WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – “We’re goin’ somewhere warm!” someone in the swarm of Iowa football players shouted as the victorious Hawkeyes happily filed into the smelly visitors’ locker room of Ross-Ade Stadium Saturday.
Qualifying for a bowl game is a big deal for most teams, especially one that didn’t go to one the previous season. The Hawkeyes could talk down the importance of bowl-eligibility during the week, but their enthusiasm for giving a 38-14 beatdown to a team as lackluster as Purdue was a lot more evident that it might have been, say, in September.
It turned out that “somewhere warm” was right here on Saturday. Sunny, breezy, comfortable. That described not only the weather, but the Hawkeyes’ disposition after the game.
It was an unseasonably warm 60 degrees. It might not be this warm at Iowa’s bowl site at kickoff. And no matter where it goes in late December, it won’t play a postseason patsy like Purdue.
But no matter. You play whomever is put before you. Last year, Iowa allowed the Boilermakers to escape Kinnick Stadium with a last-second victory. It was perhaps the defining insult in a season full of them.
This year, the Hawkeyes dropped mascot Purdue Pete’s hammer on the Boilermakers’ toes.
The Hawkeyes hammered, all right. They rushed 52 times, for 318 yards. Jordan Canzeri will be a candidate for the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week, but if the conference let units be nominated, Iowa’s offensive line would be in line to accept it.
“Huge holes,” said Canzeri, who has gone from fourth-string to first-rate over the last two games. He carried 20 times for 165 yards here.
“All I had to do was see green and to run right through it.”
Though statistically dominant in the first half, Iowa held a mere 14-7 lead at the break. But the second half was a reverse image of the Hawkeyes’ previous four second-halves. It was Iowa scoring the second-half touchdowns, pitching the second-half shutout, doing the second-half dominating.
We know, we know. It was Purdue, not someone good. But goodness had to happen here for the Hawkeyes if they were to have any hope of warm feelings at the end of the regular-season.
“We can make the 2013 season special,” said Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff, who ought to be a first-team All-Big Ten shoo-in by now. “We’ve got an opportunity to do that.”
Iowa would have won this game with any of its top four running backs carrying 20 times, but Canzeri has given the team that special burst that every team wants and needs from a running back. He seems to have injected some spark into Iowa’s offense at a critical time, a time when it started lagging.
If there are any Iowa fans left who still take former offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe’s name in vain, they should know this: O’Keefe saw something in Canzeri, which is why he was one of the last recruits Iowa pulled in two years ago.
“It was just chance,” Canzeri said, “just another thing I give thanks to God for.
“Coach (Ken) O’Keefe, when he was still here, told me that one day before he was going into a meeting, my (highlights) DVD popped up on his desk. It was late in January.
“He wasn’t sure if he was really going to look at it because he had most of the spots filled. He said he had a good feeling and looked at it.”
Canzeri was added to a recruiting class that already had Damon Bullock and now-former Hawkeye Mika’il McCall. Bullock, by the way, matched Canzeri’s 8.2 yards per carry Saturday and even eclipsed it by a tad in rushing 10 times for 85 yards.
Huge holes. Green to run through.
Canzeri is from Troy, N.Y., on the bank of the Hudson River near Albany. He was twice the Troy Record newspaper’s Offensive Player of the Year. As a senior, he rushed for 2,081 yards and 35 touchdowns, averaging 8.8 yards per touch.
Just like this year at Iowa, he saved his best for late in the season as a Troy Flying Horse. That’s right, a Troy Flying Horse. That team name has gotten him some grief from some of his Hawkeye teammates.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Canzeri said. “It’s my high school logo. I’m always going to rep it.”
He had a total of three carries in Iowa’s first four Big Ten games. Last week it was five rushes for 58 yards. Saturday, it was 20-for-165 with a TD.
“You don’t see it coming,” said Canzeri about the opportunity, “and when it happens you’re just really happy about it. You’ve just got to give thanks to the guys next to you and the guys fighting with you.”
Everybody in Hawkeye uniforms was thankful and joyful and appreciative. The team did a postgame conga line to greet Iowa fans in both end zones.
It was just Purdue, yes. But it was a lot more. It was getting that bowl-eligibility squared away, and it was done forcefully.