Column: Hawkeyes had themselves a scream

Primal, postgame yell clears final stench from last season

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March 29, 2014 | 12:14 am

LINCOLN, Neb. — It came after Kirk Ferentz’s emotional postgame address, after Ferentz’s Iowa football players did the high-speed version of the school fight song that they do in the locker room after big wins.

It was a team scream. It was 10 seconds long, every player on the squad hollering at once, making the kind of joyous roar that boomed through a thick wall, all the way back to Iowa.

It was pure silliness, pure fun. But it also may have been a primal scream, a clearing of the last vestige of the stench from the season before.

It was a 4-8 record flipped on its head to 8-4. From the downer of the season-ender against Nebraska last year in Kinnick Stadium to the high of the 38-17 walloping of the Cornhuskers Friday in Memorial Stadium that could be the gateway to an Outback Bowl bid.

It was going from being duped by fake punt after fake punt over the last few years to being completely prepared in suffocating Nebraska’s awful fake on Friday. Demon, meet exorcism.

“(Christian Kirksey) just said scream at the top of your lungs for 10 seconds,” Iowa wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley recounted. “We did it. We held our helmets up, we held the trophy up. It was a great scene.”

That was after a pretty darn good scene the Hawkeyes put on for ABC, a mostly grumpy crowd of 91,260, and themselves.

Kirksey said first-year Iowa assistant coach Jim Reid introduced the team-scream concept to the Hawkeyes. Reid’s linebackers gave a collective migraine to Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg III.

The whole game felt like “Under Siege” for the Huskers. Their coach, Bo Pelini, wasn’t a model of grace during a brief ABC halftime interview, flipped out during the third-quarter and got an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, and had a postgame press conference that scorched the Nebraska prairie.

Off you go, Bo. Ferentz, meanwhile, made a joke about being named one of college football’s five worst coaches back in August by a Sports Illustrated writer.

“I don’t think I believed it,” Ferentz said. “(I was) at least in the bottom 10. I wouldn’t say five.”

Winners laugh. But familiarity breeds contempt, and 15 years in a high-profile coaching job invites even more. In many minds, Ferentz’s body of work ceded to the most-recent, and that was a 4-8 record. Not many outsiders claimed a full reversal would be made this fall.

The “five worst” thing wasn’t to be taken literally, of course. Stewart Mandel of SI wouldn’t get readers by listing three losing coaches from the Sun Belt and two from Conference USA. But the mention did indicate the drop in prestige the program had suffered.

Ferentz, his revamped staff, and his players, responded in 2013 by doing the boring, old-fashioned thing. They went to work for an entire calendar year.

“There’s no magic formulas,” Ferentz said.

“It’s a matter of us trying to do things better.”

But you’ve got to have players. Iowa’s offense obviously has been much easier on the eyes than it was, but its defense is so much better than it was a year ago. That starts up front, where the growth was all that anyone could have expected. When the Hawkeyes have a good D-line, they have a good team.

Then there are those linebackers, Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Kirksey. The first two picked off first-half passes. Kirksey had a sack and two other tackles for losses. Leaders lead by example, and those three did that for 12 games. But especially here.

Iowa led 31-17 and was deep in Husker territory with four minutes left when Morris walked over to where the defensive linemen were clustered on the sideline and strongly suggested they be ready when it was time to return to the field. The advice seemed to be received with open ears, and without agitation.

That may epitomize this team in 2013. In late November, last season was still raw in its mind. It took nothing for granted even when victory was secured.

“For myself personally and I think for a lot of guys on this team,” Morris said, “this was really about improvement.

“We knew we could win games if we improved from week to week. And I think we did for the most part. So that feels good.”

“The story of the day is ‘Complete Opposite.’ ” Martin-Manley said. “Last year, 4-8 with a loss. This year, 8-4 with a win. It’s one of the best wins I’ve been part of.”

“Complete Opposite.” From getting torched by fake punts in the past to taking command of a game by stopping one. It was something to holler about, long and loudly.

   

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