. “It’ll stick with us for a little while. But we’ll get over it, hopefully, sooner than later.
“We did have a great season. You can’t that away from us. But this loss does hurt.”
That’s been the message after Iowa’s last four Rose Bowl appearances. One loss doesn’t ruin a season, but it certainly tarnishes it.