IOWA CITY — If you saw a devilish character with red skin, horns and a pitchfork lurking in Kinnick Stadium’s shadows Saturday, it was a college kid doing the Halloween thing.
Yeah, let’s go with that and hope there has been no selling of souls within Iowa’s football program this fall.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz responded with a bit of mirth in his eyes Saturday. “But it’s possible. It’s possible.”
This day, as it has been all season, anything was possible with the Hawkeyes.
Make six turnovers, throw four interceptions in the third quarter alone, trail by 10 points entering the fourth quarter after doom, despair and a determined Indiana squad made it seem like the Grim Reaper had arrived to finally collect an Iowa loss?
But this year’s Hawkeyes? They scored four touchdowns in the final 15 minutes, surrendered nothing and won, 42-24. It was insane business as usual.
Ferentz said he had never seen a play like the one in which Ben Chappell’s harassed pass on a play from the Iowa 2 played bumper cars off Hawkeyes and Hoosiers alike before landing in safety Tyler Sash’s hands. Eighty-six yards after Sash caught the crazy carom he said began when the ball bounced off his helmet, the Hawkeyes had their first pick-6 of the year. That was after they had given up three interceptions for touchdowns at Kinnick this season without paying for any with a defeat.
Speaking of interceptions, Ferentz said he didn’t know of a quarterback ever throwing five picks and winning like his guy, Ricky Stanzi, did. Surely a quarterback at some level of football — Arena? Pee Wee? Madden NFL 10? — had done so and still prevailed.
“That’s one to look up,” Ferentz said. “I don’t know if it’s ever happened. That’s a tough one to survive. Almost impossible. Almost impossible.”
“Almost Impossible.” That might make a good title for the story of the Hawkeyes season to date.
Start with Stanzi. How do you go 9-0 with a quarterback who has thrown 13 interceptions and only one more touchdown pass? The answer: Just keep letting Ricky be Ricky.
“You just do it,” Stanzi said. “There’s no trick to it and it’s not like a magic saying. You keep the same demeanor even if you throw a touchdown pass or throw a pick. It’s the same thing when you come on the sideline. You just get ready for the next opportunity.”
Those aren’t just words. While Kinnick went cuckoo after Derrell Johnson-Koulianos turned a fourth-quarter pass from Stanzi into a 66-yard touchdown, the guy who threw it did a slow, calm trot off the field.
“I think I’m not alone in this one,” Ferentz said. “We all believe in Rick Stanzi. The guy has done a hell of a job.”
Maybe it was interception No. 4, or was it No. 5? It was easy to lose track. But, anyway, a small-but-audible group of Hawkeye fans started to boo Stanzi for the picks. Yes, a week after he saved Iowa’s bacon on a last-second pass at Michigan State.
We’ve seen recent Hawkeye quarterbacks let booing from the Kinnick stands get inside their helmets. Stanzi?
“I was booing myself,” he said. “I couldn’t care less. They’re allowed to, I guess.”
Stanzi’s INT-fest was part of the ESPN “highlights” package of the nation’s No. 7 team staving off defeat yet again.
“They probably have highlights of the win, too,” he said, “so I don’t really care. We won the game. That’s all that matters to me.”
Long before Saturday, Stanzi’s teammates had seen enough of his fourth-quarter transformations from Rickety Ricky into Slick Rick to believe in the guy. They don’t have to urge him to keep his chinstrap during rocky stretches.
“I don’t need any encouragement,” Stanzi said. “I can handle it.
“But everyone is staying positive, which is the main thing. As long as we can do that as a team, fighting through mistakes, it becomes a lot easier.”
Said Ferentz: “You encourage him to keep playing. And he did that.”
On his interceptions, Stanzi said: “No excuses. Those were all my mistakes. I hate putting my team in that kind of position. They’ve got to make up for my mistakes. But that’s the way this team has always responded.”
What were the odds Iowa responded by winning this game given the way it seemed destined to end, with an embarrassing home loss to an unranked foe?
“Coming off the field after UNI,” Ferentz asked, “what were the odds of being 9-0 after that?”
Almost impossible. Almost.