PASADENA, Calif. — How this season ultimately is remembered in Iowa football history requires more time to process.
So will the healing from Friday’s Rose Bowl debacle.
Iowa flopped on the New Year’s Day national stage in every area — offense, defense, special teams — and got blown out by Stanford 45-16 before a Hawkeye-dominated crowd of 94,268.
“Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Iowa senior lineman Jordan Walsh said.
The loss wasn’t befitting of everything Iowa’s football program accomplished during a 12-0 regular season. What is going to sting the most is that this whole turnaround from last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl wipeout seemed to unravel — almost in a blur.
“We knew they came here to make a statement, and they definitely did," senior receiver Tevaun Smith said. "They put a stamp on it. They definitely proved they were the better team today.”
Christian McCaffrey was even better than advertised; Iowa’s 19th-ranked defense was worse. That was evident on the game’s first play. The electric sophomore lined up in the backfield and flat-out beat safety Jordan Lomax on a passing route, and Kevin Hogan hit McCaffrey for a 75-yard touchdown 11 seconds into the game.
The avalanche was only beginning.
"We had a similar situation to that in 2009 at Penn State. They hit an 80-yard pass on us right off the bat," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "But we came back and won the football game. Just like this game won't define this team, one play doesn't define a game. We had ample opportunity after that."
The Register's Andy Hamilton and Chad Leistikow recap Iowa's 45-16 loss against Stanford in the Rose Bowl and breakdown its historic season. Bryon Houlgrave/The Register
The offense failed.
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, who had been fantastic at limiting mistakes all year, made maybe his worst throw of the season on an interception that freshman Quenton Meeks returned for a 66-yard touchdown and a 21-0 Stanford first-quarter lead.
Behind a reshuffled offensive line that saw true freshman James Daniels make his second career start at left guard, Beathard was sacked seven times. Walsh, a first-team all-Big Ten Conference guard, missed blocks and was flagged for multiple false starts. Sure-handed Henry Krieger Coble and Matt VandeBerg dropped passes.
This effort wasn’t characteristic of a Hawkeye offense averaging 32.1 points per game.
"We had a good month of preparation coming into this game, and obviously the outcome didn't go how we wanted," VandeBerg said. "The first half didn't go our way at all."
The defense failed.
McCaffrey was great, but poor tackling and poor angles made him greater. Just about every Hawkeye defender had their chances at him, including all-American Desmond King, and he made them look silly. Iowa’s defense looked even more helpless than it did in last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Tennessee, which was 35-7 at halftime.
This one was 35-0.
“We knew he was good coming in," Iowa linebacker Cole Fisher said. "I feel bad the guy didn’t win the Heisman, based on that performance today. He’s probably one of the best players I’ve ever played against.”
Cole Fisher, Jordan Walsh, Tevaun Smith, Macon Plewa and Austin Blythe speak after the Rose Bowl.
The special teams failed.
One of the sour-taste areas of 2014’s disappointment that got lots of offseason focus was buttoning up return coverage and reducing big plays. The first time McCaffrey touched the ball on a return, he sprung for a 63-yard touchdown — even juking so effectively that starting middle linebacker Josey Jewell tumbled to the pristine Rose Bowl Stadium grass.
All the Hawkeye fans — and to say there were 50,000 of them here might be understating it — that made the pilgrimage to this spectacular venue came to watch a football program’s attempt to appropriately finish a magical season with a 13th win.
They were geared up, hoping to see one of Iowa football’s most defining moments: a Rose Bowl victory that has eluded them for 57 years. Instead, it was a Rose redux: Iowa has lost all four Rose Bowls under Hayden Fry and now Ferentz, and none has been close.
Friday's highlight was perhaps a Bronx cheer of relief when Marshall Koehn’s 39-yard field goal late in the third quarter helped Iowa avoid being the first Rose Bowl team to be shut out since Fry’s first of three Iowa teams to come here (28-0 to Washington in 1982).
Beathard threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes, to VandeBerg and Akrum Wadley, that made the scoreboard more respectable.
Where this teams rates in Hawkeye history, time will tell. Twelve wins stands as a school record, and Iowa seemed to actually gain national respect with a 16-13, last-minute loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 5.
But with the Spartans getting embarrassed themselves in the College Football Playoff (38-0 to Alabama), Iowa’s profile on the big-game stage took a severe blow Friday in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains. Judging just how good this Hawkeye team really was, is difficult, especially considering its best win — 40-10 at Northwestern — looks a little less shiny after the Wildcats were pounded 45-6 by Tennessee earlier Friday.
Throughout the Hawkeye locker room after the game, seniors were hugging each other at the end of a 12-month journey.
“We’re sad we couldn’t finish it out for them strong," Beathard said. "We played poorly today, but it doesn’t take away from the special regular season we had.”
The Iowa quarterback battled through his 14th start of the season after an early injury. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Associated Press No. 6 Iowa will probably take a hit in the final national rankings, falling short of surpassing the high mark under Ferentz of seventh in 2009.
Conclusively, though, this team and its fan base will return to the heartland unsatisfied. Beathard and VandeBerg, both juniors, say they've already got a chip on their shoulders going into 2016.
Lomax was asked what his message would be to the juniors left behind.
“Just continue to build on the legacy. Iowa football’s not done. Iowa football is back," the co-captain said. "Just continue to build on the little things. Don’t fall off. And remember to stay together.”