I explained the premise of this series of posts two weeks ago, so if you want the full explanation, make with the clicky. Long story short: it's #tbt, or Throwback Thursdays, on social media, so we're using that as an excuse to pay homage to the 2004 Iowa football season, one of the most wildly enjoyable Iowa seasons in memory. This week brings us to the Iowa-Penn State game, unquestionably one of the most memorable Iowa games of the last 25 years.
Another big hat-tip to The Hawkeye Historian for uploading this video.
0:00 -- Penn State was mired in the end of their self-described "dark ages" in 2004 (a season in which they had an especially atrocious offense), but the quality of the opposition is really irrelevant. This game is memorable in large part because of how it played out* and it could have been just about anyone on that other sideline**. (Well, not literally -- for a game this perverse to exist, you needed an opponent with a tremendous defense and a horrific offense; '04 Penn State definitely fit the bill.)
* That said, certain real-life events (discussed below) cast a large shadow over this game as well and definitely contributed to it being so memorable.
** To be fair, the fact that the opponent was Penn State was at least a little bit meaningful, given Ferentz's Pennsylvania roots and the fact that there were few Big Ten teams that his Iowa teams seemed to play better than Penn State (or least Joe Paterno's Penn State teams). The fact that the opponent was Penn State did probably add a little extra oomph to the proceedings.
0:35 -- I always forget that this game was Penn State's Homecoming. Homecoming! That's just a little extra salt in the wound right there.
1:00 -- In 2004, Michael Robinson was athletically gifted but inconsistent and poorly utilized. In 2005, he became a destroyer of worlds and led Penn State within a whisker of vying for a national championship.
1:18 -- The Sam Brownlee Era begins. (gulp)
2:15 -- Well, that's an inauspicious start. A bad snap leads to David Bradley kicking the ball out of the back of the end zone less than two minutes into the game.
2:37 -- I mean, you should probably block Matt Roth. Just a thought.
2:55 -- Robbie Gould would go on to became one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, but he was a long way from those heady days when he was with Penn State in 2004.
3:25 -- Just a reminder that Iowa was throwing short of the sticks on third down long before our favorite Texan moseyed into town.
4:03 -- HOLY SHIT. HOLY FREAKING SHIT. IOWA RAN A FAKE FIELD GOAL. AND IT WORKED. I completely forgot that happened in this game. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go pick my jaw up off the floor.
4:47 -- Iowa ended up having to kick a field goal anyway because that's just what the football gods decreed would happen in this game. The old gods of Puntus, Fieldgoalio, and Safetyus were in control of this game; we were but playthings in their grand contest.
5:13 -- 3-2 is always a weird-looking score.
5:18 -- Sean Considine!
5:55 -- Iowa starts their drive at the PSU 10-yard line after Considine's long return after the interception, but once again fails to cross the plane of the end zone and must settle for a field goal. All hail Fieldgoalio.
6:17 -- Two years ago, Iowa played a memorable OT thriller against Penn State in Happy Valley in which Zack Mills helped guide a furious PSU comeback in the second half and finished with 399 yards and 4 touchdowns. That Zack Mills did not take the field in this game. Marcus Paschal will take that ball from you, Zack.
6:35 -- "Oh, Matt Roth, hello." Again, you should probably think about blocking Matt Roth. Or not! That works for me, frankly. Also, Zack Mills employs the Brett Favre "Fall Down So I Don't Get Crushed" Special here. Might as well crib from the best, right?
6:41 -- The best part of this Big Ten sportsmanship ad? The only things in it that are still present today are Kirk Ferentz, the Penn State uniforms, and Wisconsin fans doing "Jump Around."
6:53 -- I lied: the best part of this ad is John L. Smith. MISS U, JOHN L.
7:13 -- Penn State blocks an Iowa punt and recovers the ball at the Iowa 10-yard line. Oh dear. The offenses for both teams in this game owed the defenses (and special teams) a month's worth of steak dinners after this debacle.
8:26 -- Well, Penn State didn't score a touchdown despite starting their drive inside the Iowa 10-yard line, but surely they'll convert this chip-shot field goal -- an extra point, really -- and cut Iowa's lead to 6-5, so... oh.
8:40 -- "They're not booing, they're saying GOOOOOULD!"
9:00 -- The ZACKMILLSENING continues! Antwan Allen decides to get in on the pick party action for the Iowa defense.
9:30 -- Drew Tate gets tackled on the one-inch line and comes perilously close to conceding a safety. In related news, a light bulb goes off over Kirk Ferentz's head...
9:55 -- Ahh... the Eff You Safety. Maybe it wouldn't make a top-ten list of best plays of the Ferentz Era (The Catch, 7 Got 6, Daniel Murray's Kick, The Pinball Pick-Six, The Duongening, The Duongening Part Deux, etc.), but it will always have a very special place in my heart.
In truth, this play is a wonderful mix of tactical savvy and tremendous balls. Iowa's already had a bad snap lead to a safety and had another punt blocked (setting up Penn State inside the Iowa 10-yard line) earlier in the game; punting was very much not winning in this game for Iowa. Given the location of this punting situation, the odds of catastrophe were alarmingly high. And the absolute best case scenario probably had Penn State pinned back no further than midfield. A safety concedes two points, but gives Iowa much more breathing room on the ensuing kick, enabling them to pin Penn State's offense further back. Considering how miserable that offense had looked for much of the day, making them travel as far as possible to snatch the potential game-winning points seems like a very prudent decision. On the other hand... it takes some serious cojones to give up two points when you only have a 6-2 lead and give the other team the ball knowing that any offensive score will beat you.
10:03 -- I love the fact that not only did David Bradley run out of the end zone (an automatic safety), but two offensive linemen also committed holding penalties. That was the safety-iest safety that ever safety-ed.
10:30 -- Mike Tomczak is a fan of the eff you safety. Pam Ward, not so much.
11:50 -- The return after the free kick starts Penn State on their own 34-yard line; Iowa netted a field position of at least 15-20 yards on the safety.
11:55 -- A very impassioned debate about the merits of the Eff You Safety by Tomczak and Ward.
12:28 -- And that's why you give the ball back to the Penn State offense. Jovon Johnson grabbed this interception (incorrectly identified as Antwan Allen by Pam Ward), meaning that every single starting Iowa defensive back got an interception in this game. Penn State quarterbacks were feeling very generous.
13:10 -- Aaron Mickens, third down back extraordinaire. He picked up a first down on a screen pass catch-and-run a few plays earlier, then picked up another first down on the dreaded third down draw play.
13:30 -- Amazingly, the Penn State offense basically never had the ball again after that Jovon Johnson interception. Technically, they did get one more possession -- Michael Robinson was sacked for a 7-yard loss on first down and fumbled after taking another hit on second down -- but for the most part the Iowa offense effectively played keep-away for the remaining eight (!) minutes in the game. That's a masterpiece of running out the clock and doing it with Sam Brownlee and Aaron Mickens as your primary running backs? Stunning.
14:14 -- It's hard not to be moved by the raw emotion on display in that shot. Kirk Ferentz coached this game the day after his father's funeral and there's little doubt that this was one of the most emotionally-charged games he's ever coached. That emotion is the icing on the top of the cake that is this game; it would be thoroughly memorable anyway for the bizarre scoreline and the Eff You Safety, but having it come the day after John Ferentz's funeral and with all the emotion he and his family displayed after the game only adds to the overall scene. In no way, shape, or form was this an ordinary game.
14:50 -- Hearing an audible "Let's Go Hawks" chants in an opposing stadium never gets old.
16:55 -- Ferentz explains the logic behind the Eff You Safety: "To me, when you kick from your own one[-yard line], that's an automatic three for the other team. There's no sense doing that. We're playing great defense. You gotta go with what's hot. We have great faith in our players."
I'm not sure any field goal kick was an automatic three for Penn State with the way Gould was kicking in that game, but his logic still makes a good amount of sense. If nothing else, you're limiting the amount of snaps that Penn State gets to run inside the Iowa red zone, which is smart -- the more chances they have to make a play in that area, the more chances they have to maybe get a freak touchdown (and make no mistake -- any touchdown scored in this game would have been the definition of a freak touchdown).
The second part of his statement -- "We're playing great defense. You gotta go with what's hot. We have great faith in our players." -- is a mantra that's guided the last decade of Iowa football, for good or ill. When it works, you get something like the 2009 season. Unfortunately, when it doesn't work, you get something like the 2010 season.
There are very few Iowa games that can be recognized solely by the final score. Certain moments may be indelible, but the score may just be a footnote. Quick, do you remember the final score of The Catch? (Iowa 30, LSU 25.) Do you remember the final score of 7 Got 6? (Iowa 15, Michigan State 13 Iowa.) Do you remember the final score of The Goalpost Game? (Iowa 45, Minnesota 21.) Do you remember the final score of The Daniel Murray Game? (Iowa 24, Penn State 23.) For me, there are only two, maybe three, Iowa scores that are unerringly etched into my brain: 12-10 (1985 Iowa-Michigan), 55-0 (2008 Iowa-Minnesota), and... 6-4 (2004 Iowa-Penn State). Barring a case of amnesia, I will never forget that score.
BONUS: Penn State beat writer David Jones wrote a piece on the 10-year anniversary of the game today, and it's well worth a read, although it's skewed toward Penn State, obviously.