Howe: Hawkeyes Get It Turned Around

After a disappointing 2006, the Hawkeyes righted the ship and got the program headed back in the right direction.

MINNEAPOLIS - The last time Kirk Ferentz stood in the visiting locker room here at the Metrodome, he unleashed a tirade that shook the walls and the ears of his players. Minnesota embarrassed his Hawkeyes, 34-24, in what the coach described as one of the lowest points of his 10-year run with the school.

While Saturday's 55-0 dismantling of the Golden Gophers on Senior Night in the final game at the Metrodome couldn't wash away that memory, it certainly should give Ferentz and Hawkeye fans encouragement that the fight is back in the Bullies of the Big Ten. It was the largest margin of victory in conference play in 10 years under Ferentz. It was Minnesota's worst loss ever in conference play.

After 3-3 start to the 2008, Iowa finished the regular season at 8-4 and left here with an excellent chance of playing in January for the first time since a three-year run into that month from ‘02-04. If last year's season ending loss at home to Western Michigan was rock bottom, Saturday's physical beat down of their rivals looked much closer to the days when they broke the rock.

"Like coach said after the game, he was so proud of us because everybody stayed the course and just kept pushing," Iowa receiver Darrell Johnson-Koulianos said. "There were so many times during the year where people counted us out and thought we were just another Iowa team. But since last March, this team has just had a totally different vibe than I've felt since I've been here. All positions are just so dedicated in a lot of ways.

No, Iowa is not going to finish with double figures in wins as it during the run earlier in the decade, this team showed it belonged in that group rather than with the teams of ‘99-00 and ‘06-07. The Hawkeyes got the nasty back, just ask the group of Gophers that picked itself off the turf all night after being knocked silly by someone in black and gold.

Minnesota started the game with obvious emotion and moved the ball during the first quarter. But even then, Bradley Fletcher was delivering big hits on the receivers and making them think about things when they went into their next routes. Iowa also was pushed the home team around in the trenches.

The Hawkeyes allowed Minnesota to hang around by managing just two Daniel Murray field goal for a 3-0 lead after the opening quarter. But unlike the red zone troubles earlier this year, Iowa kept pounding it with Shonn Greene through a stacked box and picking its spots with quarterback Rick Stanzi.

Iowa rolled up 24 points in the second quarter, a season-best total in a period this year. Stanzi hit Brandon Meyers for a touchdown, Greene ran one in and Amari Spievey returned an interception 57 yards for a score after another big hit in the secondary, where a Gophers' receiver had to be helped off the field after the play.

Iowa looked flat against Purdue last week following the big upset of Big Ten Champion Penn State a week earlier. It looked angry, determined and focused on Saturday night. Minnesota fans looked stunned as they filed out of the dome throughout the third quarter.

These weren't fat cats this year. These were cats with something to prove. A quarterback controversy, a kicker conundrum and four gut-wrenching losses couldn't hold this team down.

Greene? What can you say? He finished off the season with his 12th, 100-yard rushing day in as many games. He broke the all-time single-season rushing record of set by Tavian Banks when his 144 gave him 1,729 on the year. He tied Banks' record of 17 rushing touchdowns in a season.

"It means a lot to my offensive line and my fullback and wide receivers," Greene said of the mark. "They're a great part of my success this season. It means more to them than me. I want it to be that way because They work hard and they block for me very well."

Greene must have felt bad for punishing the opposition because his hardest hit of the day came on a long run in the third quarter, when he inadvertently planted Johnson-Koulianos into the ground as the wide receiver was trying to block downfield.

"I thought somebody shot me with a shotgun out of nowhere," Johnson-Koulianos said. "I couldn't imagine what just hit me. I didn't see it until I got up and found out it was Shonn. He just knocked the wind out of me.

"I got back to the sideline and was thinking that I don't know how these safeties get up down after down and hit this guy. I don't understand how they do it, but I have a lot more respect for them."

Said Greene: "I thought I hurt him. But he's alright. I didn't see him. I didn't know he was running side by side. He's alright, though."

Stanzi looked like a first-year starter last week when he completed only 8 of 15 passes for 72 yards. Minnesota clearly forced him to make some plays on Saturday, and he did, opening up things for Greene. The quarterback finished the day completing 15 of 28 passes for a career-high 255 yards and three touchdowns.

"The first quarter is a feeling out process," Stanzi said. "You're going to have that. One thing with our team is that we've responded. I had a tough first quarter and the defense really kept us in it. They always do and we come back and try to score some points."

And last, but certainly not last, Iowa's defense completed a dominating campaign where it didn't allow a 100-yard rusher since the season-opener against Maine. Minnesota carried 13 times for (-12) yards through three quarters against Iowa's first unit.

But really, the Hawkeye defense beat people up last season. It just couldn't overcome an anemic offense. This year, the got rest and the opposition got black and blue.

Saturday proved to be more than just a blowout win against a rival. It concluded its regular season with a huge step forward from last year. Yes, there's a bowl game to be played, but there's no doubt this team will show up ready to play, no matter the opponent.

For the most part, the off-the-field nonsense that crippled the program a year ago went away. The senior class, although small, was led by homegrown talent in Mitch King, Matt Kroul and Rob Bruggeman.

Nobody knows if Iowa football is embarking on another special run, but the feeling in the Hawkeye locker room was markedly more positive than the last time the Hawkeyes occupied it in this venue. It was a long way from exiting Kinnick Stadium to boos to finish off last fall.

This was something on which to build, something to be proud of in a state that saw a lot of heartache this year. It has to feel good to be a Hawk.

"The last two games, I haven't wanted to walk off of that field," Kroul said. "I just wanted to stay out there because you're not going to experience anything like this the rest of your life. Even though it's over, we get to walk out in a great way."


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