Leistikow: Young Hawkeyes grow up in historic rout of Ohio State
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The celebration will be unforgettable. It’ll be marked in time. A historic rout of a vaunted college football giant.
For the thousands of fans who stormed the field after Iowa’s shocking 55-24 blowout of No. 3 Ohio State, Kinnick Stadium became a turf stage for gleeful selfies and family photos.
Just in time for Christmas-card season.
Running back Akrum Wadley, after gaining 158 yards against one of the country’s top defenses, shared the moment with his parents. They came from his native New Jersey to work their way to the field and embrace their talented son.
“It took about 10 years for my mother to jump over the wall,” said Wadley, who had to have dreamt of moments like this when he returned for his senior season rather than turning pro. “Then my father. Took another 10 years.”
Offensive linemen James Daniels and Sean Welsh, Ohio natives who have been surrounded by Buckeyes their whole lives, relished the win against the team they grew up rooting for.
“Oh yeah,” Welsh said, a sly grin on his face. “There are a couple people at home that won’t be hearing the end of this.”
Daniels was more animated in his celebration.
After Toren Young’s 6-yard touchdown run punctuated the beatdown — the 55 points is the most ever allowed by an Urban Meyer-coached Buckeye team — Daniels ran off the field signing “O-H-I-O,” an Ohio Stadium ritual.
“That was just a shout to everybody back home,” Daniels said, laughing at the thought of it. “I had to do it.”
The Hawkeyes earned the right to celebrate however they wanted after a complete dismantling of a powerful juggernaut.
“It was just a great night. A lot of fun. A lot of guys coming together,” Welsh said. “Good team win. All the phases were kind of clicking together. It just felt good.”
Where did this performance come from?
The offense that could barely run for a yard at Michigan State raced up and down the field with incredible balance — 243 yards rushing, 244 passing — and hogged the football for nearly 35 minutes against what head coach Kirk Ferentz said “looked like an NFL defense to us.”
The Iowa defense, after giving up a few early long drives, locked down quarterback J.T. Barrett in the final 2½ quarters.
Barrett entered with one interception in eight games. Saturday, he threw four — three to sensational junior Joshua Jackson, and one to Amani Hooker for a pick-six on the game’s first, tone-setting play.
I asked star senior Josey Jewell: How did you do it?
“Preparation,” one of the country’s top linebackers said. “It happened during the week. The battle is won before it’s fought.”
It was clear, Iowa out-coached the Buckeyes at every turn.
It had been a rough week for Hawkeye offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. A press-box tirade last week turned into headlines and apologies, and a stern reminder from the head coach (his father) that “it can’t happen again.”
Saturday, Brian was brilliant.
He called a fantastic game, unleashing tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson (two touchdowns each) and continually keeping Ohio State on its heels. A defense that came into Saturday with an incredible 71 tackles for loss this season registered just three for five yards.
The best thing Iowa did Saturday was continue to attack.
The Hawkeyes led 31-17 at halftime. In past years, they might have tried to nurse their way to the finish line with a two-touchdown lead.
Saturday, they were relentless.
“I don't know what they average a game; 900 yards of offense? It’s ridiculous,” said Kirk Ferentz, who won his 141st game as Iowa’s coach — now just two short of tying Hayden Fry for the school record. “… You'd better be playing with your foot on the gas, because these guys can close the gap pretty quickly. And I think our players understood that.”
All the way until the final gun.
A swarming of the field.
A 6-3 record overall, 3-3 in the Big Ten Conference. Iowa now can carry some swagger into next week’s showdown against another top-five team, unbeaten Wisconsin.
“We're hardly out of the woods right now,” Ferentz said. “But tonight we looked more like we want to look like, an Iowa football team.”
The frustrations of a mistake-prone offense were washed away, at least for one night. This looks like a program that’s on the rise — maybe quicker than we thought around a young nucleus of players.
Iowa sophomore Nate Stanley was the better quarterback on this night, his strong right arm firing five touchdowns, with no interceptions. Give credit to his offensive line, which played with two freshman tackles in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs against one of the nation's best defensive lines.
These guys grew up Saturday night.
“With young players, what they need is to gain some confidence, and you can't hand it to them,” Ferentz said. “You try to get it to them in practice and all that, but at some point you've got to go out and do something, and I think at least we did something tonight.”
It was a memorable moment for everyone in attendance: Iowa's biggest blowout of the Buckeyes in school history.
“We always talk about getting signature wins,” Wadley said. “This was one of them.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.