Dienhart: Here’s a look back at Iowa’s 2015 season
No one saw this coming, a 12-1 record that included a perfect regular season, a West Division crown and a Rose Bowl berth. But those are the accomplishments for Iowa a year after the natives grumbled loudly after an unsatisfying 7-6 season.
Had the game passed by Kirk Ferentz? Laughable. He showed he still has the magic touch in his 17th season strolling the sidelines in Kinnick Stadium by authoring one of the greatest seasons in school annals and sweeping Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. And Ferentz used the same blueprint for success he and predecessor Hayden Fry have used for years: A tough, physical offense built around the run coupled with an opportunistic bend-but-don’t-break defense.
The result: A trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl, the program first since the 1990 season. Iowa lost its last three trips to the Rose Bowl. Can Ferentz bring home the school’s first Rose Bowl crown since the 1958 season? It would be a perfect punctuation mark to what has been a perfectly surprising and fun season in Iowa City.
Record: 12-1 overall; 8-0 Big Ten/1st West
Bowl: Rose vs. Stanford
High point: The 10-6 win at No. 19 Wisconsin was sweet, as was the 40-10 demolition of No. 20 Northwestern in Evanston. But let’s go with the regular-season finale at Nebraska on Black Friday. On that day in Lincoln, the Hawkeyes—who had wrapped up the West title the week before–sat on the Cornhuskers, 28-20, to wrap up the first 12-0 mark in school annals. It capped the first unbeaten regular season at Iowa in 93 years. And the victory kept Iowa in the hunt for a playoff spot as it headed to the Big Ten title game looking for the program’s first conference crown since 2004.
Low point: The unbeaten season and playoff hopes came crashing down in a 16-13 loss to No. 5 Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes came oh-so-close to winning, leading 13-9 in the fourth quarter. But that’s when the Spartans went on an epic 22-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a one-yard TD run by LJ Scott that ate up 9:04 and culminated with 27 seconds left in the contest. It was a bitter pill for Iowa to swallow. But, the pain eased a bit when the school earned its first Rose Bowl bid since the 1990 season the next day.
Offensive MVP: QB C.J. Beathard. He validated his coaches’ decision last January to name him the starter over Jake Rudock (who subsequently transferred to Michigan), engineering one of the greatest seasons in school annals. The junior’s numbers didn’t wow, as he hit 61.4 percent of his passes for 2,570 yards with 15 touchdowns and only four picks and ran for 270 yards and six scores. But his leadership and swagger were key, as well as a big arm that allowed him to push the ball down field and open the ground game for a posse of good running backs to exploit.
Defensive MVP: CB Desmond King. He has been buried in an avalanche of postseason honors and accolades, the best of which was winning the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. The junior finished second in the nation with eight interceptions, running one back for a TD. Wait. There’s more: King averages 25.6 on kick returns and 12.7 on punts, and is tied for fifth for the team with 67 tackles while being one of the cogs responsible for Iowa improving on its edge vs. the run.
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