TEMPE, Ariz. - John Streif has witnessed a lot of football at Iowa. Leave it to a 40-year veteran to sum up Tuesday's game in a few words.
"Boy, we needed that for this program," Streif said to a bystander outside the Hawkeye locker room. Iowa had just knocked off No. 12 Missouri, 27-24, here at the Insight Bowl in Sun Devil Stadium.
A loss would not do here. Not after this season. Not after continued punches to the gut.
Yes, Iowa could have hung it's hat on playing well against a 10-win Tiger team. In the end, a close loss wouldn't have been enough to wipe out the bad memories of the 2010 season for the players, coaches and especially the fans. Another gut-wrenching, fourth-quarter setback would have been too much to handle.
"It was huge for the program," Iowa Guard Julian Vandervelde said. "We dumped on everybody's expectations and did what the Hawkeyes do. For the program, it was vital that we won.
"It's a great team win. We faced a lot of adversity this year and really stuck together through the ups and downs. It brings everything into perspective. This Hawkeye family, we will stuck together through whatever happens."
Iowa got rolling on game day by finding out that Adam Robinson, the team's leading rusher who was suspended for the game, was picked up the night before on a marijuana charge in Des Moines. That followed the team's leading receiver, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, being arrested on multiple drug charges earlier in the month.
"He made his decision," Iowa Safety Tyler Sash said. "He wasn't with the team and all the guys that were with the team were 100 percent committed. It didn't really affect us because he hadn't been part of the team for a while."
Iowa AD Gary Barta released a statement on Robinson earlier in the day. He said they were waiting on facts in the case and would no have further comment until they got back to Iowa City.
"I really don't have anything to add to that," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said about Robinson after the game. "I've been kind of occupied with this game, as you might imagine. It has been a busy day. It's really not paramount on my thoughts now. I'm going to go home and enjoy this win."
Vandervelde said that Ferentz addressed the Robinson arrest with the players earlier in the day. They moved on from it just like they did after the Johnson-Koulianos news and the three losses to end the regular season.
"Stuff like that is just old news," Iowa Tight End Allen Reisner said. "It's like, whatever. He was already suspended for the bowl trip."
The Hawkeyes said similar things about Johnson-Koulianos and the last three losses at Sunday's media day here. It was nice to hear, but they had to go out on the field and prove it against a salty Missouri squad. Talk didn't convince anyone other than themselves, and in the end, that's what mattered most.
Iowa stayed true to its philosophy on both sides of the ball. But to say the Hawkeyes' game plan on Tuesday night mirrored many of the ones we've seen this season would be false.
Iowa clinched the game with a gutsy call on a third and three near midfield in the final minute. With the Tigers stacking the box, quarterback Ricky Stanzi rolled out on a naked boot leg and hit Reisner for a 31-yard gain to the Missouri one. They then took a knee. Game over.
I'm not sure if the Iowa coaches make that call a month ago. In fact, I'll say they don't.
But then again, I didn't expect to see the Hawkeyes run as much 3-4 and nickel defense as it did here. James Morris blitzed more Tuesday than he had all season. The Missouri offense still moved the ball to a tune of 512 yards but it might have been double that had Iowa stayed in a base 4-3 all night.
Ferentz and his coaches showed flexibility. More importantly, they exhibited confidence in their players to carry out the game plan. In turn, the Hawkeyes strung together enough big plays to win.
True freshman Marcus Coker tore off a 62-yard touchdown run. Micah Hyde turned the game around with an interception he took 72 yards for a score with his team trailing by four. It provided the margin of victory.
Nobody would have envisioned Coker (school bowl records for carries with 33 and yards with 219) even being in this position at the start of the season. Remember, the Iowa coaches needed to find a way to get enough carries for Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton. The last two transferred out of the program this month and Robinson might be the next one out the door.
Despite TV color man Matt Millen saying "next man up" on Tuesday's telecast, the actual "next man in" mantra proved to be alive and well in the Insight - Coker for Robinson and Colin Sandeman for Johnson-Koulianos. You also can throw in true freshmen Morris at linebacker and Tanner Miller stepping in for Brett Greenwood in the deciding fourth quarter Tuesday.
None of what happened here guarantees anything for next season. Iowa still says good-bye to 21 seniors and could lose three juniors - Sash, McNutt and Shaun Prater - if they choose to leave school early.
It is, however, much easier to absorb personnel losses when the coaches proved to the underclassmen that what they preach works. It was evidenced on a big stage in front of a record crowd at the Insight and a national television audience.
That makes a difference when the team embarks on spring ball. This year's seniors stuck with the program and now hand off the baton to the 2011 leaders who have the proof that the Iowa way works.
"It's even better that we pulled through here," Reisner said. "We went through some down times. But we came in here and fought offensively, defensively and special teams the whole 60 minutes. Coach always talks about that and we really did that tonight."
Said McNutt: "We all wanted to make sure that we went back to the way that Iowa plays football. It's built on playing physical. We kind of got away from that for a few weeks. Maybe that's the reason we weren't finishing as well. Maybe that helped tonight."