Ferentz recaps 2019 Hawkeye football season

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz discussed the Hawkeyes' 2019 football season on Monday as he prepares for 2020.

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Katina Zentz

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz presents the trophy after the Holiday Bowl game between Iowa and USC at SDCCU Stadium on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Trojans, 49-24.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

When Iowa fell short of its original goal to reach the Big Ten Championship, it shifted its focus quickly. It wanted 10 wins.

It reached that mark with a 49-24 victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27.

But there’s a chance the Hawkeyes wouldn’t have reached double-digit wins if it wasn’t for a few important games throughout the season.

Iowa’s year changed in Week 3 when it traveled to Ames to take on in-state rival Iowa State.

In an instant classic, the Hawkeyes downed the Cyclones 18-17 after Iowa State muffed a punt to seal the game for Iowa. With ESPN’s College GameDay in town, the game featured two weather delays and took five hours and 53 minutes.

Nothing would be the same after.

“If you go back and look at the Iowa State game, it was certainly a pivotal moment for us,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t think people outside the state can really appreciate how tough and competitive a rivalry this is. For us to go in there and play a game that lasted into the night and took forever to play, for our guys to keep their focus, to keep their composure, and to make critical plays when they had to, I thought was really impressive.

“It was after that game, you start to let yourself think, ‘Hey, maybe we got what it takes to have a really good football team.’”

After picking up a win over Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 28, Iowa’s offense fell into a slump when it faced two of the Big Ten’s best teams in Michigan and Penn State in October.

While the Hawkeyes didn’t have a problem moving the ball — they racked up a combined 617 yards in the two games — they couldn’t put the ball in the end zone. That made for a combined 15 points and two losses against two of the conference’s best teams.

Iowa received some bad news a week after the Penn State defeat when wide receiver Brandon Smith went down with a leg injury after posting the best performance of his career.

To go along with that, Iowa lost two weeks later at Wisconsin, essentially eliminating themselves from the Big Ten West race.

That’s when the new goal was born.

“All of us had some soul searching to do after the Wisconsin loss,” Ferentz said. “Obviously, our chances of being Big Ten [West] champs pretty much were diminished at that point, so we had to reset our goals and shoot for a 10-win season.”

That’s the route Iowa took, and it worked.

The Hawkeyes bounced back after losing to the Badgers by knocking out a top-10 Minnesota team at home before taking care of Illinois and escaping Lincoln with a game-winning field goal by Keith Duncan to beat Nebraska.

The three-straight wins to close the regular season set Iowa up with a shot for a 10-win season in the Holiday Bowl against a name-brand program with plenty of history: USC.

All the Hawkeyes did from there was punch the Trojans in the mouth from the second quarter on, toppling USC, 49-24, behind Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s three touchdowns.

The win gave Iowa its 47th victory over the past year, tied for fifth among all Big Ten and Big 12 teams.

“Just finishing up the 2019 season, certainly we played our best football at the end,” Ferentz said. “We really peaked at the right time.”

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