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Overreaction Monday: Hawkeyes Stun Ohio State, Iowa Faithful

Kinnick Stadium seemed like a dream for Hawkeye fans Saturday. For Buckeye fans it was a nightmare, as Iowa routed Ohio State. In the end, it all faded to black.

Like Ohio State’s playoff hopes, Kinnick Stadium faded to black Saturday night. And it was glorious.
Image via @HawkeyeFootball

I’ve wracked my brain to come up with the perfect cliche to open with. You know, some catchy one-liner to break the ice. There are so many possibilities, and yet none of them do it justice.

Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

There was no beer inside Kinnick Saturday, but it sure seemed like heaven.

The Hawkeyes blacked out the Buckeyes.

Iowa fans blacked out Kinnick, Buckeyes look to black out memory of Hawkeyes.

Nobody dots the “i” for the script Ohio, Hawkeyes prefer all caps I-O-W-A.

Seriously, I could go on for a while here, but the words just don’t do it justice. Really, there are no words. What we saw Saturday evening was beyond belief and completely out of the realm of possibilities any remotely rational Hawkeye fan had heading into the affair. It was unbelievable.

Did anyone else wake up Sunday morning, feeling not at all rested by “extra hour” received Saturday night to bask in the glory of the game and have the surreal feeling none of it was real? I thought you might. Me too. It was an entirely unbelievable experience. Dream-like. And like most of you, I awoke Sunday morning disoriented by the time change and confused about the reality of the prior day’s events.

But, at 6 in the morning I was still scrolling through the jubilant tweets from Saturday night. The Facebook posts full of friends and coworkers rushing the field were still in my timeline. And there was the DVR with the most recent recording showing a game from the day before. I had no other option - I had to give it a watch. Early morning with the infant be damned, I needed to ensure this wasn’t just some sleep deprivation side effect.

The DVR never lies. But even after fast-forwarding to the end, I was still in shock. I read the quick recap. I read the Morning After post. I watched the whole game in 60 minutes on BTN before I had even gotten out of my PJs reality started to set in. Maybe this wasn’t a dream? Maybe this was real life? Maybe the Hawkeyes did the unthinkable?

But we weren’t talking about your average, run of the mill Kirk Ferentz magic against a superior opponent that Hawkeye fans have come to know and not always love. If it had just been another take down of a top-5 opponent inside Kinnick after muddying things up and hanging around for three and a half quarters, I would have awaken happy and knowing full-well it actually happened. That’s not how I felt, but because there was no such muddying of anything Saturday. Instead, we saw an absolute trouncing of an Ohio State team planning on another trip to the College Football Playoffs.

I’ll admit, I had my doubts for quite a while Saturday. When Amani Hooker jumped the route on J.T. Barrett’s first pass only eight seconds into the game, I jumped for joy with the rest of Kinnick. Then I turned to my buddy and said, “Thank God they spotted us 7, I don’t think our offense can manage more than 17.” When the Buckeyes proceeded to shred the Iowa defense on their second possession, going 80 yards in 2:10 and 6 plays to tie things up, I was even less confident.

“Yeah, unless J.T. decides to run the ‘throw it to the guys in black’ play a few more times, we are hopeless,” I told my buddy. The OSU offense looked unstoppable early and nothing we had seen out of the offense gave anyone any indication we could keep up, save for the performance at Iowa State. Ohio State is no Iowa State and a track meet with a roster full of guys Hawkeye fans could only dream of landing didn’t seem like a good idea.

I’ve never been more happy to be so dead wrong in my life. The early success of the Buckeye offense quickly turned into frustration and mistakes. After scoring on the three possessions following the pick-six, the Iowa defense held Ohio State scoreless for almost three full quarters (their second touchdown came with 10:22 remaining in the second quarter to tie the game at 17-17). They forced four interceptions from a QB who had only thrown one through 8 prior games this season. Put simply, the defense was fantastic, and nobody was better than Josh Jackson.

Had I known just how well they would play, I may have felt better most of the first half. Rather than enjoying the simple fact the Hawkeyes were up (they never trailed the entire game), I was convinced they would find a way to let OSU win. It never registered that the offense wouldn’t, as some point, just shut things down and go back to what our own BoilerHawk so aptly calls “Ferentzing.” It seemed inevitable that we would end up running for no gain on 1st and 2nd down only to be forced into 3rd and longs and eventual 4th down punts. There was no hope of getting to 17, even if that was all the stellar defense was giving up.

I. LOVE. BEING. WRONG.

Not only did we not see them Ferentz up, we saw them Brian up. All the emotion that was let lose on a replay official a week ago was channeled into a near perfect game plan. We’ve seen bits and pieces of this all season. A week ago, we talked about the success of the offense on the opening drive of each half when they went away from tendency and threw on first down and out of heavy formations. But outside of a few series, we didn’t see it with consistency. We sure as hell saw more of it Saturday and it was beautiful.

The early down passing wasn’t only effective at catching the Buckeye defense off-guard, but we saw great execution from the line, giving Nate Stanley plenty of time, we saw Stanley making good reads and delivering catchable balls and we saw Iowa receivers hauling them in with regularity. That kept the offense on script, ahead of the chains and the full playbook open. And offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz took full advantage.

The passing game softened up the Ohio State defense and for the first time all season, we saw an Iowa running game that looked like an Iowa running game should look. There were linemen stoping linebackers, fullbacks laying out would-be tacklers and running backs getting to the second level before contact. It was a thing of beauty.

It was what we all hoped it could be. And as much as it raises questions about the issues we’ve seen to date, I think more than anything it should give Hawkeyes fans a ton of hope. Hope that we could see a performance like last week replicated down the stretch. This weekend, Wisconsin boasts a very good defense, but nothing like the kind of athletes Ohio State trotted out there Saturday. And the final two games? Well I don’t think Purdue or Nebraska are scaring anyone with those defenses. So maybe we have something here. Maybe this team gets things rolling the way that 2008 team got things rolling late.

Maybe this is the start of something pretty special. The core of this offense is very young. There’s some experience along the offensive line, but provided James Daniels doesn’t depart early for the NFL, 4/5s of this group will be back next year. The receiving group? They lose Matt VandeBerg and that’s it. The tight ends? All back. You already know Stanley will only be a junior next year. The major loss comes at running back as both Wadley and James Butler are set to graduate, but the youth behind them look very capable of carrying the torch.

If Brian builds on this performance, shredding every opponent’s tendency report and exploiting mismatches with the tight ends, this could be it. If he can build on this to get even more creative with his use of a guy like Akrum Wadley and younger guys like Ihmir Smith-Marsette, this team could be nearly impossible to prepare for. If they can keep defenses off balance, maybe this run game can really get things going and open things up. If they can do that, this could be special. And next year could be even better.

It seems silly to say only a week removed from another disappointing offensive performance. But the pieces are there. The plays are in the playbook and the athletes are on the sideline. Neither of those things are going anywhere. We saw what it looks like when they put it all together Saturday night. It was downright dreamy.

It seems crazy to sit here in the midst of a 6-3 season where most fans have been more disappointed than excited and talk about closing out the year better than expected. It seems crazy to say this could be 2008 all over again, insinuating next year could be 2009-esque. But if we learned anything Saturday night, it was that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to be wrong. And it’s OK to dream, sometimes they come true.

Go Hawks. Happy Monday. Soak this one up and let’s keep dreaming, shall we?