IOWA CITY — Iowa State may need a special boot after shooting itself in the foot so often, but Iowa doesn’t have a leg to stand on if it thinks it should have beaten the Cyclones Saturday.
ISU’s 9-6 football win in Kinnick Stadium to retain ownership of whatever Cy-Hawk Trophy that’s trotted out these days was gruesome, grotesque, and just plain gross.
Of course, and understandably, Cyclone Nation also considers it good, gutsy, even glorious.
It was obtained by a defense that somehow refused to get frustrated over the ISU offense’s astounding inability to function in the red zone after the first quarter. It was capped by an athletic and brilliant play by a superb senior linebacker named Jake Knott, whose leaping tip and subsequent interception of James Vandenberg’s final pass was stellar.
“I kind of got lucky he didn’t get a little more air under it,” Knott said, “because it would have been a big play for them.”
Knott made the play at the ISU 24-yard line with 1:11 left. Had he not tipped the pass, it almost certainly would have been a Vandenberg completion to C.J. Fiedorowicz. The Hawkeyes would have been in great shape to tie the game with a field goal or even (believe it or not) score a winning touchdown.
But that was the game in a one-play description. Iowa needed to make a play on offense and Iowa State denied it.
The Cyclones, meanwhile, must have had some amazing prescience that they only needed one touchdown on this day. They got it on their first possession, then treated all following trips to the red zone as if it were covered with red-hot coals.
To show what kind of offensive game this was, even the touchdown was a little tainted when the following PAT kick was botched.
But if you’re Iowa State, the three turnovers from inside the Iowa 11 are one big “So what.” For the second-straight year, ISU won a crazy game with Iowa by three points. For the second-straight year, the Cyclones were the better team and deserving victor.
The first two teams Knott played for under Paul Rhoads got their clocks cleaned by the Hawkeyes. But Knott and fellow senior LB A.J. Klein have emerged over the last two seasons as the heartbeats of the defense, players who lead by example.
“Jake is one of those guys you want on your team in pressure situations,” said Klein. “In pressure situations, he’s always going to make the big play.
“He made that play.”
Rhoads took it several steps further, saying “Jake Knott made that kind of play in a series that will have him go down in history.
“Who knows how high he was in the air or what the level of the ball was when he made the play, but to do that after 59 minutes of football with the back against the wall ... You do not make better plays than that in this game.”
And if you’re fifth-year senior Vandenberg, you do not pick that spot to get picked.
“We’re down three, we’ve got a minute left, we’re just approaching field goal range,” Vandenberg said. “I know that if it’s not a clean receiver, that the ball should come down.”
Meaning, he needs to throw it away, not throw it to a Cyclone.
“I made a mental mistake and didn’t bring the ball down,” he said, “and it cost us the game.”
Well, yeah. And so did a long laundry list of other Hawkeye offensive failures, from an ungodly number of dropped passes to coming away with a mere field goal early in the fourth quarter after getting a first-and-goal at the ISU 3.
“We are not there yet,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think that’s fairly obvious right now.”
No, it’s totally obvious. If this kind of offensive woefulness — one touchdown in two games — continues, fat-cat Iowa fans may send a private jet well-stocked with Dom Pérignon and Cuban cigars to Miami to try to fetch Ken O’Keefe back from the Dolphins.
The new, Greg Davis-orchestrated offense that so many in Hawkeye colors were happy to embrace since the day Ferentz hired the former Texas offensive coordinator? If they could embrace it now, it would probably be with a choke hold.
But you know what? Marvin McNutt is gone, and hasn’t been adequately replaced. Marcus Coker is gone, and Damon Bullock didn’t give a second-consecutive performance reminiscent of the departed running back. Couldn’t give it, actually.
“Stop the run,” is what Klein said was a Cyclone mantra for this game.
But it was stopping the pass when it mattered most. The senior Iowa quarterback didn’t throw it over the senior Iowa State linebacker. Knott tipped it to the right guy: Himself.
Then, Klein immediately jumped on him in celebration, and described it without blushing.
“I laid on top of him and said ‘I love you. Great job. Great play.’ Klein said.
“Now let’s get off the field and go get that trophy.”
This Saturday’s Northern Iowa-Iowa game has no such hardware. But can you blame the Panthers if they think they can add to the Hawkeyes’ misery?