My 11-month old son, Ben, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Hawkeyes dominate Florida in the Outback Bowl. When the game started, Ben was still taking his morning nap, but he awoke at about the same time the game started to go in Iowa's direction.
What a great father-son moment. Even if only one of us can talk. By the time he went down for his nap after lunch, the Hawks held a commanding 37-10 lead.
Here are some of my thoughts about this game and the Iowa program after letting this victory sink in for a few hours…
--I knew it was a GREAT sign when I saw the announcers would be Mark Jones and Bob Davie. I think Iowa is about 15-0 in the last two seasons when these guys are working the game. Jones got in his few mentions of the "jailbreak screen"—even when it had nothing to do with the play—and Davie mentioned "zone blocking" repeatedly. You've gotta love these guys. It's apparent to me that they love Coach Ferentz and the Hawkeye program.
--I wonder if Florida Coach Ron Zook is baffled that Nate Kaeding didn't get any carries today. It might have thrown the Gators' defensive game plan right out the window if they were keying on stopping #95 out of the backfield.
--I picked the Hawkeyes to win this game, but I thought it would be VERY close…24 to 23. Not once did I imagine they would completely dominate a Florida squad that had beaten the likes of LSU and Georgia. What a pleasant surprise.
--It's nice to see that the old "Iowa is waaaaay too slow to compete with these guys" excuse appears to be retired for the time being. And it's really nice to picture Iowa as "the big, strong, physical team that's also just fast enough to kick an SEC team's butt in its own backyard." Yes, I like the sound of that. Much better.
--Zero turnovers for the Hawks. That was as big as any other statistic on the day. For the most part, this Iowa team was good enough to defeat anybody if it was able to keep from giving up short fields or gift points.
--What a SUHHHHHH-WEET way to go out for Nathan Chandler! After getting an earhole full of criticism this season, the senior quarterback played a terrific game against Florida. In case you missed it, Chandler threw 18 TDs this year and only 10 interceptions. He also ran for six scores. Oh, and how about this stat: Only ONE quarterback in Iowa history has led the Hawkeyes to a 10-win season AND won a bowl game in January. Only one. Nathan Chandler. Of course, he accomplished BOTH of those feats in his only season as the starter. He might not have been flashy, but he was very effective.
--The Hawkeyes were 7 of 18 (39%) on third-down conversions on Thursday…and none was bigger than the third-and-goal scoring pass from Chandler to Maurice Brown that knotted the score at 7-7. That play capped a HUUUGE drive for Iowa, answering the Gators' opening score…and grabbing the momentum away from Florida for good.
--Where will Iowa be ranked in the final polls? My guess is anywhere from #7 to #9. That would give the Hawkeyes a Top 10 finish for a second consecutive season, something that Iowa hasn't accomplished since the Forest Evashevski Era.
--Although Coach Kirk Ferentz was the National Coach of the Year last season, my opinion is that Coach Ferentz and his staff completed an even MORE IMPRESSIVE coaching performance with this year's team. Considering the graduation losses and injuries—plus the much more difficult schedule—it's amazing that Iowa came back with another Top 10 team in the nation. All you need to do is revisit the preseason publications to see where the "experts" picked a healthy Hawkeye team to finish this season. It's incredible. Many tabbed Iowa to finish about 8th in the Big 10 in 2003. Instead, the Hawks will finish about 8th in the NATION! I seriously doubt Coach Ferentz's program will be so under-rated again anytime soon.
--What the heck happened to the Big 10 this bowl season? Geez. Michigan was dominated by USC. Purdue lost to Georgia…and trailed 24-0 at one time. Northwestern lost to Bowling Green. Michigan State was dominated by Nebraska. Auburn downed Wisconsin by two TDs. So far, only Iowa and Minnesota (a one-point win over Oregon) have been victorious. Here's hoping that Ohio State can help the conference improve on its 2-5 showing so far.
--Florida ran the ball 28 times for 57 yards, a 2.0-yard average. It's hard to win games if you can't run the football. Great job once again by Norm Parker.
--Unlike the Orange Bowl last season, Iowa played with much more discipline on Thursday, committing only three penalties for 15 yards.
--Like Chandler, punter David Bradley took his share of criticism this season. But, the Hawkeye punter did a fine job in the Outback Bowl, averaging 42.6 yards per punt.
--It was nice to see Ed Hinkel healthy and contributing once again. He will be a key player next season.
--Jovon Johnson turned in another very good performance, with one interception and three passes broken up. The sophomore seems to keep getting better, another sign of great coaching.
--How about Tyler Luebke? He went from a relatively unknown player to a very good defensive tackle in a matter of two or three games. Luebke had five tackles and a sack against the Gators. One more back-up who was prepared to contribute right away when given the opportunity. To me, this is yet another sign of great coaching.
--After Florida's first touchdown, the next 12 series (six for Iowa, six for Florida) played out like this: The Hawkeyes ran 39 plays, gained 202 yards and scored 27 points. The Gators ran 19 plays, gained 23 yards and failed to score. Case closed.
--Kaeding finished his career 67 of 83 (81%) kicking field goals, including 24 of 29 (83%) from beyond 40 yards. We will not see a better kicker at Iowa in our lifetimes. Period.
--Iowa outscored its opponents 246 to 53 in the second and third quarters this season. Can you say "adjustments?"
--Abdul Hodge finished his sophomore season with 141 tackles, the second-highest single-season total in school history. And you have to love his closing speed, which was displayed a few times against Florida, like when he caught Chris Leak from behind to stop the freshman from picking up a first down.
--For those of you who haven't yet, it's time to give some credit to Iowa's offensive coordinator, Ken O'Keefe. In the last five years, I've criticized O'Keefe just like many other Hawk fans, but the game plan against Florida was outstanding and Chandler & Co. were obviously prepared very well to execute it. Considering all the graduation losses the offense had coming into this season and the injuries to key personnel, it's quite a feat that this team scored 25+ points eight times this season, including each of its final three games. I'm sure that O'Keefe would like to work with the same QB for two years in a row sometime, but next year, he'll have another new signal caller. Here's hoping he can find some more ways to keep putting points on the board.
--I really, really, REALLY hope this isn't a "jinx" of any kind, but I believe that Coach Ferentz is going to stick around for at least two more years. One of the very few things that he has left to accomplish at Iowa is to win a national title and I think that will be a definite possibility in 2005. It will also be the senior season for his son, Brian. Of course, I don't want to sell 2004 short in any way. After all, this "new year" is off to a fantastic start!
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)