By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Unless you’re about 35 years old, what happened on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium was unprecedented.
It was the stuff of dreams, the kind of historical event that apparently only happens about every three or four decades.
For those who were there, they will remember and cherish it for the rest of their lives, and will have stories to tell forever, especially those who stormed the field to celebrate third-ranked Iowa’s 23-20 come-from-behind victory over No. 4 Penn State.
Not since 1985 when top-ranked Iowa edged No. 2 Michigan 12-10 had Kinnick Stadium been the setting for a top-five matchup.
The situation looked bleak for Iowa early on as Penn State bolted to a 17-3 lead while controlling the tempo on offense.
Iowa then caught a huge break when Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was lost to an injury in the second quarter.
But, sometimes, luck plays a role in what proves to be a special journey, and is part of what makes a team special.
And for Iowa, the chance to be a special team still is within reach.
Iowa as expected climbed to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll in the wake of Alabama’s loss at Texas A&M on Saturday, and five of the top 10 teams are from the Big Ten in the latest AP poll.
And consider this interesting possibility: Georgia should be ranked No. 1 when it faces Kentucky this coming Saturday at home, while Iowa will be ranked second when it faces Purdue at Kinnick Stadium. Kentucky is coached by former Iowa defensive back Mark Stoops, who now has a chance to lift his team to 7-0 while also lifting his college alma mater to No. 1 in the polls.
That will be much easier said then done, obviously, considering how dominant Georgia is on defense, and because Purdue shouldn’t be taken lightly as it defeated Iowa last season and has won three of the last four games in the series.
But the fact that Iowa is this close to being on top of the polls for the first time since 1985 is spectacular by itself.
Iowa has won 12 straight games for just the second time under Kirk Ferentz, is 6-0 for just the third time in 23 seasons under Ferentz, and is 59-21 since the start of the 2015 season.
Junior quarterback Spencer Petras improved to 12-2 as Iowa’s starting quarterback, and has the best winning percentage by a starting quarterback in program history at 85.7 percent.
Iowa has played 28 straight games without allowing 25 points, and the Iowa defense has only allowed 20 points in the second half of games this season, and leads the country with 16 interceptions, including four against Penn State.
Iowa has 80 interceptions since 2017, more than any team in the country.
Iowa has was on six straight games against ranked opponents dating back to 2019. The last time Iowa won six straight games against ranked opponents was a six-game stretch in 1960, which was Forest Evashevski’s final season as head coach.
Iowa sixth-year senior kicker Caleb Shudak has made 11-of-12 field-goal attempts, while 24-year old sophomore Tory Taylor has made punting a weapon that hasn’t been seen since the days of the late, great Reggie Roby.
Iowa has outscored its opponents 430-131 during the 12-game winning streak, averaging 33.6 points per game offensively and allowing just 13.4 points per game.
Iowa also became bowl eligible for the 20th straight season with Saturday’s win.
“Every week, the goals are really simple, to try to come out ahead on the score at the end of the week and then also to improve,” Kirk Ferentz said after the Penn State game. “And playing a game like that where it was tough, it was real gritty, that’s going to be a good thing for us. I think that will serve us well down the road.”
That might sound kind of boring and simple, but it’s vintage Kirk Ferentz.
And it’s just what Iowa needs right now, an embrace-the-grind mentality in which the journey means more than the destination.
Ferentz might get emotional after big wins, as he did again on Saturday, but his approach still doesn’t change.
He doesn’t start looking ahead or making bold predictions or lobbying for his team to be more respected.
He also doesn’t dwell on the rankings, especially in early October.
“We’re still, whatever, six games into it now,” Ferentz said. “So these rankings are still kind of; there’s a lot to be decided.
“But nonetheless, these were two good teams today. And it’s true all the time for us, but especially in a game like this where you know the competition is about as good as it’s going to get.”
The Iowa fans certainly did their part on Saturday by creating a hostile environment that became a major distraction for Penn State backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson, who only completed 7-of-21 passes for 34 yards and threw two interceptions. Roberson seemed overwhelmed by the moment, and the fans were a big a reason.
And while fans can savor the moment and bask in the joy of Saturday’s win, the Iowa players have to move on to Purdue. And they will because this team has solid veteran leadership, and because Ferentz will demand it.
It’s reasonable to think that Iowa will start getting every opponent’s best effort because Iowa is now flirting with elite status.
It also is important to remember that Iowa finished ranked 10th in the final Associated Press poll in 1985, while Michigan was ranked second.
So, a lot can happen over these final six regular-season games, both good and bad.
That’s why living in the moment and staying grounded is so important, and nobody understands that better than Kirk Ferentz.