By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The biggest challenge with writing this column was choosing what specifically to write about.
There were so many intriguing storylines that emerged from the Iowa football team’s 55-24 beat-down against third-ranked Ohio State that it was hard to choose just one.
From Josh Jackson’s meteoric rise to stardom to Nate Stanley’s poise and precision under pressure to James Daniels’ emotional pre-game speech, what happened on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium was more than just a game, it was an event that will be etched in the minds of the Iowa players, coaches and fans forever.
It was also quite a comeback for Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz in the face of adversity and shame.
A week that began with Brian Ferentz having to issue a public apology for his profanity-laced tirade in the Kinnick Stadium press box at halftime of the Minnesota game last Saturday ended with one of the greatest performances by an Iowa team in quite some time.
The 55 points scored are the most by Iowa in the series, which covers 65 games. The 31-point margin of victory is also the highest for Iowa in the series.
Iowa handed the Buckeyes just their second road loss in 28 games under Urban Meyer, who seemed shell-shocked after the the game. It was also the most points a Meyer team has given up during his 16-year coaching carrer.
"They just played real well against us," Meyer said of Iowa, which became bowl eligible for the 16th time in the last 17 seasons, while improving to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten.
It’s hard to think of time when Iowa has played better under Kirk Ferentz, which dates back to 1999, and his oldest of five children played a pivotal role in Saturday’s masterpiece.
Brian Ferentz came out firing from the beginning and never let up. His play calling was creative, aggressive and maybe the biggest reason Iowa shocked the college football word on Saturday.
It wasn’t just that Iowa defeated Ohio State for the first time since 2004, and for just the fifth time since 1963, it was how the game unfolded that made it truly remarkable.
“We had to keep our foot on the gas and that’s what we did,” said Iowa senior running back Akrum Wadley, who rushed for 118 yards on 20 carries.
It never felt like Iowa was playing not to lose on Saturday, or trying just to hang around in hopes of delivering a miracle.
Iowa played with a purpose and with passion on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
The defense bent and broke at times, but still held the star-studded Buckeye offense to just 371 yards, which is exactly 200 yards below its per-game average, while the Iowa offense stayed on the attack from start to finish.
Jackson, with three interceptions, had arguably his best game as an Iowa cornerback, which is saying a lot because the Texas native has performed at a star level throughout the season.
As for Brian Ferentz, there was no doubt that Saturday's game was his shining moment.
Ohio State didn’t have an answer for Iowa’s balance on offense, and that was largely due Brian Ferentz's play calling.
“I think if you're an offensive coordinator you're going to have a lot of tough weeks,” said Kirk Ferentz. “That's just the nature of that position. I think he did a great job. I think our whole staff did a good job putting a plan together. The real secret is the execution, and you talk about guys growing, our two tight ends are both young guys right now, they're young players, but you can see that growth there. They're doing some things maybe you wouldn't have counted on back in August.
“Overall it was a good plan certainly. I think the way the game was called was really admirable, and we're doing it against a defense that looked like an NFL defense.”
Brian Ferentz deserves high praise for devising a scheme in which tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson repeatedly found room to maneuver in the Buckeye secondary.
Fant and Hockenson combined to catch four of Stanley’s career-high five touchdown passes as each scored twice on Saturday.
Brian Ferentz used the pass to set up the run on Saturday, and if you know anything about Iowa football under his father, that’s thinking outside the box.
“Here’s a shout out to coach Brian Ferentz, he’s the man,” Wadley said.
Brian Ferentz had a huge smile on his face as he worked his way through the crowd that had spilled on to the field after the game. He had reason to be proud for turning one of the worst weeks in his young coaching career into one of the most joyous.
Brian Ferentz went from embarrassing his father’s program to embarrassing the Ohio State defense by coaching with a sense of urgency.
Win or lose, Brian Ferentz was determined to go down fighting and scrapping on Saturday. He didn’t have time to feel sorry for himself or to make excuses for what happened last Saturday.
His only option was to move forward and prepare his offense to face one of college football’s true juggernauts.
Hardly anybody with exception to the Iowa players and coaches, and maybe some of their relatives, thought Ohio State would lose on Saturday.
The oddmakers in Las Vegas certainly didn’t like Iowa’s chances as evidenced by Ohio State being favored by 20 points.
Being picked to lose by three touchdowns on your home field is a slap in the face, even if the opponent is Ohio State. But the point spread was justified, considering Iowa’s track record this season.
The same Iowa team that struggled to sustain a rushing attack against Northwestern and Minnesota shredded Ohio State’s defense for a season-high 243 rushing yards.
Iowa’s success on Saturday was the result of sound execution, creative play calling and unbridled emotion.
The players usually say that no game is bigger than any other game, but Ohio native James Daniels deviated from that approach on Saturday. He was so stoked to face his home-state Buckeyes that he addressed the team on Friday and reminded his teammates why he picked Iowa over Ohio State as a coveted four-star recruit.
“I just said my two college choices were pretty much here and Ohio State and I came to Iowa because of the offensive line play and how we do things here,” Daniels said. “I said it last night; tomorrow we need to show how an Iowa offensive line plays and how it’s like. And that’s what we did today.”
Daniels was one of two Ohio natives who started on the offensive line for Iowa on Saturday, along with senior Sean Welsh, who grew up cheering for the Buckeyes during the Jim Tressel coaching era.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Welsh said. “Especially coming from Ohio. I grew up in the Tressel era thinking those guys were super heroes. Just to be a part of this team is an honor and a privilege.”
Welsh singled out Iowa’s two freshmen tackles – Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs – for praise on Saturday. They both have struggled at times this season, but just like their offensive coordinator, Jackson and Wirfs met the challenge on Saturday, and did so in spectacular fashion.
“We had a lot of young guys, our two tackles that played a real good game,” Welsh said. “And I think we had a lot of guys that just grew up tonight.”
The 34-year old Brian Ferentz certainly grew up on Saturday and showed that he is more than just an outspoken member of his father’s coaching staff.
Brian Ferentz could’ve unraveled under the pressure, but he stayed the course and showed that he deserves the job that some feel was given to him simply because of his father’s influence.
Brian Ferentz is fortunate to have former Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe as his quarterback coach, as is Stanley, who completed 20-of-31 passes for 226 yards and five touchdowns.
A season that many feared was heading in the wrong direction is now filled with hope and optimism as Iowa prepares to face another Big Ten power in Wisconsin next Saturday in Madison, Wis.
Brian Ferentz has certainly given the Badgers something to think about with his gutsy performance on Saturday.