Brown: Surging Iowa football team no longer a fad
MADISON, Wis. — The 2015 Iowa football team is no longer a fad.
This feel-good story has legs after Saturday's slobberknocker of a 10-6 Big Ten victory at No. 19 Wisconsin.
The Hawkeyes came to Camp Randall looking for validation. They got it in what was hardly a pretty game. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
"I think any win is a beautiful thing," Iowa senior center Austin Blythe said.
Sixty minutes of good play, turnovers, adversity and lost opportunities later, the Badgers' perch on top of the Big Ten's West Division sure looks shaky.
Iowa beat a ranked foe for the first time since 2011. Come Sunday afternoon, the Hawkeyes could be ranked themselves for the first time since November 2010.
"If it happens, it happens," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after watching his defense lead the way to his first victory over Wisconsin since 2009. "We're not going to get too excited about it. If we're there in November, great."
He's right, but you've got to win now to make November matter. New Kirk, Old Kirk, it doesn't matter.
It's what his football team is doing on the field that matters to him.
"That can excite you a little," Ferentz said.
This was also the 120th victory of Ferentz's career, which let him pass former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez for ninth on the Big Ten's all-time wins list.
"To be honest, I haven't really thought too much about it," Ferentz said.
No, his thoughts were on his team and what they accomplished in front of more than 80,000 witnesses Saturday.
"We're just extremely thrilled to get the victory and head home with the (Heartland) trophy," Ferentz said. "Beyond that, it was a very positive step for our football team."
We've heard that last line from Ferentz for four weeks running. A positive step. Progress between Weeks 1 and 2 didn't happen in 2013 or 2014. Momentum was fleeting.
Not so far this season.
"We've got some fight," quarterback C.J. Beathard said after improving to 6-0 as a starter despite some pedestrian statistics.
Pedestrian, because Wisconsin's defense was also up to the task. Linebacker Joe Schobert had eight tackles. He had 3.5 tackles for a loss. He had three sacks. He had five quarterback hurries. He forced two fumbles and recovered one of them.
"I don't know who was hitting me at certain times," Beathard said. "But I heard it was him."
Running back Jordan Canzeri rushed for 125 yards against a Wisconsin defense that had held its last three foes to 93 total yards. But Iowa's defense limited the Badgers to just 86 yards. A Melvin Gordon hiccup.
It seems only fitting that on a day when defense dictated the game, it finished with a little deception. Iowa players headed across the field to collect the Heartland Trophy, and couldn't spot it. It was finally wheeled out further down the sideline.
And a team that went 0-4 in trophy games last season is now 2-0.
"I was excited to get that trophy," senior defensive end Drew Ott said. "I had never seen it, never touched it. Every trophy game is a big deal."
On Saturday, this trophy game also made a statement: Iowa is a legitimate West Division Big Ten contender.
"Our goal is to win the Big Ten Championship," said cornerback and kick returner Desmond King, who had two more interceptions Saturday. "You've got to win the division first. And then move on to bigger and better things."
Every player to a man echoed Ferentz's thoughts about being ranked. Every man but one.
"It would be nice," Ott said. "I haven't been ranked my whole college career. I don't think anyone on this team has."
On Saturday, this nice little story got real.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.