Marshall Koehn started the game by BOOMING a 64-yard punt down the field. He ended the game by SMASHING a 57-yard field goal dead center through the uprights to win the game -- after Pat Narduzzi gave him a chance at a do-over by calling timeout before Koehn came up short on his initial attempt at the kick*. Thanks, Pat! Narduzzi made a few questionable decisions late in the game -- punting to gain 21 yards of field position when it was 4th-and-inches and Pitt appeared to have Iowa's defense on its heels was another one -- and Iowa was able to capitalize on those mistakes.
*Although in an interview after the game Koehn admitted that he heard the whistle for Pitt's timeout and used the first kick as a warm-up -- he didn't try to make it.
In part, this was the game we envisioned from Iowa when we were daydreaming about the 2015 season in the offseason -- could a young, inexperienced offensive line keep C.J. Beathard clean and open holes for the running game? Could the defensive line survive the losses of Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat and still generate enough pressure? For much of this game the answers to those questions was "no"... and Iowa managed to win anyway. (Iowa should probably not make a habit out of it, though -- let's hope the lines play better than this going forward.)
Jordan Canzeri -- by far the more effective of Iowa's 1-2 punch at running back tonight (he ran for 49 yards and squeezed out two touchdowns on 12 carries, while LeShun Daniels managed just 17 yards on 9 carries) -- was able to get something going in the second half, but he couldn't do much in the first half against Pitt's fierce defensive front. Beathard, meanwhile, took a pounding from a variety of legal and... less-than-legal hits. Pitt's defense certainly looked (and felt) like a Narduzzi defense -- like his Michigan State defenses, they blitzed from several angles and laid some absolutely ferocious hits on Iowa players. In the second quarter, it briefly looked like Beathard would be lucky to get to halftime, let alone finish the game. He suffered a hip injury scoring Iowa's first touchdown and absorbed several other brutal hits from Pitt defenders (including an uncalled helmet-to-helmet hit on a fumble that was overturned on replay).
But Beathard -- and Iowa -- survived the half. Iowa went into the break with a 17-7 lead. It didn't take long for that lead to evaporate in the third quarter -- Pitt took the opening drive of the second half and moved down the field before settling for a 49-yard field goal. Sadly, despite utilizing a kicker named Blewitt, he did not. Then Pitt blocked a punt after Iowa's next possession -- RIP, shield punt formation? -- and Iowa's lead was completely gone. The game was remained tied at 17-all into the fourth quarter, before C.J. Beathard led Iowa on yet another clutch fourth quarter drive -- 11 plays, 80 yards, 6:46, capped off by Jordan Canzeri squeezing through a mass of bodies on the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown. The biggest play on the drive was a 32-yard catch and run by Jacob Hillyer on a sharp Beathard pass, but Beathard also picked up a critical third down conversion with his feet (a 6-yard run on 3rd and 3), hit Canzeri for a beautiful screen pass that went for 17 yards, and delivered a laser to Matthew VandeBerg for a 12-yard completion that took Iowa to the edge of the end zone. It was a drive that Iowa absolutely, positively needed to have at that moment -- and C.J. (and the rest of the Iowa offense) delivered in a big, big way.
The stage was set for the Iowa defense to save the day. Pitt got the ball back with six minutes to play, needing to drive 75 yards down the field to tie the game. That looked good for Iowa -- Pitt hadn't put together a drive like that all day. Their first touchdown was set up after a Beathard interception was returned to the Iowa 15-yard line. Their second touchdown came on the aforementioned blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown. The Iowa defense just needed to come up with a few stops -- or a turnover. They came close to the stop they needed when they pushed Pitt to 4th-and-15 (after some much-needed pressure from the defensive line finally materialized)... except Pitt converted when Peterman lasered a 19-yard pass to Holtz. Two plays later: Peterman, Boyd, tie game.
But there were 52 seconds left and this is a new Kirk Ferentz. There would be no kneeling it out or aimless rushes in the vain hope of "breaking one" for a big gain while playing for overtime. Desmond King set up Iowa on the 30-yard line after a 27-yard return (that started ugly after a bobble near the 3-yard line) and then Beathard went to work... and with his legs, not his arm. Iowa gained 31 yards on the game-winning drive, and all but 4 came via CJ's legs. He had a 12-yard run, a 7-yard run, and an 8-yard run with seconds left to get Iowa into the edge of field goal range. The clock management during this sequence was... let's go with "interesting"... but C.J. made the plays Iowa needed (and Iowa had two timeouts, which made running the ball a more viable option than it might otherwise have been). And after that... THE DEMON KOEHN.
And there was much rejoicing. Football can be so damn fun, you guys. Seriously: HE DRILLED A 57-YARD FIELD GOAL RIGHT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS. WITH DISTANCE TO SPARE. #TheDemonKoehn4Heisman
- I'm not sure how to score the Desmond King versus Tyler Boyd battle, frankly. King had two interceptions on passes targeted at Boyd (including a massive interception in the end zone that kept Pitt from scoring), but Boyd finished with 131 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches (although some of those receptions came with Mabin rather than King defending him). Both guys made some key plays for their teams.
- Tevaun Smith is alive! Smith caught 3 passes for 73 yards, including a beautiful 51-yard deep ball from Beathard. It was very, very good to see Smith being targeted as a bigger part of the offense -- now it just needs to continue the rest of the year.
- The tight end position is also alive! Henry Krieger Coble caught 5 passes for 48 yards, several of them for first downs, and was a very valuable safety valve for Beathard. George Kittle added 2 receptions for 7 yards, too.
- Beathard throwing the ball 40 times and Iowa running the ball 29 times (and even that includes a few sacks) is not quite the gameplan Iowa probably wants to roll with most of the time. It worked tonight, though.