Brown: Redemption puts Iowa at 2-0

Rick Brown
Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri hurdles players as he battles for yards against Iowa State during the Cy-Hawk series on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.

AMES, Ia. – Jordan Canzeri felt terrible.

Iowa's senior running back had just fumbled the ball away inside the Iowa State 10-yard line, with the game tied and 9 minutes to play in Saturday's in-state tug-of-war at Jack Trice Stadium.

"I had a bad play," Canzeri said. "A lot of people would have let that affect their whole game. It was in my head. I was very upset because I fumbled. The whole team told me to stay positive. They said, "We need you the next series.' "

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Canzeri listened, put his helmet back on and reported back to work on the next series after Desmond King's 34-yard punt return put the ball at the 50.

Canzeri had three carries in the go-ahead touchdown drive. And after King picked off Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson on the ensuing possession, the Hawkeyes sealed the deal with a two-play, 25-yard drive. A two Canzeri-carry drive. Iowa 31, Iowa State 17.

Redemption. And Canzeri had company. King was having a tough game, too. He botched a first-half kickoff return out-of-bounds at the Iowa 2-yard line.

"I had to make a split-second decision right there," King said. "I just made a terrible decision."

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King had already been called for a personal foul and defensive holding in the game. He also tried to field a punt inside the Iowa 10 in the fourth quarter and was taken down at his own 6.

"Just a bunch of mental mistakes," King said.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz admitted afterwards that he had given some thought to pulling King from kick-returning duties. Funny how things work out.

Because like Canzeri, King redeemed himself with his game-changing punt return and that game-clinching interception.

"As a defensive back, you have to have short-term memory," King said. "That's one thing I had in my head."

Redemption, and a 2-0 record heading into Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Pittsburgh at Kinnick Stadium. Five days before the game at Iowa State, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta did a little looking ahead. Win at Iowa State, he told me, and that night game will be electric.

"The second half, they just played so well and made great adjustments," Barta said after watching his team outscore the Cyclones 21-0 in the second half. "Now, let's fill Kinnick up next week."

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This was not a thing of beauty for most of the first half. Iowa appeared headed to its fourth loss in the last five meetings with the Cyclones.

But Iowa pulled it together and played inspired football the second half. The defensive line started getting pressure on Richardson. The secondary played much better. And quarterback C.J. Beathard and the offense found a rhythm.

The Hawkeyes' second win was an important step in the development of this team. An important next chapter, is the way Ferentz phrased it.

"If we're going to be competitive in November the way we want to be, we've got to find a way to win games like this," Ferentz said. "There was nothing easy about this game."

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Ferentz said his team "weathered a lot of tough periods." That's an understatement. Especially defensively. Richardson picked the Hawkeyes apart in the first half. Then he got plucked the second half.

"I wish we could take credit for a halftime speech or adjustments," Ferentz said. "It was more about getting a feel. In the first half the ball was going up and down. It seemed one-sided. The second half we played really good defense. We took away the run and made them play a little bit left-handed."

That was a good thing, since Richardson is right-handed.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.