The Aughts in Review: Wildcats, Devils, And Oranges, Oh My!

Continuing our look back at the decade that was in Iowa football, celebrating the highs and the lows -- and, hopefully, distracting us from the ongoing disaster that is Iowa basketball.  This series looks back at Iowa's results across the entire decade against every Big Ten foe, as well as Iowa State.  And now we move into the rest of the teams Iowa played in the Aughts, in a multi-part look at Iowa's non-conference foes (including bowl games).  Next up in our look back at the non-conference foes: those nominal big boy opponents from the other BCS leagues (sans Iowa State, who was already covered extensively).

Great highlight.  Awful game.

BCS OPPONENTS (excluding Iowa State)
Iowa vs. BCS opponents (excluding ISU): 4-4

WINS
2003: Iowa 21, Arizona State 2
2006: Iowa 20, Syracuse 13 (OT)
2007: Iowa 35, Syracuse 0
2009: Iowa 27, Arizona 17

LOSSES
2000: Kansas State 27, Iowa 7
2000: Nebraska 42, Iowa 13
2004: Arizona State 44, Iowa 7
2008: Pitt 21, Iowa 20

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SuperWegher to the rescue, yet again.

BEST WIN: Iowa 27, Arizona 17 (2009)
This really boils down to which home win over an Arizona school you prefer, frankly.  On the surface, the 2003 win over Arizona State appears more dominant, but is it really?  Arizona scored 17 points in 2009, sure, but the first touchdown came on a patented STANZIBALL and the second touchdown came after Iowa had scored to go up 27-10 with four minutes to play and put in the second-string defense.  '09 Arizona gained a few more yards than the '03 Arizona State squad, but many of those yards came on one big running play and on a garbage time drive.  Nor was Iowa's offensive performance all that difference in the two games.  The '09 unit was a bit more productive in terms of points, and Stanzi threw for more yards than Chandler, but for all intents and purposes, it was a bit of a wash.  So why give the nod to the '09 Arizona team?  Because they were actually good.

The '03 Arizona State squad entered the game ranked 16th and a dark horse Heisman candidate in QB Andrew Walter, but they imploded in the aftermath of the Iowa game, ultimately finishing a forgettable 5-7.  By contrast, the '09 Arizona team finished second in the Pac-10 and was in the thick of the Pac-10 title race the entire season until a late-season 2OT loss to Oregon and ultimately wound up in the Holiday Bowl (where they, uh, got flattened by Ndamukong Suh and his Amazing Friends).  In terms of record and accomplishments, Mike Stoops' squad was far and away the most impressive win over a non-ISU regular season non-conference foe in the Aughts.  The game itself was Iowa's initial coming out party for the 2009 season; after the ulcer-inducing win over Northern Iowa and a dominant win over Iowa State (but still just Iowa State), no one had any idea how good this Iowa team could be.  But after they throttled a good Arizona team, we had an inkling: this could be a really good team.

Adrian Clayborn and friends delivered one of their greatest bitchmakings of the season, making then-starter Matt Scott look so bad that he lost the starting QB job for the rest of the season.  Clayborn also delivered the signature defensive play of the game when he chased down Arizona's speedy RB Nic Grigsby and tackled him from behind, coming from the other end of the line to do so.  Arizona, like so many of Iowa's non-conference opponents, thought they were faster than the big, slow Hawkeyes.  They were wrong.  Offensively, Stanzi settled down after his obligatory STANZIBALL, and A-Rob and Wegher combined for 147 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.  And so the blueprint for Iowa's season was written: the defense was going to smother teams and the offense wasn't going to set any records, but was going to do enough to win.

 

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Literally the only decent Iowa highlight from this train wreck of a game.

WORST LOSS: Arizona State 44, Iowa 7 (2004)
There's really no contest here: since emerging from the wilderness of the late '90s (and 2000), Iowa has never been as thoroughly and embarrassingly outplayed as they were in this game.  Especially an Iowa team that actually was good, as we soon found out that year.  Two of the losses in this category happened in the dark ages of 2000 when little was expected of the Iowa football team.  If you were so inclined, you might be able to make a case for the 2008 loss to Pitt, since it was an eminently winnable game that wound up costing Iowa a chance at a 10-win season.  But there was a silver lining to that game, too -- it was the final nail in the coffin of the Jake Christensen Era at Iowa, thus mercifully ending one of the most contentious periods in Iowa fandom in the Aughts. 

There's really no silver lining to be had from this debacle in the desert, though.  You can't even totally say that Iowa used the humbling loss as motivation for the rest of the season, since they also fell short the very next week against Michigan.  It was one of those games where nothing went right.  Drew Tate was utterly miserable: 8/19 for 44 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT.  The running game wasn't much better (56 yards on 27 carries), paced by Marques Simmons, who went for 51 yards on 7 carries.  (Yes, that means the other Iowa guys went for five yards on 20 carries, although that does include a handful of sacks that Tate ate.)  We couldn't even blame the RUNNINGBACKOCALYPSE for the struggles of the runnin game; Jermelle Lewis' ACL hadn't yet been reduced to stray particles by the Angry and Vengeful Running Back God... but he wasn't, um, good.  14 yards on 10 carries is pretty dreadful.  But the struggles of the offense in their first road trip in 2004 wasn't entirely unexpected with a sophomore quarterback making his first road start and an offense breaking in quite a few new starters. 

What was shocking was the utter capitulation by one of the best Iowa defenses of the Aughts.  Andrew Walter and the Sun Devil offense were fueled by the desire to get revenge for the 21-2 humiliation the preceding year... and they succeeded.  An ill Norm Parker didn't make the trip to the desert and the Iowa defense looked utterly lost as a result; Walter dissected the Iowa secondary (31/43, 428 passing yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT) on the way to 44 points, the most allowed by an Iowa defense since giving up 45 to the Antwaan Randle-El and the Hoosiers in 2000.  Granted, ASU couldn't run the ball on Iowa's beastly front seven (76 yards on 34 carries)... but who the fuck needs to run the ball when you can throw the ball for 400+ and five touchdowns?  If not for a Wallner Belleus 83-yard punt return touchdown with under a minute to play, the Hawks would have been shutout for the first time since 2000.  Pretty much anything that could go wrong in this game did go wrong, from the weather that delayed the start of the game to the play on the field.  At least no one got hurt.

INTERLUDE BECAUSE ADRIAN CLAYBORN IS AWESOME AND STUFF:

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In the next photo, Clayborn ripped off the quarterback's arm and beat him senseless with it.

And now back to regularly scheduled programming...

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From the "unlikely hero" department... 

PLAYERS OF NOTE
Before the 2003 and 2009 seasons began, no Iowa fan outside of the immediate circle of friends and family of Ramon Ochoa and Adam Robinson would have expected them to do much in the fall.  Ochoa was a second-string wide receiver coming out of spring practice in 2003.  After an injury felled Mo Brown and bad academics did the same to Clinton Solomon and Calvin Davis remained in his normal state of perpetual injury, Ramon Ochoa was elevated to a starting role.  Robinson was even further down the depth chart last summer, behind Jewel Hampton, Jeff Brinson, Paki O'Meara, and possibly even Brandon Wegher.  But then Angry and Vengeful Running Back God struck down Hampton and Brinson and a handful of plays in the UNI game revealed what we already knew about Das Pakibomb: he's a really good special teamer.  "Next man in" became a popular refrain in Iowa football in the Aughts, but no two guys better exemplified that maxim than Ochoa and A-Rob. 

I have a soft spot in particular for Razor Ramon: he had a great nickname (shared with a WWF legend, of course) and an impressive knack for making big plays.  We talked about his play in the Michigan game earlier in this series, but he came up big in the '03 Arizona State game, too (two touchdowns and 64 yards receiving on four catches).  Sometimes you look back at a player's stats and wondered how they ever quietly amassed so many yards; with Ochoa, I look at his final stats in '03 (34 receptions, 477 receiving yards, 6 TDs) and wonder how they weren't twice as good... in my mind, they certainly were.  Meanwhile, A-Rob went from a 2-star grayshirt RB from Des Moines that most people never expected to get a meaningful carry (either this year or in his career) to Iowa's leading rusher in 2009 (834 yards and 5 touchdowns on 181 carries, for a respectable 4.6 ypc average) and a possible winner of the Big Ten Freshman of the Year Award if he'd been able to stay healthy all season.  Ochoa was one breed of "next man in" Hawkeye, the senior who spends the bulk of his career as a practice/special teams/garbage time guy, only to step up big when he finally gets his chance to shine at the end of his career.  A-Rob represents a different breed of "next man in" Hawkeye, the underclassmen who thrive when pressed into service early.  Iowa needed both types in the Aughts and will almost certainly still need warm fuzzy stories like that to emerge in the '10s for the Hawks to continue their winning ways in the next decade.

 

RANDOM REMINISCES

  • Hayden Fry opened his tenure at Iowa with a four-game series against Nebraska; he memorably led Iowa to a 10-7 victory in 1981, but dropped the other three games against the Cornhuskers (including two in brutally ugly fashion, 57-0 in 1980 and 42-7 in 1982).  The natural border rivalry remained dormant for the next seventeen years, until it was revived to welcome in the next new Iowa coach.  Ferentz too suffered a pair of blowout losses (42-7 in 1999 and 42-13 in 2000).  Sadly, the series ended before Ferentz got the Iowa program back on stable footing and had a legitimate shot to grab his own victory over the damnable Cornhuskers.  The 2000 loss represented improvement on the 1999 loss (they managed to score a whole six more points! and, more importantly, kept the game close deep into the second half), but mostly just served as a stark reminder of how wide the gap was between those two programs at the turn of the decade.  If you'd said after that game that Iowa and Nebraska would both play in the same number of BCS games and have the same number of 10-win seasons in the Aughts, you probably would have been immediately fitted for a staitjacket. 
  • The '00 game against Kansas State was similarly unimpressive, aside from Bob Sanders' "hello, world" moment on a punt return.  (He jacked some dude up, naturally.)
  • The Syracuse series was the perfect example of the pitfalls of college football scheduling.  Iowa's scheduling philosophy under KF has been two mid-major or I-AA theoretical cupcakes, Iowa State, and one BCS conference opponent.  And, generally speaking, Iowa tries to schedule a reasonably good BCS opponent -- you don't see us intentionally scheduling Duke or Baylor, teams that stunk in the past, stink in the present, and will likely continue to stink for the forseeable future.  Instead, Iowa tries to schedule teams that should be fairly good and able to provide a decent challenge.  Syracuse became one of the laughingstocks of major college football in the Aughts, but that certainly wasn't always the case.  They have a glorious history that includes Jim Brown and Ernie Davis and, hell, their more recent history includes Donovan McNabb, Marvin Harrison, and Dwight Freeney.  Who knew that things would implode so spectacularly there under prolonged exposure to TEH GERG?  And so Iowa wound up playing two games against what was basically Duke in more garish uniforms.  Thank God they won both of the games...

    Although, as we well know, they weren't the cakewalks that they perhaps should have been, given the relative quality (or lack thereof) of Syracuse's alleged football teams.  The 2006 game may have climaxed with one of the most stirring and improbable finishes of the Aughts (and as well as the usual  deserved plaudits to Iowa's mansome defensive effort there, we doff our caps to the Syracuse's spectacularly unimaginative playcalling as well; even Woody Hayes thinks you might wanna try a bootleg pass or something there, Orangepeoples), but it was a miserable slog up to that point.  It was the last time Jason Manson would ever throw a meaningful pass in an Iowa uniform (which is kind of what happens when you go 16/32 for 202 passing yards, 1 TD, and 4 INTs) and underlined the impression of him as a very nice guy and a wonderful teammate... but perhaps not a B10-caliber QB.  Tellingly, when Tate had to sit out the NIU game later in the season, a game Iowa needed to win to solidify bowl hopes, the coaches turned to redshirt freshman Jake Christensen to lead the way to victory. 

    Meanwhile, the 2007 game served as a shining example of fool's gold.  Iowa won 35-0 and looked great, Jake looked like an All-American (23/32, 278 passing yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT), and Tony Moeaki looked like a shoo-in for the Mackey Award (8 receptions, 112 yards, 3 TDs).  Sadly, none of these things were remotely true.  Was Iowa really good?  (No.)  Was the offense back on track after the NIU slog in the opener?  (No; if anything the NIU slog was far more indicative of what we'd see the rest of the season.)  Was Jake going to be awesome?  (No.)  Was TonyMo going to have the most spectacular season by an Iowa tight end since Dallas Clark roamed the middle of the field?  (No, although that was more due to his inability to stay healthy for more than three games at a time.)  It turns out that Syracuse just really, really, really fucking sucked.
  • As far as the '08 Pitt game... as maddening as the all-Jake second half may have been, the playcalling with regards to Shonn Greene might have been even more baffling.  In four Iowa possessions in the fourth quarter, Greene carried the ball precisely three times in a one-point game. Now, sure, it was early in the season and Shonn's conditioning level then was not exactly, um, good.  And the clock was working against Iowa on a few of those possessions (particularly the last one).  But STILL.  In truth, the most critical playcalling gaffe may have been in the third quarter.  After a 73-yard touchdown drive (on which Greene gained 40 yards on the ground) to go up 17-14, well, you guess what happened the next time Iowa got the ball.  Did they (a) let Greene pound away or (b) went sack, incomplete, incomplete.  If you guessed (b), you win the Ken O'Keefe Dunce Cap of Champions trophy.  It's perfect for pounding back shots of tequila, which is what you'll need to erase the memories of this game.
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