When Bob Stoops and Iowa played against Oklahoma ...

No moral victory for Iowa in contested loss at Norman

Published: December 12 2011 | 2:40 pm - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 8:33 am in
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In football, Iowa has played Arizona 13 times, Oregon State 12 times, UCLA and USC nine times. It has played Oklahoma just once.

That was in 1979, Hayden Fry's second game as Iowa's coach. The game was in Norman. Oklahoma won, 21-6.

The Hawkeyes led 6-0 at the end of the first quarter and were down by just 7-6 entering the fourth quarter. OU, with 1978 Heisman Trophy-winning running back Billy Sims, outrushed Iowa, 269 yards to 63. Iowa punted 10 times to the Sooners' two.

What was jarring to Hawkeye fans and the media covering the team wasn't as much that Iowa hung with the third-ranked Sooners. It was more what Fry said after the game. An Iowa sportswriter told Fry "You're team played a good ballgame today." Fry's response:

"I just told my football team that that's what's wrong with our ballclub. We get our__ kicked and get complimented. If I see one guy with a smile on his face I'm gonna bust him right in the mouth."

Iowa was 2-9 the season before Fry arrived, with seven losses of 20 points or more. So playing Oklahoma tough seemed like legitimate improvement, but Fry would have none of it. He was particularly incensed with his team's poor punting and placekicking.

"It was the sorriest kicking game in the world," he said. "I have no idea how our defense did what it did today with the poor field position our kicking gave them. I'll guarantee you there will be some new faces next week. When you can't make an extra-point kick you don't deserve to win. And when you miss a field goal from a chip-shot range it's ridiculous.

"Offensively, I didn't see a hell of a lot of courage in the second half. Oklahoma isn't a blitzing team. But they blitzed because we just didn't block them. They blitzed half the time in the second half and we did a real poor job of  picking them up. We worked on it in practice. We just didn't execute.

"We just don't have the tradition yet, and the national ranking. We just don't realize we can play with anyone in the country. Don't get me wrong. I love my football team.

"I'm proud of my team, but I just wish they would grow up. I'm not impatient, understand, but we had a chance to win last week (a 30-26 loss at Indiana), we had a chance to win today and we'll have a chance next week (against Nebraska)."

He was right. Iowa hosted Nebraska the following Saturday, and lost by just 24-21. Iowa went on to have a 5-6 record (4-4 in the Big Ten), slipped to 4-7 in 1980, then went to the Rose Bowl in 1981. Oklahoma went 11-1 in 1979 and finished the season ranked No. 3 after a 24-7 Orange Bowl win over Florida State.

Here we are in 2011. Bob Stoops, who was a freshman starting safety on that 1979 Iowa squad, will coach Oklahoma against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are again heavy underdogs. If they play a close game but lose, I wonder if Kirk Ferentz will threaten to bust any Hawkeye in the mouth who smiles afterward. No, I don't wonder that.


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