Not enough can be said of the resilience and response Iowa showed since being destroyed by Penn State in Happy Valley. That was an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Nittany Lions. The season could have went down the drain from that performance. Instead, they chose the other path, the tougher path. They chose to bounce back, grind, battle, and grow from it which is the more difficult thing to do. It would have been much easier to mail it in. They didn't which shows more heart and fortitude than about anything else can. Upsetting Michigan, shutting out Illinois, and destroying Nebraska is a heck of a statement. That is what this team should be remembered by.
LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley have become statistically the best running back tandem to ever walk through the Iowa football program. They have mroe yards together in a single season than any other running backs in Hawkeye history. LeShun Daniels is the program's first 1,000 yard rusher since 2011. Akrum Wadley should eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground in the bowl game. To do what they have while being one-dimensional on offense for the large part of the season is nothing short of remarkable. And to do it without any sense of ego or entitlement is just as impressive.
PASSING GAME DEVELOPS HEARTBEAT
They didn't throw it a lot, and they were correct in not doing so, but when they did they were extremely efficient. Beathard finished 10-15 for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns without an interception. There's probably another pass or two that should have been completed as well. This is absolutely stunning when considering how putrid the passing offense had been. It's still short of being a weapon and probably by a large margin but it did not hold them back on this day. Only one receiver caught a ball today and that was Riley McCarron, who had 5 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. George Kittle showed everyone how much his loss hurt them in this phase of the game by showing up today and returning by recording two touchdown receptions.
The biggest statement this team made since the embarrassing loss to Penn State was the level of defense they maintained. The Nittany Lions did anything they wanted offensively as they put up 41 on the Hawkeyes. The defense was probably not as bad as those numbers suggest but there was clearly some improvements that needed to be made and some glaring issues. They showed their mettle by responding with three outstanding performances. They held Michigan to 13 and they may be in the college football playoff, they pitched a shutout against Illinois, and held Nebraska to 10. That's about as dramatic a turnaround as I've seen for one phase of the game in a short amount of time. They carried this team to an incredible finish.
BOWL GAME ON TAP
Despite the sensational turnaround, this season's success or lack thereof will likely be determined by their performance in the bowl game for better or for worse by those that follow it closely. They prevented the season from becoming a disaster of epic proportions but they'll have to finish it off with a win in their bowl game to make everyone satisfied. This is a team and program that has laid a bunch of eggs in bowl games the past handful of seasons. They'll be expected to translate this end-of-season success to a postseason victory. If they don't, the criticisms will return. It is a program and a fanbase starving for bowl success. They'll likely be traveling to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl or Nashville for the Music City Bowl. Many will use that game as a barometer and the criteria to evaluate and judge this season.