THE DATE: November 20, 2004
THE OPPONENT: Wisconsin
THE SCORE: #17 Iowa 30, #9 Wisconsin 7
WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? Oh, nothing much: we just beat Wisconsin's ass into the ground and clinched a share of a Big Ten Championship at home. That's all. Just a run of the mill November win, yessir.
When the day began, Iowa was playing for a few things -- a rivalry win over the loathsome Badgers and their seventh straight win, which would also put them a bowl win away from a third-straight ten-win season. By the time the game kicked off, though, there was a much richer prize up for grabs: a share of the Big Ten Championship. How? For possibly the first time in recorded history*, Ohio State did Iowa a solid and beat Michigan. The same Ohio State team that Iowa had whipped six weeks earlier put a beating of their own (37-21) on Michigan, handing Michigan their one and only loss in B1G play that year.
* Probably not true, but it sure as hell feels that way.
That loss turned the Iowa-Wisconsin game into a de facto Big Ten Championship Game of sorts: both teams entered at 6-1 (the Badgers were coming off a humiliating 49-14 shitkicking at the hands of Michigan State a week earlier), meaning that whoever won would be tied with Michigan atop the league. The stakes were actually higher for Wisconsin: win and they were headed to Pasadena (they would have been 7-1 in Big Ten play and 10-1 overall versus Michigan's 7-1 record in Big Ten play and 9-2 overall record). Iowa had no Pasadena illusions (they would -- and did -- lose the tiebreaker to Michigan, thanks to Michigan's head-to-head win in September), but they did have an opportunity to add a second Big Ten championship trophy in three years to their haul under Ferentz.
When they announced the result of the Ohio State-Michigan game over the public address system at the game, the crowd roared. There was an added electricity to the game at that point -- everyone knew what was at stake. So that was the set-up. As for the game... well, despite the lopsided final score, it was anything but a rout -- at least at first.
Both teams seemed nervous as the game began. Drew Tate threw interceptions on Iowa's first two possessions; at that point, he'd completed more passes to Jim Leonhard than he had to any Iowa receivers. Fortunately for Tate, he had the 2004 Iowa defense to cover up his mistakes. Despite getting the ball in Iowa territory on two straight possessions, the Badgers failed to score any points in the early going. The defense forced a turnover on downs after the first interception, then held the Badgers to a 51-yard field goal attempt after the second pick -- which missed.
That miss seemed to energize the offense -- they promptly snapped off a 64-yard drive and took a 7-0 lead on a Tate-to-Solomon touchdown pass. After that things settled down into a friendly rhythm of punt-punt-punt -- neither offense could get going. I still felt good about Iowa's chances in the game -- the defense was looking utterly dominant -- but the fact that they had a 7-0 lead did make me nervous. I got a little more nervous after Wisconsin put together their one good drive of the day and tied it up at 7-7 with a Booker Stanley touchdown.
Luckily, we had Drew Tate on our side. He got the ball at the Iowa 40 with under two minutes to go in the half and, three plays later, connected with Solomon on a 51-yard TD pass to give Iowa a 14-7 lead heading into overtime. The touchdown itself was classic Tate (go to 5:30 in the video above): he pirouettes away from an attacking defender, then steps up in the pocket and lasers a pass downfield to Solomon, who's gotten past the Badger secondary . At that point, I started to feel real good about our chances of victory.
And, indeed, the second half turned into a victory march for Iowa. The defense turned up the screws even more -- Jovon Johnson and Sean Considine intercepted passes on back-to-back Badger possessions in the third quarter (which sandwiched a third Tate interception on the day; it was not his finest game). After the Considine pick, the offense ground out another scoring drive, this time capped off by a Tate-to-Chandler touchdown pass. At that point, I started to breath easy: with a two touchdown lead and a defense playing out of their minds, there was no way Iowa was going to lose the game.
Indeed they did not: the Badger offense didn't score a point in the second half. Their second half drives ended like this: punt, interception, interception, fumble, turnover on downs, fumble, turnover on downs. Frankly, the Badgers were fortunate that the score wasn't far, far worse than 30-7. Iowa had five second-half possessions start on the Wisconsin side of the field and they ended in an interception, a touchdown, and three field goals. (Iowa also ended the game taking a knee at the Wisconsin 18-yard line.) The three field goals came after Iowa had opened up a 21-7 lead and gone into shutdown mode; if they'd kept the foot on the gas, it doesn't seem unlikely that they could have put up 40+ in this game.
HEROES: It certainly wasn't Drew Tate's finest hour (see: three interceptions), but he did throw three touchdowns and it was his magic that set up the decisive touchdown to Solomon right before halftime. Props also to Solomon, who had a standout day: 6 receptions, 100 yards, 2 TDs. Tate-to-Solomon essentially was Iowa's offense in the first half and it worked like a charm. But most of the credit for this win should probably go to the Iowa defense, who smothered the Badger offense: 186 yards of total offense (including 41 yards rushing on 30 attempts) and forced four turnovers. They throttled the Badgers in the second half to turn the game into a rout, but their biggest plays came in the first half, when the game was still in doubt and Tate's costly turnovers threatened to put Iowa in an early hole. They buckled down then and kept Wisconsin off the scoreboard, which seemed to have the effect of emboldening Iowa and deflating Wisconsin. There have been several very good defenses in the Ferentz Era, but that '04 squad, headlined by Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineuax, Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Sean Considine, and Jovon Johnson (although we also shouldn't forget the contributions of Tyler Luebke, Derrick Robinson, Marcus Paschal, Miguel Merrick, Antwan Allen, and George Lewis, among others), might have been my favorite. They were truly the bullies of the Big Ten.
IMPORTANT? Um, yes. It's not every day you get to celebrate a Big Ten Championship on your home field, you know? The championship celebration in 2002 was its own unique brand of awesome -- ALL YOUR GOALPOSTS ARE BELONG TO US and whatnot -- but there's an extra thrill to getting to celebrate a title on your homefield, surrounded by thousands of deliriously happy Iowa fans. That was incredible. According to my research (and someone correct me if I'm wrong), it was the first time Iowa had been able to celebrate a league championship at home since Iowa beat Minnesota, 31-9, at the end of the 1985 season. Given that we now have a neutral-site conference championship game that determines the league champion, this game will also remain the last time Iowa ever got to celebrate a conference title in Kinnick Stadium. That's a little bittersweet, frankly -- it will still be incredible to win a Big Ten championship in the future, but it won't be quite the same to celebrate it in Indianapolis or Detroit or Chicago or wherever the league title game is being contested that year.
As noted earlier, the win was also Iowa's seventh straight and gave them the opportunity to play for a 10th win in their bowl game that year (a game which might be coming up on this countdown). But that was all window dressing: this game was all about winning a Big Ten Championship and celebrating in Kinnick Stadium. And it was glorious.
A/V: see above.
PERSONAL MEMORIES: My biggest takeaway will always be the thrill of rushing the field after this game (the one and only time I did it in my Iowa career, although I couldn't tell you why that is) and getting to see Jim Delany hand Kirk Ferentz the Big Ten Championship Trophy while I was surrounded by thousands of my closest black-and-gold friends. There are people that argue that Michigan is the "rightful" or "true" Big Ten Champion from 2004 and, logically, they're probably right: they won the tiebreaker and went to the Rose Bowl and they did beat Iowa head-to-head. But the rules are what they are and Iowa got a trophy -- I was there, I saw it and tried to touch it. That's good enough to make them champions in my book.
There were a few moments where I thought I was going to get overrun by the crowd, but all in all it was an unforgettable moment and one I'm glad I got to see in-person. The raw emotion of Ferentz's interview with Holly Rowe after the trophy presentation (4:30) will also always stick with me (thanks, Lukeateake!); 2004 was a difficult season for Ferentz (his father passed away before the Penn State game), but it ended with an unbelievable high.