Opinion | This Hawkeye football season is becoming a special one

A comeback 23-20 win over Penn State is the latest indication that this Iowa season will be one to remember.


Grace Smith

Kinnick stadium is seen during a football game between No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 23-20. (Grace Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The word “special” was used an awful lot by Hawkeye football players and coaches after then-No. 3 Iowa’s 23-20 win over then-No. 4 Penn State on Saturday.

They called the atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday special. The same was said about the Hawkeyes’ comeback win over the Nittany Lions. The crowd storming the field? Special.

“Today was definitely special,” Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum said. “It’s something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”

After Saturday’s game, this season looks like it could be pretty special for Iowa, too.

We’re only halfway through the 2021 season, but after Saturday, there seems to be enough evidence to back up the claim that Iowa’s win over Penn State was a game to remember in a season that’s going to also be worth remembering.

Maybe it was the 28-point win over Indiana in Week 1 that featured highlight play after highlight play after highlight play. Maybe it was the 10-point win on the road in a top-10 Cy-Hawk matchup that proved Iowa is still a Hawkeye state. Maybe it was the seven forced turnovers and 51 points in a rout against Maryland in College Park.

Well, if those wins weren’t enough of an indication, coming back from a 14-point deficit and scoring a game-winning touchdown to beat Penn State in the first top-five matchup at Kinnick Stadium since 1985 should definitely provide sufficient evidence that this season is turning into something special.

RELATED: Hawkeye fans storm Duke Slater Field to celebrate Iowa’s win over Penn State

“I grew up a Hawk fan my whole life, going to Kinnick as a little kid,” Iowa safety Jack Koerner said. “High-fiving so many little kids, screaming ‘Go Hawks!’ about 150 times is a moment I’ll never forget.”

Iowa is off a 6-0 start for only the third time in 23 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz.

The criticism that the Hawkeyes lack a top-tier win because Indiana and Iowa State aren’t as good as initially thought is, well, invalid after Iowa’s instant-classic victory over Penn State.

“We definitely felt like this was a statement win,” Iowa safety Jack Koerner said. “We try not to concern ourselves too much with outside noise, whether people think we deserve to be this or deserve to be that. But some of that stuff bleeds through a little bit and this definitely was a great, great win.”

Iowa trailed by 14 points in the first half. Things weren’t looking good.

Petras started one-of-nine passing with an interception. The Hawkeye defense uncharacteristically allowed two early touchdowns. But the defense settled in. And the offense heated up.

Yes, Iowa’s defense played better after Penn State starting quarterback Sean Clifford left the game with an injury (the Nittany Lions led 17-3 at the time). But hey, that’s football. Iowa’s secondary picked off both Penn State quarterbacks twice, giving the team a nation-best 16 interceptions on the year.

Petras threw two touchdowns after his rough start, including the game-winning 44-yard score to Nico Ragaini with 6:26 remaining in the game.

Also, just give punter Tory Taylor the Heisman now. The Australian sophomore backed the Nittany Lions deep in their own territory all game long.

RELATED: ‘The doughboys:’ How Iowa’s secondary got its nickname

“It was a team effort for sure,” Petras said. “When we weren’t moving the ball, the defense had our back, the special teams had our back. And then we were able to score that touchdown late to put us ahead. That’s awesome. Just a great day. Super proud to be part of this team.”

Iowa won what may be its signature regular season game of the Ferentz era, and Hawkeye fans poured out onto the field after the final whistle as a result.

A Hawkeye fan asked me to take a picture of him and his friend on the field after the game. I overheard someone else say “I never want to leave” as they soaked in the atmosphere.

A brief “we want Bama” chant broke out.

And, after Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M, No. 2 Iowa is ranked higher than the Crimson Tide. The last time Iowa was ranked this high was in 1985. Before that, it was 1961. The Hawkeyes have only spent 20 total weeks as No. 1 or No. 2.

Iowa’s comeback against a top-five team on a national stage was a special win for the Hawkeyes and Hawkeye fans alike.

“It’s No. 3 vs. No. 4. That’s the stuff you love and the stuff you’re going to remember for the rest of your life,” Linderbuam said. “I’ve been a part of a lot of big games, but I don’t know if they’ve been anything like this.”

The Hawkeyes are firmly in the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff races, and looking at the remaining regular season schedule, that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

Is this season becoming special? It sure seems like it.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.