The fog lifted. Finally.
The Hawkeyes enjoyed an uptick in 2008. Running back Shonn Greene exploded onto the scene, eventually winning the Doak Walker Award. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi won the job and took his first steps. Iowa’s O-line flexed its muscles and brought some of the shine back to a unit that struggled in 2007.
But at this point in the season, Iowa was still looking for legitimacy.
Iowa lost four of six games heading into the November matchup against No. 3 Penn State.
Lose this one and Iowa would’ve needed to sweep the final two to ensure itself of bowl eligibility. And remember, there was no bowl in 2007. So, this was a biggie.
Add the drama of Daniel Murray. He hadn’t stepped onto the field in five weeks. Suddenly, coach Kirk Ferentz taps him on the shoulder for a 31-yarder into a swirly wind.
After two middling years, Iowa found its footing. Since this game, the Hawkeyes are 15-2.
The fog of ’06 and ’07 had finally lifted.
Headline: YES THEY DID! (Play on Obama.)
IOWA CITY — It’s good. It’s all good.
Daniel Murray’s 31-yard field goal with one second left was good. The Hawkeyes’ thrilling 24-23 victory over No. 3 Penn State on Saturday was really good. The feeling of 70,585 fans jumping down on top of you to celebrate the program’s biggest victory in years, yeah, even that felt good.
“That was the biggest workout I had all day,” said senior defensive tackle Mitch King.
Kinnick fans rushed the field with one second left on the clock, earning the Hawkeyes a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. No one seemed to mind.
There was a lot of black for the “black out.” There was a little green for the “Greene out” staged by the student section to honor running back Shonn Greene. And there was a whole lot of joy.
This season won’t turn out as well as it could have. Even as Saturday’s upset reverberated throughout the college football world — the Big Ten won’t have a spot in the BCS national title game thanks to Iowa — the Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-2 Big Ten) still have to deal with the bitterness of four losses by 12 points.
Saturday, they seemed to be dealing just fine. It was good. It was all good.
The Hawkeyes snapped a nine-game losing streak in games decided by three points or less. They beat their first top-five team since a 54-28 victory at Illinois on Nov. 3, 1990. They also earned bowl eligibility.
It’s good. It’s all good.
“To win a close game was important for us,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It had to happen at some given point, preferably this season. And then to also win against not only a ranked team but an excellent football team, it’s important to a team, it’s important to our program. Hopefully, it’ll be important to our season.”
After enduring a season that has been a mocking taunt — Iowa was the Murray field goal from losing this one, basically, on a botched snap — everything, absolutely everything, went the Hawkeyes’ way the final 3 minutes, 46 seconds.
On a third-and-24, safety Tyler Sash picked off Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark to set up Iowa at its 39 with 3:46 left. On third-and-14, quarterback Ricky Stanzi rolled to his right and had one target in the pattern — well-covered, totally bracketed wide receiver Trey Stross. Penn State safety Anthony Scirrotto arrived a tick early and came over the top of Stross’ back, earning a 15-yard penalty for pass interference.
“I tried to put it up there to let Trey make a play,” Stanzi said. “Hopefully, they’ve got enough guys there where one of them will bang him. Fortunately, they did, and that kind of gave us a break.”
From there, Stanzi, the same QB who handed the Nittany Lions (9-1, 5-1) 10 points off an interception and fumble, dissected the No. 3 team in the country.
On third-and-10 at the 50, he hit tight end Brandon Myers for 11 yards. On third-and-7 from PSU’s 25, he rolled left and flicked an out route to wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos — who led the Hawkeyes with seven catches for 89 yards including a 27-yard TD — for 10 yards to Penn State’s 15.
“I think the whole season has been a growing process for Rick,” said Greene, who did his damage with 28 carries for 117 yards and two TDs. “Today, he sped it up. He never got down on himself; he never does.”
Two Greene carries moved the ball to the Penn State 14 with six seconds left. Time for true freshman Trent Mossbrucker to come in and earn “employee of the month.”
Instead, Murray trotted out. Yeah, Murray. You might remember Murray.
His last field goal attempt was a 35-yard miss Sept. 20 at Pittsburgh. Murray has held the kickoff job all season. Last week at Illinois, he booted one out of bounds, giving the Fighting Illini the ball at the 40 and eventually turning out to be a touchdown. Why Daniel Murray? Why now?
“We were just leaning toward experience,” Ferentz said. “The wind was a little tricky, tough situation. We just leaned toward experience.”
Ferentz talked with co-special teams coach Lester Erb. Both kickers warmed up at the start of the drive. When the Hawkeyes reached the 50, Ferentz said the decision was made. Before the game, coaches decided that with the wind gusting out of the north from 22 to 30 mph, Murray would be the guy.
“You just kind of say, here we go,” said Murray, who made his first field goal since the season opener. “I was nervous until I got on the field. Once I got on the field, it was kind of like, no turning back now. Let’s just go.”
The philosophy for watching a game-winning kick varies. King couldn’t bear to watch.
“I had my eyes shut, I was just listening to the crowd to see if we made it or not,” he said.
Stanzi, who finished 15 of 25 for 171 yards with a touchdown and interception, really gave it some thought.
“I thought about not watching it and then thought that’d be dumb,” he said. “So I kind of got down there, far away from it, so I could get a good view. It was awesome.”
Ferentz said he’s tried not watching when opposing kickers have a chance for a game-winner.
“I’ve found out, it doesn’t matter either way what I do,” he said. “But when our guys are kicking, I watch our guys.”
It was good. Everyone saw it. It’s all good.