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Pat Harty: Has Iowa turned the corner? Perhaps

[ 0 ] November 29, 2013 |

Now, it’s time.

Kirk Ferentz even said so while being interviewed on the field at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. His team had just improved to 8-4 on Friday by whipping Nebraska 38-17 to double its win total from last season, and Ferentz acknowledged that the corner had been turned just a little.

With a chance to win nine games and perhaps add to its January bowl legacy, the Iowa football program is now relevant again.

Whether Iowa had turned the corner has been an ongoing debate ever since the Hawkeyes rebounded from a 30-27 loss to still undefeated Northern Illinois in the season opener to win four games in a row, highlighted by a 23-7 victory over what now is an 8-3 Minnesota team on Sept. 28.

Some fans have wanted to say the corner was turned since a gritty performance Oct. 19 at Ohio State, even though the Hawkeyes lost 34-24 in Columbus.

Others said ‘No way’ after Iowa unraveled in the second half against Wisconsin, losing 28-9 on Nov. 2 at Kinnick Stadium.

What can’t be disputed is that Iowa is moving back in the right direction at a much faster pace than the person writing this column had predicted. I picked Iowa to finish 5-7 this season, but was willing to be talked into 6-6 and would’ve at least considered an argument for 7-5.

But 8-4, including 5-3 in the Big Ten? There is no way I would have predicted such a dramatic turnaround.

So my hats off to the players and coaches for proving lots of people wrong. I was just one of many skeptics.

In fairness to Nebraska, injuries have decimated its starting lineup, especially on the offensive line and at quarterback.

But in fairness to Iowa, its margin of victory was 21 points on Friday and the game didn’t seem that close. It was apparent from start to finish that Iowa was superior to Nebraska in the trenches. And that’s where Iowa usually prevails under Kirk Ferentz.

There was just enough finesse to go with the power and now Hawkeye fans have the ultimate combo package heading into December: a winning football team and a nationally-ranked men’s basketball team.

It sort of feels like 2008 all over again (at least in football, because I probably don’t need to remind you that 2008 was not a good year for Iowa men’s basketball).

There is no Shonn Greene leading the way at running back, but junior bruiser Mark Weisman and sophomore cruiser Jordan Canzeri combine to make a similar weapon.

Sophomore Jake Rudock is an up-and-coming quarterback who has a tendency to be reckless, as evidenced by his 12 interceptions. But he also has a knack for winning games, as evidenced by Iowa’s 8-4 record.

Sound familiar?

Ricky Stanzi was the same way. He’d cause fans to scratch their heads at times, but more times than not, he’d have them celebrating by game’s end.

Iowa also has plenty of young talent on the roster, which also was the case in 2008, and the 2014 schedule could be much worse on paper.

So perhaps this is the beginning of resurgence No. 3 under Ferentz. Assuming it is, that would put Ferentz in select company. Try naming other coaches who have rebuilt the same program three times.

Besides the victory, the other good news Friday was that Rudock, according to Ferentz, sustained only a minor knee sprain in the fourth quarter and is expected to be out for about 10 days.

Ferentz also said that senior linebacker Anthony Hitchens was fine after being blind-sided with a block and then helped off the field late in the game.

So this was a victory for Iowa any way you slice it.

The defense did what now is expected against teams that aren’t elite, which is being dominant with its front seven.

Nebraska had only 89 rushing yards, which is barely one-third of its 233.7 average entering the game.

It’s also probably time to consider Iowa’s three senior starting linebackers — which in addition to Hitchens include James Morris and Christian Kirksey — as perhaps the best in the nation, let alone the Big Ten. It’s hard to find a group of linebackers, with exception to Michigan State, that impacts a game as much as Iowa’s does.

A turnaround like this helps in other ways, too, such as recruiting. This isn’t to suggest that prized offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher will flip back to Iowa from Alabama. But at least Ferentz and his cohorts have given the Cedar Falls native something to think about.

And, as for the rivalry with Nebraska, that also turned the corner Friday with Iowa finally doing its part for a change.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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