Down four points with no momentum to their name, Iowa's Micah Hyde picked off Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert and returned it 72-yards for a touchdown to give Iowa a 27-24 win in the Insight Bowl.
Missouri had one last shot with five minutes left, but couldn't convert on a fourth down and six at the Iowa 43, a catch that was ruled incomplete by the officials after a second look.
"It's a real positive there. It's just a great effort start to finish," said Kirk Ferentz in his post game interview on ESPN. "Missouri is a great team and we had to make some big plays and stops in there. All the credit goes to our players."
Amidst player suspensions for grades and off the field conduct, Iowa was considered to be a heavy underdog by many in the national media. It appeared to light a fire in the Hawkeyes, as Iowa jumped out to an early 17-3 lead midway through the 2nd quarter.
Down to their fourth string running back, true freshman Marcus Coker set an Iowa bowl record for most yards in game, with 217 on 33 carries.
"He wasn't looking for a break tonight, he wanted to keep running," said Ferentz in his post-game radio interview.
Coker's style of running on Tuesday night has Iowa fans excited for the future. The former 3-star player from DeMatha HS looked like an All-American, running over and around the No. 12 Missouri Tigers.
"We said back in August we thought Marcus would be a great player for us. Unfortunately he got hurt. He has been playing catchup through the season. When he had opportunities during the fall, he really did a good job," said Ferentz.
With Coker accounting for more than 50% of Iowa's total plays, less pressure was put on Iowa senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi to win the game late in the 4th quarter.
On a third down and three with under a minute left, Stanzi hit a wide open Allen Reisner for 39 yards on a play-action bootleg. Stanzi finished the game 11-for-21 for 200 yards.
"I know he had the two interceptions out there, but he did a great job leading our football team tonight. He did a tremendous job knowing where the soft spots were. They were throwing everything at us," said Ferentz. "That's 28 wins in three years for those seniors and three straight bowls, which has never been done. What a great group of 25."
Stanzi was well protected all night, rarely running for his life.
"(Missouri's d-line) These guys were an athletic group, they didn't sit down much. That o-line we haven't talked much about this year, but I think they did a great job tonight," said Ferentz. "They were the big question mark coming into the season and they improved every week. The running block was good and I don't think they got a sack all night. I'm really proud of their effort."
Asked how he felt after a whirlwind month full of turmoil, Ferentz seemed to have a sense of relief on Tuesday night.
"Anytime you win a bowl game, it's good for the guys going out and a positive light on things moving forward. The bottom line is, when we finished finals, our roster was set and we focused on the guys that were here. All those guys want to make good choices, practice hard, and work hard. That is what we are looking for.
"Next year will be an adventure for sure. We have some good young players coming up. We definitely have some freshman who are off to a good start."
"You know, we kind of go in parts as a team. And, you know, we've put the past behind us, and this month was all about getting back to work, you know, putting in the time in the film room out there at practice and doing the right things," said Stanzi after the game. "It started with Coach Ferentz setting the schedule for us and getting us on the right track early on, and back at Iowa we had a lot of hard practices and we did the same thing over here in Arizona. It paid off."
An Insight Bowl record of 53,453 fans took in the game on Tuesday night. Both teams wear Black & Gold, so it's unknown what team traveled better.
Gabbert finished 41-for-57, throwing for nearly 500 yards in the loss. But, his magical statistical night will always be overshadowed by his interception for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Gabbert avoided pressure, heading to the sidelines, but then looked confused on whether he should try to hit a receiver down field or throw the ball out of bounds.
"I just stepped in front of it and our defense turned into an offensive play, you know. I couldn't have done it without the defense," said Hyde. " All I did was run, honestly. And they were picking up blocks the whole time. So it was a great team effort."