What. A. Weekend.
What a weekend. That was more like it, eh? In a span of three days, the Hawkeye men’s hoopsters and the football team rattled off three impressive wins. When’s the last time you could say that? It’s been a minute.
In order to properly appreciate the quality of this Iowa sporting weekend, I think it’s best to Tarantino this thing and start at the end, then go back to the beginning and play things out chronologically. Wait, I hope that’s Tarantino. I don’t know, I can count on one hand the number of movies I’ve watched that weren’t animated in the last 4 years.
Whatever, here we go.
Saturday was perhaps the most dominating performance I’ve watched from the Hawkeyes in my time watching them. It hearkened back to the days of Hayden Fry hanging a million on the likes of Northwestern before they were relevant.
Iowa ended the day with 400 yards of total offense. They got their first hundred yard rusher of the season and topped the 200 yard mark as a unit. They also got scores from both the defense and their special teams. All that added up to 63 points in a game where the defense didn’t give up a single one.
It was a good old fashioned ass kicking. And coming off three straight losses that have left Hawkeye fans pulling their hair out, it was just what the doctor ordered.
Midway through the week, most Hawkeye fans were in a bit of a mood. Things weren’t going well. The football team had managed to take all the possibility of a Big Ten West title and a New Year’s Six bowl game and kiss it goodbye in a matter of 3 Saturdays.
But as we all looked for something, anything, to take our minds off our misery, Iowa basketball looked poised to deliver essentially the same type of season. Sure, they had won their first two games, but they were against what we assume to be complete cupcakes and they left us with a lot of question marks.
Could we really take anything away from those games? Was the defense actually going to be any better? Is Connor McCaffery for real?
Add to that the first real test of the season was coming up in Madison Square Garden and NOBODY thought a date with 7’2” Bol Bol was going to end well. Well, nobody but Vegas. But what do they know?
APPARENTLY A LOT!
Hawks Shoot Down #13 Ducks in MSG pic.twitter.com/fYjpe8kM3E— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) November 16, 2018
The city was built on idiots like us. When they posted a line of Iowa -4, most Hawkeye fans laughed at the easy money some lucky soul was about to make. Sure Iowa was going to get theirs, but there was no way they could slow down Oregon and all those high profile recruits.
Then they came out and did just that. It was spectacular. Iowa led from wire to wire, never trailing the Ducks. They played tremendous defense, limiting Bol to 14 points and 13th ranked Oregon to 69 points in total.
When it came to crunch time, Jordan Bohannon and Connor McCaffery had no problems breaking the press, handling the pressure, and knocking down free throws. Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener came up huge both inside and out. Everyone played their part and things went nearly perfectly.
It seemed as if the Hawks had captures lightning in a bottle.
Which is why we all kind of laughed when Vegas came out and had Iowa -4 the very next night against a UConn team that had just stifled 15th-ranked Syracuse. They put so much pressure on the backcourt, it seemed like a recipe for disaster. It would be a major test for Bohannon and McCaffery. And coming off the big win the night before, it seemed more likely we would see a letdown game.
Boy do they know. What we saw Friday was anything but a letdown game. Instead of coming out flat, Iowa came out and completely dominated a Connecticut team that had looked really impressive against Syracuse the night before. The Hawkeyes trailed only twice, never by more than 2 and never after the 16:37 mark in the first half.
They pulled away slowly, but surely, leading by as much as 18 in the first half and never looked back. They got huge contributions from the big men Luka Garza and Tyler Cook, who each topped the 20 point mark. But most impressive was the performance from Connor McCaffery.
When Jordan Bohannon left the game with two fouls in the first minute and a half, Bohannon stepped in and immediately made his presence felt. He finished with 19 points and 5 assists. He was tremendous, penetrating into the lane and finishing through contact or finding an open man diving to the hoop for a flush.
It was an impressive performance all around from a team that has shown now in back-to-back games against quality opponents more defensive intensity than we saw all last season. The result was the first tournament win for the Hawkeyes outside the state of Iowa in 30 years.
In a year where the football team has crushed our hopes and dreams, the basketball team seems poised to step in and create new ones. The only question is whether those will suffer a similar fate.
Coming off the emotional high of a 2K Empire Classic title, most Hawkeye fans were ready to turn the page on football and begin to enjoy the roller coaster of hoops. After all, for all the warts of last year’s team, they still manage to score a lot of points most nights and that’s enough to be entertaining if nothing else. Struggling to get to double digits in must-win games is not.
Like the rest of you, I was ready to simply get the game over with so we could move on. I didn’t expect to lose to Illinois, but I didn’t have high hopes. A hard fought game against a vastly inferior opponent seemed the most likely outcome.
I was wrong.
In a season where each time this team has had its back against the wall they’ve come up short, we finally saw the fight we’ve been looking for. The players came out with a vengeance we really haven’t seen. The result was complete domination in every facet of a team the Hawkeyes should beat.
Strangely, though it left many Iowa fans with more questions than answers. Primarily, where was all that in the last three weeks while the Hawkeyes were watching their hopes and dreams go down the drain?
On the surface, it seems like a legitimate question. But it’s grasping at straws. It’s unreasonable to expect the defense to come up with a fumble recover for a touchdown in any given week. It’s also unreasonable to expect the special teams unit to come up with a return for a touchdown. Or to block a punt to set up field position inside the 20. They did all those thing this week and that will certainly help.
It also helps to be playing Illinois. The Illini ranked 120th or worse in essentially every major defensive category you could imagine going into Saturday. Brian Ferentz and the offense was able to do things against them they won’t be able to do against anyone else in the country. With one major exception, they did almost nothing different in this game than we’ve seen all year, just with different results.
That one major exception was the usage of one Noah Fant. It was a major discussion point all week after he played only 9 snaps in the second half a week ago. It will be a major discussion this week for the polar opposite reason as Fant played came out and played every single offensive snap of the first quarter for Iowa. He ultimately led the Hawkeyes in targets and receptions as he found his way back into the endzone for the first time since the October 13th trip to Indiana.
So now you have the questions around why he got more reps this week. Why wasn’t he getting all those snaps every week? It worked so well this week, why wouldn’t you do that each game?
While you certainly want to maximize your opportunities with a talent like Fant, it’s not completely fair to draw any major conclusions from this one. No other defense Iowa faces has allowed or will allow the Hawkeyes to do the things they want to the way Illinois did. They won’t be so vastly inferior as to allow him the same opportunities.
And at the end of the day, neither Ferentz will be looking to prove a point quite the way they were this week.
It was quite clear both Kirk and Brian were trying to prove a point with their use of Fant early on Saturday. He was in with personnel packages he hasn’t played in all year (namely the 11 grouping with only 1 tight end) and he never came off.
However, I don’t think that point was well received. Rather, in such a dominating performance where everything turns up Iowa, most of us will be looking for them to replicate the performance in every way.
That might be possible against a Nebraska defense that is, well, less than stellar. But it remains unlikely we’ll see the scoring output from the defense and special teams, even with the very good units in both phases.
With the way things have gone the last few weeks, it’s hard to know what to expect against the Huskers. Will the offense be able to move the ball and put up points? Will the defense be able to bend without breaking? Will this team salvage what was once poised to be a special season?
There are a lot of questions heading into the final game, but for now, we enjoy a weekend where the basketball team gave us new hope and the football team reminded us why we once had it.
And we enjoy knowing that for all the ups and downs, we have a tremendous human being as a coach, who also happens to be one of the best to ever do it. There are certainly questions worth asking, but whether or not Kirk Ferentz cares about winning games is not one of them.
Congratulations to Coach Ferentz on becoming only the 5th coach in Big Ten history to win 150 games. Here’s hoping you can channel everything that got you there to get to 151. Nobody wants to live in a world where Nebraska fans have bragging rights from a game this decade.
Happy Monday. Happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful you weren’t born into a Nebraska family.