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Pat Harty: Hawks prove to be proud, resilient group

[ 0 ] January 1, 2014 |

Memo to Iowa football fans: Give it some time, but you’ll get over how 2014 started for the Iowa football program.

It could take a few days or weeks or months, but you’ll get over how close the 2013 Hawkeyes were to defeating Louisiana State in the Outback Bowl on Wednesday in Tampa, Fla.

You’ll come to realize that one game, even one played on a grand stage, doesn’t define a team or a season.

You’ll come to appreciate the 2013 season for being a breakthrough campaign at a time when many assumed the Hawkeyes would continue to break down under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz.

You could argue that the 2014 Outback Bowl was gravy for Iowa, considering it already had doubled its win total from the previous season by finishing 8-4 in the regular season.

The players didn’t treat it like gravy, though. They fought to the bitter end before losing 21-14 in a game that early on showed signs of becoming the Out-Classed Bowl.

Your team could have easily folded after absorbing an early haymaker against a proven heavyweight, but it followed the example of its head coach and stayed the course, just like it did throughout the regular season.

“The credit goes to our players, and this goes back 13 months ago,” Ferentz said on Iowa’s post-game radio show. “They’ve been fully committed to doing a good job and to working hard and making sure that we’re at a destination like Florida today.”

LSU was the more physically gifted team and any thought of the Tigers not wanting to be at the Outback Bowl — as discussed by the media heading into the game — was erased when they scored on their opening drive behind a physical rushing attack.

You knew then that Iowa could be in serious trouble against the only team that defeated Auburn this season and against the only defense that made Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel look ordinary.

But you also should have known that the Iowa defense, led by three incredible senior linebackers, wouldn’t let Wednesday’s game turn ugly.

The loss of Iowa’s three senior linebackers is one thing fans might never get over because their impact was far-reaching. James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens were stars on and off the field. Replacing them will be a daunting task.

Morris, who finished his career with 400 tackles, addressed the upcoming transition moments after Wednesday’s loss.

“I’m proud of the turnaround from last year to this year,” the Solon native said. “I’m proud of my teammates and how much they’ve improved. It’s been hard work. It didn’t happen overnight. We didn’t want to be 8-5. But at the end of the season we are, and that’s the best we can be because there are no games left on the schedule.

“Now it’s just about this next group of guys, seeing how good they can be. Can they push it? Can they get to nine, 10, 11, 12 wins maybe? It’s just going to come down to senior leadership and are they willing to drag guys with them in the offseason, make the sacrifices necessary? I think they can, but it’s going to take a lot of work.”

There is reason for optimism with eight starters returning on offense, including potential all-America left tackle Brandon Scherff, with three starters returning from a vastly improved defensive line and with true freshman cornerback Desmond King showing signs of being special.

Combine the returning personnel with a 2014 schedule that just screams opportunity and this season could be a springboard to bigger and better things; much like what happened in 2008 and 2009 when Iowa finished 9-4 and 11-2, respectively.

The Outback Bowl showed even in defeat that the 2013 Iowa football team was a proud and resilient group thanks in large part to the seniors. It was more proof that the Iowa football program is moving in the right direction because the 2012 Hawkeye squad likely would have been humiliated by LSU.

This isn’t to suggest that you accept Wednesday’s defeat as a moral victory. Ferentz no longer has that luxury after 15 seasons on the job.

It’s just a reminder that the situation could be a lot worse — and was just a year ago.

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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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