Miller: Don't Call It an Upset

The Iowa Hawkeyes entered their game at Penn State as 10-point underdogs, and after the first play of the game it looked like Vegas might have been right. But the Hawkeyes did not wilt, and their defense was suffocating once again in paving the way to a huge win in front of nearly 110,000 fans at Beaver Stadium. But don't call it an upset, Hawkeye fans; one team was legit.

Back in January, shortly after the 2009 college football season had come to an end, I took a look at where I thought teams would be ranked heading into the 2009 season.

I compiled my own list and had the Iowa Hawkeyes pegged in the high teens.  I then took a look at some early Top 25 polls that various national sportswriters and websites were putting out at the time and one team kept popping up that I just did not agree with:  Penn State, inside the Top 10.

I couldn't understand how the Nittany Lions could be ranked that high, considering they lost three first team All Big Ten offensive linemen, every receiver of note, two defensive ends that would enter their names into the NFL draft, every starter in the secondary plus their record setting place kicker.

20 through 25, yeah I could see that.  But Top Ten?

At that time, I wrote and said that Penn State would be the most overrated football team in the nation by the time the preseason polls came out in August, but that their soft schedule would keep them in the Top 25 for the entire season.

If that sounds a little bit like an ‘I told you so', you will have to forgive me.

Some will read this and say, ‘Hey, by calling Penn State an overrated team, you are taking away from Iowa's win and the type of team they are.'

I can understand that sentiment, but I don't see it that way.

Penn State is a quality football program, with quality players.  The recruiting rankings would have you believe they have better players on their roster than Iowa does.  In fact, the recruiting rankings would have told you that for nearly every one of the past 10 years or so, and just look at the success Kirk Ferentz has had against Penn State in that time.

However, they don't have a better football team off paper, this Penn State team is not as talented as this Iowa team and I would have felt that way had Iowa lost a close game to the Nittany Lions.

I have been saying this since Iowa beat Arizona, and I believe it more now than I did one week ago; this is the deepest Iowa football team in the Kirk Ferentz era.  It might also be the fastest team on defense Kirk has had in his days in Iowa City.

Iowa fans will know this, even if the nation does not, but they played this game without a 1st round NFL left tackle, and its starting tight end that might be the best blocker on the team; Bryan Bulaga and Tony Moeaki.  It's biggest playmaking receiver, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, has barely practiced the past two weeks and missed the Arizona game.

Penn State was without star linebacker Sean Lee, and that is a loss for them, but this game was mostly about Iowa's near total domination when its defense was on the field. 

The Nittany Lions came out quick, hitting a 79-yard touchdown play on the first snap of the game for their offense.

After that, the Hawkeyes allowed one field goal and less than 230 yards of offense.  To put it simply, Iowa's defense dominated Penn State's offense for much of the game.

Quarterback Darryl Clark is a really nice kid, someone you would love to have on your team.  The same can be said of several of the Penn State players. 

But the Hawkeyes have their number, even in Kinnick East (Beaver Stadium). 

Iowa forced four Penn State turnovers, they blocked a punt for a touchdown, forced a safety and nearly got another and took all of the wind out of the ‘Whitehouse' crowd.

I thought the rainy weather would take the energy out of the crowd, and that might have played a part.  But it was the black and gold swarm, rushing mostly four all night long, that were the bigger party crashers.

So here we are, with the Hawkeyes at 4-0, 2-0 on the road and 1-0 in the Big Ten.

Their first major conference road game is in the rear view mirror.

I called this one of the five most pivotal games in the Ferentz era earlier this week, because what a win could not only mean to this season, but the type of momentum it could create for this program over the course of the rest of this season and into the next.

The Big Ten is wide open and winnable.  Iowa has the best team on paper and is showing it on the field, yet there are still a few wrinkles to iron out.  The good news, offensively, is that Iowa's game plan is creating opportunities to move the ball.  They aren't executing well enough right now to make these games more comfortable for the digestive track.

This team is showing all of the hallmarks of a great Ferentz team...one that keeps building, and building, improving week after week.

This team has room to improve.  It was good to play Penn State as they are on the road to improvement.  They will be a better team in November than they are now, and perhaps by the end of this season they could be worthy of a top 15 ranking.

Two developmental teams met in late September, with one of them flexing their might and imposing their will on the other. 

Big Ten, take note;  you better get the Hawkeyes before they get healthy and get going on offense.

With a home game next week against Arkansas State, followed by perhaps another nationally televised home game against Michigan in two weeks, it might be too late.

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