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The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa football Week 13 column: Hawkeyes’ confidence makes them anything but claustrophobic in tight games

No matter how many three-and-outs the offense trots out, or how many months passed since their game-winning kicker last made a field goal, the Hawkeyes never lose belief.
Cody Blissett
Players scramble after an incomplete pass during a football game between Iowa and Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska on Friday, Nov. 23, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers 13-10.

LINCOLN, Neb. — What will it do next? 

That is the question every Iowa football fan should be asking themselves after the Hawkeyes miraculous 13-10 victory over Nebraska on Friday. A defensive lineman snagging an interception while playing outside his position? A backup kicker drilling a 38-yard game-winner on his first attempt in the Black and Gold? And all the while in freezing temperatures amidst a hostile crowd of more than 86,000 people. 

Heading into the contest as three-point underdogs prior to kickoff, head coach Kirk Ferentz and his squad proved that they are anything but. As Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule put it so eloquently earlier in the week, this team just thrives under pressure, finding success in the ugliest of scenarios without skipping a beat.

Heading into halftime up three points despite having 82 more total yards, nine more first downs, two more forced turnovers, and nearly 15 more minutes of possession, the Hawkeyes were simply inept in the red zone, scoring twice on four attempts in the opening 30 minutes. 

From inside the 20-yard line in the first half, Iowa gained 14 yards on 12 plays, scoring 10 points. Any other Power Five offense could have put up a bare minimum of 12 points from field goals. Then again, any other Power Five team could’ve let such a performance be their downfall, but not Iowa, whose defense rose to the occasion to give an anemic offense a chance. 

As Feretnz put it after the game, the Hawkeyes find success in mastering the “doable” things, and keeping the opponent out of the end zone certainly ranks at the top of the list. In all 13 games this year, coordinator Phil Parker’s unit didn’t allow a touchdown on the opening drive and has yielded just three total touchdowns over the past six games. 

Aside from the 66-yard touchdown pass, which was more a result of the defensive scheme than simple execution, the Hawkeyes allowed three plays of more than 15 yards and rendered the Cornhusker rushing attack nonexistent. 

Running for 42 yards on 12 attempts, Nebraska quarterback Chubba Purdy may have ran for more yards laterally on scrambles than on runs downfield. Yes, the seven passing first downs of Nebraska were a concern, but as has been the mantra throughout the year, the defense perfectly embodied “bend, don’t break.” 

The Cornhuskers put up seven first downs, 146 total yards, and twenty minutes of possession in the second half, but never once reached the red zone. Meanwhile, the Hawkeye offense delivered four consecutive three-and-outs and two first downs during that time. Such a discrepancy could result in the blame game from defense to offense. These are college kids, some of whom are teenagers, after all, so they might not know any better. 

But rather than crumbling under pressure, the Iowa players built themselves up with belief and confidence in one another. Quarterback Deacon Hill kept telling his guys to keep pushing, knowing the Husker front would falter. Would he keep saying that if he didn’t have what he called a “best in the country defense” ready to keep giving him opportunities? In other words, having confidence in the defense gave conviction to the offense.

With such being the case, it was no surprise to see running back Leshon Williams break out a 22-yard run to get Iowa within field goal range following the Ethan Hurkett interception. 

Somewhat similarly, the Iowa defense knows internally it will have ample opportunity to be on the field and make game-changing plays, and simply embraces this dynamic. 

Obviously, an essential part of Iowa’s culture this year is ‘next man up,’ but that can only be true if players truly have confidence in one another, no matter how many three-and-outs they were a part of, or how many months had passed by since their last made field goal. 

As Leshon Williams said postgame: “It could be the ball boy out there. At the end of the day, they’re still a Hawkeye.” 

I couldn’t agree more, but even the ball boys will have to be on their A-games next week in Indianapolis. While Nebraska has one of the better defenses in the country, ranking top-10 against the run, Michigan and Ohio State are dominant in all three phases of the game, a feat the Hawkeyes have accomplished only once against conference opponents. 

The Iowa defense’s recent stretch gives me confidence that the Hawkeyes can cover the number in the Big Ten Championship, but will have to keep the contest an ugly one if they want to even sniff a title. 

They also have to be perfect in the  “doable” objectives. Throw the ball. Catch the ball. Run the ball. Tackle. Capitalize in the red zone. No miscues. 

Four weeks ago at his weekly Tuesday press conference, Ferentz said his team still has a realistic chance for ten wins, which I didn’t think was possible at the time. Heck, when quarterback Cade McNamara went down in Week 5, I was a bit skeptical if the Hawkeyes could make a bowl game.

“You can’t bullcrap your players,” Ferentz said postgame regarding his earlier prediction. “But you also have to understand the margins are really thin.” 

Finding success in all but one of those close games this season, the Hawkeyes clearly aren’t claustrophobic. They have the confidence, and even borderline stubbornness, to turn any lofty expectation into an attainable goal. 

This once again begs the question: What will they do next? 

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.