IOWA CITY — Flying toward a bandwagon after a rout of one of America’s worst major-college football teams is a good way to get injured and embarrassed.
The next good foe Iowa defeats this season will be the first one. But still, doesn’t it look and feel like the fog has lifted over the Hawkeyes’ program?
That’s said with eyes wide open, knowing it obviously isn’t hard to picture Iowa having a tough go at Minnesota Saturday against a 4-0 Gophers squad that’s playing some good slam-ball offensively.
No Big Ten team will let the Hawkeyes return two punts and two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game. Ever. If I’m proven wrong, I’ll be too busy selling winter coats to residents of Hades to have time for your teasing.
But even setting aside those four scores, Iowa’s 59-3 obliteration of Western Michigan Sunday at Kinnick Stadium was what the Hawkeyes didn’t do two weeks earlier against Missouri State. It’s what they haven’t done to someone in a long time, a coldblooded annihilation of a lesser outfit. It was seizing opportunities and burying the opposition.
“Week 2 (the 28-14 win over Missouri State) was a little disappointing because in a lot of ways we stepped backward in my opinion,” Ferentz said.
But this Week 4 waltz? This was bright enough to get the permanently even-keeled coach to sorta, kinda admit he’s liking what he’s seeing.
“All in all, we’d rather be 4-0,” he said, “but I think we’re doing a lot of good things, and the potential is there for us to put a team together. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Iowa has quarterback depth, with two guys you aren’t petrified to use. It has something new and wondrous called running back depth. It has an offensive line that mostly looks like it could be one of those real good Hawkeye O-lines. It has a defense that appears to be progressing each week.
It has special teams. The kick-coverage has been good, and the punt-return unit was in previously uncharted Hawkeye territory Saturday with two Kevonte Martin-Manley returns for touchdowns. Yipes, no Big Ten player had done that in a game in 30 years.
“That was lot of fun,” the junior wide receiver said. “That’s one word to describe it. I was smiling from ear to ear, celebrating with those guys in the end zone. It was electric, man. I’m truly humbled by it.”
If Martin-Manley was humbled, think how the poor Broncos felt.
“They capitalized on everything,” said WMU Coach P.J. Fleck. “They almost played a perfect game.
“That’s a tough, tough football team out there. Tough.”
Again, some perspective: Fleck’s Broncos lost at home to FCS Nicholls State two weeks ago. Nicholls State owns 66-3 and 70-7 defeats this season. Iowa won’t face less pushback from now until season’s end. Not in a game, not on the practice field, not even at team meals.
But it was Game 4 last year when an unremarkable Central Michigan club came to Kinnick and upset Iowa, making this win over a MAC team feel like a sea change.
Iowa will surely have the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week in Martin-Manley and senior cornerback B.J. Lowery. No Hawkeye had ever returned two picks for touchdowns in the same game since Iowa began playing football in 1889, yet Lowery couldn’t even claim Star of the Game honors to himself.
“I didn’t know I was part of history till just now,” Lowery said after reporters told him he had done the previously undone at Iowa. “Kevonte, he can have all that (attention).
Who gets bragging rights, the receiver, or the defensive back the receiver battles at each practice?
“I think the Hawkeyes get bragging rights today,” Martin-Manley said.
Sure, things toughen up in a hurry this week. Not long ago, who would have thought Iowa-Minnesota would be viewed as a fairly attractive matchup?
But perceptions about the Hawkeyes are changing fast. What’s better than bludgeoning a weakling to feel like a bully of the Big Ten again?