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Throwback Thursday: Iowa Football Goes 5-7

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The Hawkeyes have only finished 5-7 once in program history. It was not a fun experience.

Hayden Fry
Hayden Fry had a lot of great years at Iowa. 1992 was not one of them.

Hayden Fry is a college football legend. What he accomplished during his tenure in Iowa City will go down as one of the most remarkable coaching jobs on record.

Just three years into his tenure, after taking over a program without a winning season in 18 years and three coaches, Hayden Fry won the Big Ten Conference Championship and had the Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl. A decade later, Fry and the Hawkeyes won 10 games, fresh off their third Big Ten Title and Rose Bowl appearance. They’d had just one losing season in that span, leading the fanbase to believe it has officially turned the corner.

In 1992, things weren’t so rosy. In Fry’s 14th season in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes we’re breaking in a first year offensive coordinator. Don Patterson had been an assistant under Fry dating to his time at North Texas but was now getting his shot.

Patterson would remain OC for Iowa until Fry’s departure in 1998, but that first season was not his best. The Hawkeyes averaged just over 20 points per game, 69th nationally. They scored more than 28 just once, in the annual trouncing of Northwestern.

The defense, for their part, gave up just over 23 points per game - 59th nationally. That included hitting that same 28 point threshold four times, most notably in a 52-28 beat down at #4 Michigan.

Perhaps laying the groundwork for the non-conference scheduling we see today, the 1992 Iowa football schedule was a murderer’s row. The preseason #16 Hawkeyes started off with a neutral site matchup against NC State in the Kick Off Classic, which they lost 24-14.

Iowa came back the following week with their home opener against #1 Miami (FL) in Kinnick. The Hurricanes rocked Iowa 24-7 as Gino Toretta threw for 433 yards and 2 TDs on 31/51 passing.

That was followed by the annual matchup with Iowa State, which the Hawkeyes won 21-7. Following the win, senior defensive lineman Bret Bielema infamously approached ISU head coach Jim Walden and said “You’re a big prick. It’s been a pleasure kicking your ass the last five years”. God bless Bert.

But there was no reprieve. There was no FCS opponent waiting to close out the non-conference slate. Instead, the Hawkeyes traveled to Boulder to take on #10 Colorado. That too went south. Iowa fell 28-12, falling to a dismal 1-3.

As a reward for the brutal non-conference slate, the Hawkeyes kicked off the Big Ten schedule with a road trip to Ann Arbor to take on the #4 Michigan Wolverines. Wee already know that was the biggest route of them all in ‘92.

From there, things finally relented just a bit. Wisconsin of 1992 was not Wisconsin of 2017 (or 1993, for that matter), and Fry took down former assistant Barry Alvarez in his third season with the Badgers 23-22. Iowa next went on the road to beat Illinois 24-14, before returning to Kinnick for a two-game home stand.

Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes would lose both those matchups. Purdue took down Iowa 27-16 in another offensive struggle for the Hawks. Then it was unranked (!!) Ohio State beating Iowa 38-15. Iowa went on to finish the year out 2-1 with a 14-0 win at #5WIndiana, a 56-14 curb-stomping of Northwestern and a 28-13 loss at Minnesota.

It was a dissatisfying end to a largely dissatisfying season. The roster had some talent, though it certainly wasn’t loaded. Jim Hartlieb was at the helm, but battled injuries throughout the year. Danan Hughes, Harold Jasper and Matt Cross at receiver and Marvin Lampkin and Lew Montgomery leading the running backs. The aforementioned Bielema was on the defensive line with Carlos James, Doug Buch and Jason Olejniczak each recording at least 3 interceptions out of the secondary.

Iowa finished the year at 5-7, the only time in program history the Hawkweyes have finished with that record. It was a rough year in what had been a great run to that point for Fry. It was also the beginning of the end for Iowa’s great coach. The Hawkeyes would go 6-6, 5-5-1, 8-4, 9-3, 7-5 and 3-8 in Fry’s final six years.

Here’s hoping your 5-7 is better than 1992.