MINNEAPOLIS — This Iowa football team may be better than it realizes.
It may be better than a lot of people realize.
The little-kid joy with which these Hawkeyes bounced around in a corner of TCF Bank Stadium Saturday after battering Minnesota, that was understandable. But these players didn’t seem to act like they were so clearly better than the Gophers after their 23-7 win.
That’s not a bad thing, not a bit. Keep thinking you have mountains to climb, and you’ll be in the right mindset to scale those heights.
Yeah, yeah, the Hawkeyes still haven’t beaten a dynamo. But you play who’s in front of you, and Iowa knocked the Gophers down like they were dominoes, not brutes who supposedly shared physicality and will similar to Iowa’s.
You hear no one from the Iowa camp saying this team is a powerhouse-in-the-making. When you come off a 4-8 season, you’re humble. When you come off a 4-8 season, you believe it when your coaches and the world tells you that you haven’t proven anything yet.
But ... wowser. Though the Gophers made it mildly interesting after following a long third-quarter kickoff return with a 23-yard touchdown pass, this felt almost as dominant as the Hawkeyes’ 59-3 dissection of Western Michigan the week before.
Stacks of stats from this game bear that out. But this screams it: Iowa had 246 rushing yards, Minnesota 30. Domination, on the road.
“I’m happy right now because we just won the game, but it’s one Big Ten opponent,” said Iowa linebacker James Morris, who had an interception and a sack in a terrific performance.
“I’m happy where we are at this point. But I still don’t really know where we are.”
The conga line with the Iowa fans and the leaping chest-bumps with each other after the game, those were normal postgame reactions to a job well done. But the statements in interview sessions revealed no Hawkeye heads bigger than their helmets.
That starts with Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock. From his first play, he was like a Peyton Manning-impersonator at the line of scrimmage. That’s not a comparison to Manning, the results-getter, of course. But rather, Manning, the orchestra-conductor. Rudock constantly gestures, hollers, changes and arranges.
“He does a lot of things subtly that you probably don’t watch,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He does a good job getting us where we need to be. He’s very cerebral.”
Good quarterbacks make plays. But the best ones shrug off bad plays and resume going about their business. That’s far easier said than done.
Rudock threw just one poor pass, which was picked off in the end zone by veteran safety Brock Vereen. That was early in the fourth quarter, with Minnesota coming off its one scoring drive. But the next time Iowa had the ball, Rudock coolly guided a 5 ½-minute drive that netted a field goal.
An 18-yard rope to Kevonte Martin-Manley on 3rd-and-9 sustained the drive. Rudock’s perfect throw cut out what was left of Minnesota’s heart.
“It’s great, the resilience,” Rudock said. He was talking about his team’s, not his own. But if the quarterback shows any hesitancy after throwing a pick, the other 10 guys in the huddle sense it and maybe tense up themselves.
“Bad plays are going to happen,” said Rudock. “When it happens, put it away. … Let’s focus on what we can control.”
This was supposed to be a coin-flip game, but heads was Iowa’s offense and tails was its defense. Either way the coin came up here, the Hawkeyes won. But the only people who will talk of a repeat result at home against Michigan State are outsiders.
“We need to make sure every week that we’re trying to improve how we play,” Morris said. “It’s fully possible we could come out next week and not play as well.”
He’s a senior who has been on teams that went sideways. Maybe he knows he’s on a squad that has steadily gone forward so far, but won’t say so. Or maybe he isn’t letting himself believe it.
If so, that’s not a bad thing. Not a bit.