Iowa Bounces Off Canvas

Two weeks after having dirt thrown on their grave in Evanston, the Hawkeyes finished off the regular season with two impressive wins. Saturday's 52-28 thumping of Minnesota showed the character and chemistry that Iowa and its fans searched for all season. Senior Writer Rob Howe offers his thoughts on why this year's team and its senior class should be remembered for much more than its their seven wins.

Kirk Ferentz walked down his sideline on Saturday and barked at every unit on the team. The Iowa coach just had witnessed his team take a 14-0 lead and was cautioning his players to keep the pedal to the metal.

The Hawkeyes enjoyed the same advantage in heartbreaking losses to Michigan and Northwestern earlier this season. Fortunately for Ferentz, he had nothing to worry about on this day.

Iowa built a 35-0 advantage against Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium en route to a 52-28 win. A senior class that took some haymakers a few short weeks ago wasn't going to let their last home game end in sorrow.

"They've all been great representatives of what our program is about and what our university is about," the coach said of his veterans.

As complimentary as was that statement, it might not encompass the job done by that group in the last two games. Iowa left Evanston a couple of weeks ago having blown a big lead late, owning a 5-4 record and needing a win to become bowl eligible.

This group of seniors blamed themselves for Iowa having its most losses since 2001 and plenty of the fans and media piled on. Then, when the chips were down, bam, they beat Wisconsin on Barry Alvarez Day and smoke a Minnesota team that won at Michigan.

"It says a lot about our program," Iowa Senior Abdul Hodge said. "It says a lot about coaches. It says a lot about the type of guys that we have on the team.

"You look around the country. When a lot of teams start to lose and stuff starts hitting the fan, a lot of people pack it in. After that Northwestern game, a lot of people turned their back on us.

"As a team, we don't have those types of people or players that are going to pack it in. We felt like we still could have a good season. We just wanted to finish strong."

Iowa came into the season ranked 12th in the first Associated Press Top 25 poll. Some outlets picked it in the Top 5. Fans talked about the BCS.

Well, the players held those same lofty goals. And truth be told, this team didn't finish the regular season on Saturday that far off of them. A few plays here and there against Northwestern or Michigan, and you're talking 9-2 overall, 7-1 in the Big Ten and New Year's Day or better for a fourth year in a row.

So, yeah, if you set your heart on the BCS or New Year's Day, you're probably disappointed, even though a slim possibility remains for the Outback. However, please realize that this team and these seniors faced more adversity than their predecessors over the last three seasons.

You're probably thinking that last year's team without a running game overcame more hurdles. There's no way that squad reels off seven wins in a row and wins nine regular season games against the 2005 schedule.

The '04 team deserves credit for the remarkable run, but it did it with a defensive line among the best in school history. This year's team is playing with an entire new starting unit, which hadn't happened during the last three years.

"Any time you finish the season the way that we did it's something special," Senior Jovon Johnson said. "The way that we've grown together over the year has been special. Everybody had high expectations for us. We hit our bumps in the road, but you have to battle and fight through adversity. That's what we do best.

"Everyone on this team has gone through adversity. We weren't recruited that high. We were the small apples coming to a big program. We stayed together and that just shows that we have true team chemistry."

These seniors came here on a leap of faith. They leave as the class with the most wins in school history. Not bad.

Two weeks ago, most fans and media around Iowa would have taken the 0-2 side over the 2-0 side for these final two games. Luckily, the players and coaches believed.

"We ended the season the right way by getting these two tough wins, especially the one last week," Iowa Senior Chad Greenway said. "It was just a credit to our seniors' ability to come back and lead this team after such a tough situation."

It's tough to say how this year's team will be remembered down the road. A lot depends on the bowl game and its result.

Maybe next season the Hawkeyes win 10 games again and get a big postseason game. People might look back on '05 as the team that "only" won seven games and broke up the string.

Hopefully, people take the time to remember how this team responded with its back against the wall.

"It shows that we have character," Johnson said. "Brian (Ferentz) put it best. It wasn't the underclassmen's fault, it's our fault that we lost the games. It's our job to lead, and we didn't do a good enough job of leading. Today, we really pushed ourselves and we really led the way that we were supposed to. It feels good."

He should feel good. You should feel good.

Like Hodge said, this team easily could have packed it in after two crushing losses. Instead, they came together and won out, and now they'll be packing their bags for a pretty good bowl game.


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