As there are many plays Iowa’s football team would like to have back from Saturday, there is a line I’d like to pull back from my column off of Saturday’s Northern Illinois-Iowa game.
I wrote Northern Illinois “may not be one of the half-dozen best teams on Iowa’s slate.” The word “may” was an escape hatch, but the comment didn’t fully respect NIU. After I wrote that I saw some of Nebraska and Northwestern on television. And I came to the conclusion the Huskies would be a handful and more for either of those two teams, just as they were for Iowa in NIU’s 30-27 win.
ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd says a lot of stuff, some of it just to provoke. But he hits a nail on the head when he says Americans don’t really love the underdog, the little guys. When it comes to sports, that’s especially so.
Boise State’s decade of football success has been discounted and even disrespected by a lot of fans. Never mind how amazing it is that a school that was in the Western Athletic Conference and now the Mountain West could be as good in the sport for as long a stretch as the Broncos have.
All sorts of hyenas howled when Northern Illinois got into the Orange Bowl last year. It’s a Mid-American Conference team! It didn’t beat anybody who’s any good! Waa, waa!
Well, it’s a heck of a program (35-8 since the start of the 2010 season) with a stadium about three times smaller than Iowa’s and total athletic revenue that is four times less. Which adds to the infuriation of Hawkeye Nation this weekend. Bigger should be better, right?
Realistically, yes. And it usually is. But not on Aug. 31, 2013, in Kinnick Stadium.
Kansas State should beat North Dakota State, Oregon State should handle Eastern Washington, and Iowa State should defeat Northern Iowa.
The trouble is, the littler guys don’t listen when they’re told they shouldn’t win. Even with all their bombast and blown-up budgets, big-boy programs can still lose to teams with the right amount of talent, will and direction. Which is a beautiful thing, unless you’re on the losing side.
Here’s the thing that wows me in hindsight about the Huskies’ victory: Iowa played well. Not spectacularly. But pretty well. You can single out any one of several plays that, had the Hawkeyes executed better, they likely would have won and the world-view about them would be a lot different right now.
I dreaded covering their games in the last month of last season. It was writing the same dreary thing week after week. But this game was fun to watch. Two teams tangoed, and tangoed hard for about four hours.
Iowa was more physical Saturday than it was last year, on both sides of the ball. The offense looked pretty darn coordinated for much of the contest. It averaged 5.7 yards per play, a full yard more than it averaged last season.
The Hawkeyes’ defense had its hands full, but it made Jordan Lynch earn everything he got. Lynch rushed for 1,815 yards and 6.2 yards per carry last year. Saturday, he carried 22 times for 56 yards, a mere 2.5 yards a pop.
Lynch had to beat Iowa with his arm, and to his credit, he did. He made some gorgeous throws. He’s one of the four best QBs Iowa will face this season for sure, perhaps one of the two best.
The Hawkeyes have miles to go to become good. But it looked like they’ve already covered at least some of that distance even though they couldn’t close the deal against NIU.
As a friend of mine put it Sunday morning, Saturday’s Iowa team would have destroyed last year’s Iowa team. Now it needs to start beating opponents. It’s not just coach-speak to say there’s a lot of season left.