I covered many things and wrote many columns and stories before this blog was born. Since I’m on vacation and out of America for the week (my Dobermans are staying at home with my house-sitter, a burly fellow who has wild mood swings and a nasty temper), I’m going to try keep the blog moving this week with pieces from the past that will be new to almost all of you.
This was my column from the game that, in my opinion, catapulted Iowa from a nice story in 2002 to something much more. It was the Hawkeyes’ 34-9 clubbing of Michigan on the road. It made Iowa 5-0 in the Big Ten, and it left the No. 8 team in the nation in a blue-and-maize daze.
Iowa didn’t lose a Big Ten game that season, 10 years ago. Ten years. The time truly does fly, does it not?
ANN ARBOR , Mich. – From the mist and the mud in Michigan Stadium Saturday, one thing couldn’t have been clearer to 111,000 fans and an ESPN audience.
Something quite special is going on with the University of Iowa’s football team. What happened here doesn’t happen. Guests don’t beat Michigan 34-9. Seriously, they don’t.
Opponents don’t cap days here by leading a merry band of road-warrior fans in as rousing a rendition of their school fight song as you’ll ever hear.
“Priceless,” Iowa tight end Dallas Clark called the serenade. “Memorable. That was for all the Hawks who have worn the Tiger Hawk and haven’t been able to beat Michigan. We came into the Big House and played our butts off.”
That No.8 national ranking Michigan held was based on legacy, nothing more. The Wolverines were merely keeping the spot warm for someone more deserving. That would be Iowa. And the Hawks are acting like a team that knows how to cling to it and improve upon it.
“We gave Michigan our ‘A’ game,” Iowa senior nose guard Colin Cole said.
The ‘A’ stood for “annihilation.” The Big House met the Big Bulldozers.
This game was billed as a battle of mirror-image teams, evenly matched clubs who like to get physical. Maybe the Wolverines get physical against lesser competition. But Saturday, Iowa got destructive. Cole blasted Michigan quarterback John Navarre halfway to Ypsilanti on the Wolverines’ fourth offensive play.
Navarre took Iowa’s best shot and then … took a lot more. The Hawkeye defense, gradually growing week by week, hit full-stride this day. Cole and defensive line-mate Howard Hodges took turns plastering Navarre and his blockers, disconnecting Michigan’s alleged offense.
The Hawks could have and probably should have buried Penn State a few weeks ago at State College. Consider it another of those lessons they’ve learned so well this season. Because they made the Wolverines tap out long before this game was done.
“That’s the gameplan,” Cole said. “We go push them around, knock them around, intimidate them.”
The Hawkeye defense showed no gimmicks, nothing new. It was line up and punish, line up and punish. Iowa’s offense did likewise.
“That’s something we couldn’t do a couple years ago,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We couldn’t make anybody break physically.”
Now you rarely hear any Hawks quoting strength coach Chris Doyle’s mantra of “breaking the rock.” Chunks of the rock have rocked five straight Big Ten teams.
“We have a chance to be special,” Doyle said in the midst of Iowa’s postgame party in the east end zone. “We have a chance for a special year. We’ve got to beat Wisconsin.”
The Badgers are next, you see. It’s hard to tell if the players are programmed or have 20/20 focus, but everyone seemed to be talking about winning the next game rather than the next three.
“I don’t think we’re looking that far ahead,” Iowa center Bruce Nelson said. “I don’t even know who we play this week. I think there are a lot of guys on our team that don’t know. We just have to go one week at a time.”
These guys have the humble, lunch-bucket routine down cold. Ferentz keeps selling it to the public and his team. But claiming his guys don’t have the talent of a Michigan will no longer fly.
You can point at Iowa’s quarterback, offensive line, running back, defensive line, strong safety, tight end and kicker for starters, and list first-team All-Big Ten candidates for each.
“I’ve said all along that when we play our game we’re not a bad team,” Ferentz said. “I can revise that. When we play our game, we’re a good team.”
“Good” is Ferentz-speak for “terrific.”
The question “Who are those guys?” will be asked of Iowa often in the days and weeks ahead. So, who are they?
“We’re a real good team,” Hawkeye quarterback Brad Banks said. “A real, real, real good team. Not great, though. Not great yet.”
But Banks, who has been real, real, real good in league play, called his offensive linemen “spectacular, man.”
How good is Cole, who has torn defenses asunder lately?
“I think I’m an average defensive tackle that plays with what my coaches teach me,” he replied.
But when asked how America should view his team, Cole replied “We’re not pretenders like a lot of people think we are. We can play with the best of them.”
Does anyone really need more convincing?
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