Howe: Finding the Heartbeat

It looked pretty bad for Iowa late in the third quarter at Kinnick on Saturday. Then, the young Hawkeyes came together to make history.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - The student section cleared out. What was left of the general audience was sitting on its hands. Hope appeared to be lost.

Iowa trailed visiting Pittsburgh, 27-10, with 12 minutes remaining in regulation here on Saturday. Coming off last week's cushing, three-overtime loss at rival Iowa State,doubt was understandable.

Iowa players were at a loss to explain how they scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to escape with a 31-27 win. Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said it was a team effort. And no matter how cliche that term has become, it had to be the reason.

It took more than a person or two to complete the largest Iowa comeback in the history of the program. It also was aided greatly by in incredable amount of confidence and belief in each other to do it.

Yes, there was the defensive stand on a Pittsburgh 4th and 3 late in the game that stood out. Iowa's no-huddle hurry up accounted for four touchdowns on its final four drives. The Hawkeyes final four offensive drives, each of which ended in a touchdown, included 26 plays that covered 261 yards in less than 7 and a half minutes on clock.

"There was plenty of time left," said Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde, who picked off two passes on Saturday. "The coaches did a great job of keeping our heads in it. We're a pretty tight team. We believe in each other."

It's tough to measure resiliency and chemistry. You know it when you see it and often it's invaluable.

"I would have clearly liked to have played like that for four quarters; kind of had that feeling from the beginning," Vandeberg said. "But when out backs were against the wall, we put it together."

Saturday's outcome likely wouldn't determine the rest of the season. Some Iowa teams start fast and falter down the stretch and vice versa.

You also don't know how a relatively inexperienced team responds to back-to-back losses and a 1-2 start to the campaign. If the beatdown held up or the comeback fell short, it could have created an adverse effect, a hangover, if you will.

On the bright side, when all looked bleak, you had an experienced Iowa staff that's been through a lot in the last 12 plus years here.

"The coaches did a great job up and down the sideline telling us to keep our heads up," Hyde said. "They did a great job of not letting us put our heads down."

Confidence can be a crazy thing. You can have too much but its worse to not have enough.

Pittsburgh dominated the Hawkeyes in all three phases of the game through three quarters. Iowa's defense looked confused and overwhelmed. First-year starting quarterback James Vandenberg was missing targets and making poor choices.

Then, the light went on. With the season potentially slipping away, Iowa stopped a Panther offense that had riddled it all day. Vandenberg ran the no-huddle to near perfection.

The win relieves some pressure from the young Hawkeyes. The weight of the world would have been on their shoulders for the next two weeks even with a win against Louisiana-Monroe next Saturday. The expectations are regularly high in Iowa City since Ferentz the 2002 Orange Bowl season.

That hurt last year's team, who came into the season ranked in the nation's Top 15. The loss against Wisconsin at home crushed national championship dreams for fans and players. Despite a dominating win against Michigan State the following week, the Hawkeyes never fully recovered from the setback to the Badgers and lost their final three regular-season contests.

"We could of used some of them in November," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said of Saturday's close win. "You never know what kind of difference (a close win) is going to make. This was going to be a learning experience either way. Now, what are we going to do with it?"

The psychlogy of sport might be one of the toughest things on which to get a handle, if that's even possible. There are to many immeasurables.

"It was gut-check time when we got down early," Iowa Safety Tanner Miller said. "We just kept telling ourselves that we had to keep getting stops and clawing back and get the ball back to our offense."

Miller said the coaches ran an up-tempo practice and got after the players in practice this week following the slip up at Iowa State. It's a good sign they responded.

"We had a chip on our shoulder," Miller said. "This was the most prepared we've been this season. It might not have shown early, but we came together as a team."

And that could be a good sign for things to come.

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