Guts. It takes a certain something, I think, to overcome adversity. To turn the balance of a contest that the other side is fighting like hell for. To have excuses—plural, legitimate ones—and ignore them. To take an upper hand, finally, and respond not with a sigh of relief but to immediately nail the whole thing shut with the hammer of Thor.
Iowa State didn't give that game away. The first real mistake the Cyclones made came on their last drive, when Sam B. Richardson tried testing Desmond King on an out route, and King made it clear why one should never, ever do that. That was ISU's only turnover of the game, and the Cyclones didn't cede an inch on special teams or other hidden sources of yardage. Iowa had to beat Iowa State straight up, and lo and behold, Iowa beat Iowa State, straight up.
I don't think Jake Rudock wins that game. I don't think he makes the critical throws or runs that Beathard did, and I don't think there were any mistakes by C.J. Beathard that Rudock wouldn't have made. We can marvel over the 44-yard rush from the 2-yard line that sparked the touchdown drive that tied the game at 10, but Iowa wouldn't have even had that play from scrimmage if Beathard hadn't wriggled out of a safety sack on the snap prior, and Rudock's not that kind of improvisateur. If it's 12-3 and Iowa State's getting the ball back on a short field, the game gets dramatically more different for Iowa. Beathard's leadership was stellar there and it kept Iowa afloat until it was time to take over in the second half.
I bring up Rudock not to dig up old bones but just to underscore how important that decision is, and how much it matters to maximize your playmaking ability at QB. Beathard didn't win the game by himself—that's deeply disrespectful to the other 47 Hawkeyes who made it onto the field on Saturday—but he damn sure could have lost the game by himself.
Beathard's final numbers on the day were a cool 15-for-25 for 215 yards, three scores and no picks—oh, and 77 more yards on the ground. That vaulted him to 28th in the nation in passing efficiency for the year (161.2 rating)
Meanwhile, Iowa's defense deserves a mountain of credit for its second half. After being scorched repeatedly in the first half, the defense held ISU to 66 yards after halftime on 31 plays, and the Cyclones had all of two snaps on Iowa's side of the field: a one-yard rush, then a sack to push them back behind the 50. That's awfully impressive, especially considering Drew Ott was Drew Out (sorry) (no I'm not) for most of the game with a still-unspecified arm injury, one that may keep him out for a matter of weeks. Richardson was a disaster throwing the ball after halftime, going 7-for-20 for 61 yards and one backbreaking interception. A variety of factors went into that—Iowa's pass rush improved, coverage was better, he really thought he could get a throw across the field past King—but at the end of the day it was simply excellent defense.
Iowa State fans say this game isn't their Super Bowl anymore, and at some point you have to take them at their word. But Iowa definitely gets ISU's best effort of the season—or something close to it—and this week was no exception. If Iowa State plays like that every week, they're going to ruin a few teams' afternoons this fall. The Hawkeyes had to earn that victory, and they did it.
They won't all be that fun. They won't all be that meaningful. They won't all feel like destiny guiding the Hawkeyes to victory. The grind of a 12+-game schedule has only begun. But man, when games are like that, there's just nothing better.
Go Iowa Awesome.