COLUMBUS, Ohio It hurt real bad. It will continue to hurt. It might never stop hurting.
Iowa fell to Ohio State here in a heartbreaker as the teams battled for a berth in the Rose Bowl. The Hawkeyes fell behind by 14 before two fourth-quarter touchdowns forced overtime. The visitors came up empty on their offensive possession while the Buckeyes used a 39-yard field goal from Devin Barkley for a 27-24 win.
The Iowa players and even head coach Kirk Ferentz looked stunned after the game as they somberly answered questions. The Hawkeyes were given little chance by outsiders to win a contest in which they were 17-point underdogs. It was tough to tell whether they wanted to hold their heads up for the effort or low for the disappointment.
Freshman Quarterback James Vandenberg was being thrown to the wolves, according to the critics, as he started his first college game in front of more than 100, 000 fans here at Ohio Stadium. The Keokuk, Iowa native responded with 233 yards and two touchdowns.
"I mean, we laid out there," Iowa Linebacker A.J. Edds said. "We knew we were the road dogs and we didn't have a chance and everybody made it sound like James was playing with one arm. Nobody gave us a chance."
The good news for Iowa is that the effort and competitiveness it showed on Saturday might be enough to keep it soundly in the BCS bowl picture. Southern California lost to Stanford, opening up another door for the Hawkeyes.
"This game is going to hurt for a while," Vandenberg said. "But we're going to learn from it and we're going to bounce back. It's not all lost. We're still 9-2. There's a lot to play for and we're going to bounce back."
Vandenberg, who replaced the injured Rick Stanzi, will make his first start at Kinnick Stadium next week against rival Minnesota in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale. He and the Hawkeyes will be playing to impress BCS Bowl reps.
Those scouts must have been encouraged by how Iowa came into one of college football's most hostile environments and took the Buckeyes to the limit. Iowa also has shown an ability to travel well to bowl games.
The Hawkeyes weren't willing to reflect much on that here on Saturday.
"That's not the case at all," Derrell-Johnson Koulianos said about being able to leave the Horseshoe proud of their effort. "We've been a great team this year. We could have made a few more plays to win. We don't think for a second that we lost to a better team tonight. They played a great game, but we were right there."
A pair of Buckeye touchdowns in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter would have chased a lesser team away. The huge crowd was whooping it up with a 24-10 lead.
Johnson-Koulianos put them back in their seats with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown along the ride sideline. He got to midfield with a man to beat, cut inside of him and was off to the races. It represented Iowa's first kickoff return for a touchdown since C.J. Jones turned the trick in the 2003 Orange Bowl.
"I don't know if those guys fell asleep, but I know our guys were busting butts making blocks," Johnson-Koulianos said. "I just went with it and made a couple of moves and broke a couple tackles, you know, just gave a max effort to give our team a chance to get some momentum at a real pivotal time when we needed it."
The Hawkeye defense held up again on the next series to give the offense the ball back after Barclay missed a 47-yard field goal. Iowa limited Buckeye Quarterback Terrelle Pryor to 93 yards passing and 29 on the ground. He did not account for a touchdown.
"Just credit that to the defensive line," Iowa Safety Tyler Sash said. "You guys saw Adrian Clayborn (1 sack, 3 tackles for loss) flying around there like he does each and every game. He and (Christian) Ballard, and (Karl) Klug and Broderick (Binns), them and the front seven, include all of those guys, they did a great job containing him for the most part."
After Barclay's miss, the Hawkeyes started their drive on their own 30 with 7:11 on the clock. They marched down the field in eight plays with McNutt bringing down a 10-yard, jump-ball toss from Vandenberg in the right corner of the end zone to complete it.
"Vandenberg played as if he was one of those leaders you‘ve been with for a while," McNutt said. "He came into the huddle actually more calm than anybody in the huddle. You really need that from your quarterback. He played awesome. He played like a veteran."
Ohio State took over on their own 18 with 2:37 in the fourth quarter. The home team got one first down before punting back to the Hawkeyes.
Iowa regained the ball on its own 33 with :52 left and two timeouts. The Hawkeyes ran out the clock, content to head to overtime.
"I've done enough stupid things this year, so why do something stupid at that point?" Ferentz said. "Had we gotten a return, had their been a shanked punt where we had better field position or had we popped that first play, then we probably would have pressed forward. I think we ended up second and nine, second and 10, it really doesn't matter. The percentages just weren't with us at that point."
Ohio State won the overtime coin toss and deferred. Things did not go well for the Hawkeyes after that.
Vandenberg threw the ball away from pressure on the first play and running back Adam Robinson then was thrown for a six-yard loss. On third and 16, Ohio State registered a sack setting up a fourth and 26. The Buckeyes then ended the drive with an interception in the end zone.
"It's easy to second-guess afterwards," Ferentz said of the play calling. "I wish we hadn't run the plays that went backwards. Take all three (plays) and throw them out the window. It's easy to play that game.
"I thought Ken (O'Keefe) called a tremendous football game today. And the second factor is we're playing against a defense I thought was pretty good. I don't know what you guys think, but I thought they were pretty damn good. That's football."
Ohio State took over on offense, gained three yards on three plays, and Barclay won it from 39. The fans rushed the field and the Hawkeye sideline stood in shock.
Iowa lost the game but won respect here on Saturday. They played like they belonged in the unofficial Big Ten title game.
"As a competitor, that's what you want," Sash said. "You want to go into environments like this and plays teams the caliber of Ohio State. They made a few more plays than we did."
The Hawkeyes never bought into the thought that they had no chance here on Saturday.
"That kind of attitude would have us all in trouble," Ferentz said. "Our country would be in trouble right now. It's fortunate you don't look at things that way. We'd probably be speaking a different language right now if historically we looked at it that way.
"Our attitude was that we've earned our way into this game, too. We knew what was on the line, and we felt like we earned our right to play. That was our attitude like it is every week. We're going to try to find a way to win the football game. Our guys played hard and gave us a chance to have it. You play overtime with what ends up being the championship team. It was a heck of a football game."