EVANSTON, ILL. –
Fire up Kirk Ferentz.
It’s a tried-and-true formula for the Hawkeyes. Play like total garbage, like you’d rather be sailing or knitting or napping. Raise your coach’s blood pressure to something in the 200s over something in the 100s. Fall behind on the scoreboard.
And then sit back and watch the halftime fireworks.
Fire up Kirk Ferentz.
“Mad,” Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen said. “Pretty angry, upset with us. It was deserved.”
Ferentz used the word “pacifists” in the postgame. There was probably a “p” word, maybe a few “f” words and more than likely lots and lots of volume.
The Hawkeyes fell behind by two touchdowns before they mounted a stunning about-face in the second half. Christensen played his finest half as Iowa’s starting quarterback and Iowa’s defense intercepted NU quarterback C.J. Bacher three times, fueling Iowa’s 28-17 victory over Northwestern before 30,173 mostly Iowa fans Saturday at Ryan Field.
The Hawkeyes (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) snapped their two-game losing streak to the Wildcats (5-5, 2-4) and won their first Big Ten road game in their last seven tries.
Fire up Kirk Ferentz.
“He was talking so much stuff that it was funny,” running back Damian Sims said.
“He’s such a cool dude and is calm and collected. (But) he wouldn’t stop. We would walk away and he would think about something else and come back and start yelling more.”
When the Hawkeyes fell behind 17-3 to Michigan State at halftime last week, Ferentz simply called his team out. Saturday, he went somewhere between Bobby Knight and Chuck Norris.
So, was it an “R” rating, a “PG 13″?
“We have to really be playing bad for him to yell like that,” Sims said. “It was bad. It was definitely HBO.”
And, hey, look, the Hawkeyes are .500 for the first time since September. At 5-5, the Hawkeyes are a Minnesota (1-8, 0-5 going into a night game against Illinois) and Western Michigan (3-6) away from a bowl bid.
“We put ourselves in position to maybe think about it,” Ferentz said. “But we’re basically a one-step-at-a-time team. I know this, it would’ve been tough if we didn’t pull it off today. It would’ve been really challenging. It’s our job to finish up now.”
For the first time all season, the bowl reps were back in the greeting line for Ferentz after his postgame. The
Insight Bowl guy wore a banana-colored jacket that could be seen from space. The Champs Sports Bowl people were there with their football-field green jackets.
“We would love to have Iowa,” said Tom Fridena, of the Phoenix, Ariz.,-based Insight Bowl. “We would love to have Iowa. … Oh God, almighty. The only difficulty we have is we only have 80,000 seats in the stadium.”
Sims’ fourth-quarter touchdown runs (2 and 8 yards) brought the Hawkeyes back from a 17-14 deficit. They were his first two scores since the Syracuse game week 2.
Sims’ first score capped an 85-yard drive. Christensen was sacked and fumbled, giving the Wildcats (5-5, 2-4) first down at Iowa’s 32. But the Hawkeyes’ defense held, with
true freshman defensive end Christian Ballard sacking Bacher on third-and-13 from Iowa’s 35.
Ferentz gambled big time here. The Hawkeyes stopped NU short on third-and-3, but the ‘Cats were called for a holding penalty. Iowa accepted.
On the third-and-13, Iowa dropped eight players into coverage and rushed three. Freshmen Ballard and Adrian Clayborn both got there.
“It was critical,” Ferentz said. “And great to see.”
The Hawkeyes piled up six sacks, with Ballard and Bryan Mattison collecting 2.5 apiece.
NU running back Tyrell Sutton had 131 total yards in the first half. He was held to just 25 in the second.
“It’s really strange when you feel like you’re executing very well, you’re moving the ball and putting points on the board,” said Bacher, who finished 27 of 54 for 264 yards, one TD and three interceptions. “Then all of the sudden, it stops.”
Sims’ second TD was set up by cornerback Charles Godfrey’s interception. Bacher, under siege all of the second half, threw a screen pass high to Sutton, who tipped it to
Godfrey for a first down at NU’s 30.
This drive seemed doomed when, on first down, tight end Allen Reisner was called for a holding penalty. But on first-and-20 from the 40, Christensen hit wideout Derrell
Johnson-Koulianos for a 30-yard gain to NU’s 10.
Credit offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe. He set up the ‘Cats secondary with a series of short 8- to 10-yard hitch routes in the first half and then caught NU cornerbacks
jumping the short route and leaving the big completion open.
Wide receiver Trey Stross’ 20-yard TD catch before half was a hitch-and-go.
Christensen’s 53-yarder to Stross that set up Sims’ first TD was a hitch-and-go. The pass to Johnson-Koulianos was a hitch-and-go.
The Hawkeyes hitched and went in the second half, with Christensen finishing 21 of 36 for 299 yards and a TD.
“We knew they were going to be ready for it and (O’Keefe) called them at the right time,” Christensen said.
Northwestern’s defense played to stop the run and dared the Hawkeyes to beat them with Christensen’s arm. He completed 12 of 19 for 203 yards in the second half.
“Jake was on, he was great today,” Stross said. “He put the ball where it needed to be and he threaded a few in there. They didn’t respect our passing game, but we made it happen today.”
The whole point of Ferentz’s halftime rant was wakeup call, jump start, defibrillation.
Ferentz saw a team going through the motions and kicked it in the can.
“Last year at Minnesota was worse,” Sims said. “He was going crazy, and it must have worked. Everybody came out to play.”
It’s not that simple, of course. Nothing has been simple with this team.