IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa looks like football's version of Carrot Top or Courtney Love. While not always easy on the eyes, they're successful.
The Hawkeyes figured out a way to knock off Indiana, 45-29, here Saturday to move to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten. It represented another in a line of close, difficult victories.
Iowa is surviving its flaws. It's not a beauty contest.
It doesn't matter if the Hawkeyes looked good enough to defeat any of their future opponents. They've knocked down what's in front of them.
"There's a lot of football left and it's about getting better and improving," Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "If your team's doing that, then you have a chance. If not, you're not going to be in good shape."
A stout Iowa defense through five games looked porous at times against the Hoosiers, who rushed for 316 yards. The Hawkeye offense entered the contest ranked 97th nationally at 22.6 points per outing but delivered five touchdowns, including an 72-yard pass and 60-yard run.
"Nah," Iowa Defensive Tackle Carl Davis said when asked if he was concerned about his side of the ball against the Hoosiers. "We won."
The Hawkeyes' quarterback conundrum has dominated discussion for the fans and media for much of the season, especially in recent weeks. It turned out to be, at best, a sidebar on Saturday. Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard both delivered important plays.
A team lacking an identity in September kicked off its October by clearing up the picture. Iowa has built a squad that legendary coach Hayden Fry would love. They've scratched where it itches.
Ferentz looked gassed in the post game press conference. The back-and-forth nature of the previous three hours likely advanced the graying of his hair.
"We're the birthplace of arena ball; probably appropriate today," the coach said. "I'm not fond of a scoring contest, that's for sure."
While the style turned Ferentz's stomach, his team proved something. It got caught up in Indiana's method and tempo and beat the Hoosiers at their own game.
The Hawkeyes, for the first time this season, started well. They grabbed a 21-0 lead and enjoyed a 28-7 advantage after one quarter.
Iowa, which for the most part has methodically moved its way down the field in 2014, connected on three big plays in the opening period. Cornerback Desmond King recorded a 35-yard Pick Six, Damond Powell caught a 72-yard touchdown from Rudock and Jonathan Parker raced 60 yards to pay dirt on a jet sweep.
"They made more big plays than us," Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson said. "The game stats were kind of close, but they had more big plays than us. We played uphill all day."
The Homecoming Crowd at Kinnick Stadium rocked on Spirit Day. The Hoosiers quieted it with two unanswered touchdowns to pull within seven points.
Iowa responded. Kicker Marshall Koehn continued to distance himself from early-season struggles with a 22-yard field goal. The defense held and Mark Weisman capped a short drive with a touchdown plunge on fourth and goal from the one as the first-half clock ran out.
"We tried to plug it up but they stuck it in there on us," Wilson said. "That was a big seven points on the board."
With the 38-21 lead at the intermission, Iowa worked hard to regain tempo. The teams played a scoreless third quarter as the home team controlled field position and ate of clock. It was a smart approach.
Indiana lost its starting quarterback, Nate Sudfeld, to a separated shoulder in the second quarter. His replacement, Chris Covington, lacked the arm accuracy to hurt the Hawkeyes consistently with big plays. They focused on containing explosive running back Tevin Coleman.
Coleman, who rushed 15 times for 219 yards, including scoring sprints from 83 and 45 yards in the first half, ripped off a 69-yarder with 12:16 left in the fourth quarter. A two-point conversion cut the Hoosier deficit to 45-29.
"I was not relaxed at any time today because they don't let you," Ferentz said.
The coach and the fans showed concern at that point. The way Iowa's defense had played allowed for the possibility that the Hoosiers could rally.
Without panic, the Hawkeyes systematically turned away their opponent. The defense forced a punt and then the offense took time off the clock despite being caught deep in enemy territory. Indiana drove down the field in the final minutes, but a Jordan Lomax interception sealed the win.
Another imperfect day ended with the desired result.
"We didn't quite finish the way we wanted to at the end of the game," Ferentz said.
Really, the clever coach knows his team's shortcomings can continue aiding him in its development. The staff should hold the players' attention after some of Saturday's snafus.
Iowa unnecessarily burned two first-half timeouts, once for having too many men on the field and the other time for not having enough. The Hoosiers fell on one on-side kick and almost recovered another one.
"There's going to be a ton of things to talk about (Sunday)," Ferentz said. "Those are things that are going to cost you games at some point."
Ah, but those miscues Saturday and throughout the first-half of the campaign only have sunk them once at the final horn.
"As long as we're moving forward, that's the biggest thing," Ferentz said. "For the most part, we are."
Past Hawkeyes teams suffered through growing pains. Some of those lessons occurred in losses and derailed ultimate goals. At other times, when they've fought through them in triumph, it's built the character required to peak in November and rise up the rankings.
It's tough to say yet if this will turn into a special season. But the resiliency the Hawkeyes have shown has placed them in position to do so.