Start spreading the news. Iowa football has won a bowl game in the year of our lord in 2017.
While calling Iowa’s display over Boston College a win is factually correct, giving it any sort of complimentary label isn’t doing the sport any justice. The game, if you watched, was played on a glorified piece of ice. The announcers, if you listened, were cotton-in-ear deafening. The stadium was a quarter full. The officiating was shoddy. And Iowa’s offensive play calling was almost worse than all the above. Almost.
But despite all those factors going against them, the Hawkeyes prevailed, absolutely manhandling Boston College in the second half after a very weak first frame, and here we are, another eight-win season in the history books for the Iowa Hawkeye football program. It feels as though we’ve seen this movie before. But it isn’t a movie. It’s a sitcom that’s been syndicated on all the major networks. And even though we know all the jokes and character arcs and can recite certain episodes from memory, we still tune in, because this dysfunctional show is part of the fabric of who we are.
And when it comes down to it, it’s a pretty decent show. If you like defense.
The first half of the Pinstripe Bowl was sloppy. Iowa had just 56 yards of offense to Boston College’s 281 at the end of the first half, yet the Hawkeyes were down just 7 points going into the locker room.
Big plays are what kept Iowa in the game. BC quarterback Darius Wade threw an interception on the second play of the game to Jake Geravase. Gervase returned it to the Eagle’s 6-yard line, but Iowa came away with just a field goal.
The only other Iowa score of the first half came following an Akrum Wadley 72-yard kick return. A mind-boggling unsportsmanlike conduct penalty negated a Nate Stanley sack (more on this in a second) to set Iowa up in the red zone. Stanley found who else but Noah Fant on the far side of the field, and the Hawkeyes were up 10-7.
The first-half play calling was suspect at best. Stanley attempted just 8 passes and completed only 4 of them for a grand total of 33 yards. I imagine it was tough to run routes in that weather, but even tougher to run against 8 men in the box on the left side of the offensive line for James Butler and Wadley. The duo combined for 44 yards on 10 carries in the first half; and this cobbled offensive line, which had a new starter in Levi Paulsen at right tackle and Tristan Wirfs out of position on the left bookend never really felt in sync.
And that’s probably why Nate Stanley was sacked three times. He shoulders the blame for the third one, where he held onto the ball for approximately 37 seconds, but the first two he had little time to rid himself of the ball. His sacks cost Iowa 22 yards and field position.
Boston College’s AJ Dillon was as good as advertised in the first half. He had 126 yards on 18 carries and a score in the first 30 minutes, and thoughts of a legendary second half from the true freshman tailback lived in-between the ears of Hawkeye fans everywhere.
But those thoughts didn’t cross the minds of Iowa defenders. The Iowa defense held Dillon to just 31 additional yards in the second frame. The BC running game was virtually non-existent, and the passing attack that torched Iowa for 127 yards in the first half gained just another 70 in the second. Josey Jewell, Josh Jackson & Co. (we should have given this defense a nickname this year. JJ & Sons?) gave up just a field goal to Boston College in the second half, allowing the Iowa offense to be just decent enough to make up the 17-10 halftime deficit and outscore the Eagles.
The Iowa offense cleaned it up, too. Stanley wasn’t sacked again and Wadley was able to find some rhythm. It still wasn’t pretty, but it was better than the first half offense.
I think Iowa maybe blitzed once the entire game, much to the chagrin of Hawkeye Twitter, but give Phil Parker credit: in the most pivotal play of the contest, his unit got pressure (despite being just a 4-man rush) that strip-sacked Darius Wade to recover the ball at midfield with the score tied 20-20 and 5 minutes left to go. Boston College was driving, and every Iowa fan in the world had seen this
movie sitcom before. The Eagles were going to drive down the field, score a touchdown with under 2 minutes remaining, and this enigmatic Iowa offense was going to turn the snow yellow in Yankee Stadium.
Thank Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse—both of whom have been fantastic this season, by the way—for rewriting that script.
Akrum Wadley ran it for 27 yards on the very next play, (running out of the shotgun!) Nate Wieting brought it to the 1-yard line, and Drake Kulick got his first touchdown ever as Iowa sealed the deal, 27-20.
Looking back on all I’ve written now, I feel I’ve been too soft on Iowa. The punting situation was an absolute disaster. Colten Rastetter averaged just 32 yards a boot; he even had one go for just 20 yards after the ball hit the long-snapper. That situation has to improve in the offseason.
Iowa was just 2-11 on third down conversions. The third-down playcalling was unimaginative and really defeatist at all times. I want to blame that on field conditions, but we’ve seen it before in good weather. I don’t think Brian Ferentz knows what to call on third downs, and it was a huge problem this game.
The win, really, can be attributed to two simple statistics that FOOTBALL GUYS like Kirk Ferentz pontificate all day long: penalties and turnovers. BC turned it over three times. Iowa kept the ball clean all day. Iowa was penalized three times for 20 yards; the Eagles six times for 57. That includes the unsportsmanlike conduct that led to a touchdown and a pass interference that put Iowa in position to make a field goal. Really, that’s your ballgame there.
And speaking of football guys...
It wasn’t pretty, but Iowa football never is. Especially in late December or early January. The football facility has a new trophy to display in its foyer. We lamented the results of this campaign and the bowl game destination early on, but it felt good to have our sitcom back. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a holiday episode that’s enjoyable. I’m looking forward to the new season.