Willing to take the fifth

BY JON LINDER | OCTOBER 02, 2009 7:20 AM

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In Kirk Ferentz’s first 10 years as Iowa’s head coach, the Hawkeyes have traditionally started somewhat stagnantly and evolved to produce vigorous, season-closing winning streaks.

The 2009 Hawkeyes apparently chose to forego the tradition of dormant Septembers.
Following back-to-back wins over upper-tier BCS conference teams, No. 13 Iowa finished undefeated in September for the first time since 2001. With a win against Arkansas State on Saturday, the Hawkeyes will be 5-0 for the first time under Ferentz. The last time Iowa started a season with a 5-0 mark was under Hayden Fry in 1995.

“We’ve done all that we can right now to be in the best position [possible], and that’s 4-0,” junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. “A lot of [Ferentz’s] good teams have had early losses and have responded. Now, it’s kind of interesting to see how we will respond to having a good start.”

The Hawkeyes finished 7-5 in 2001, which included Ferentz’s first bowl win, against Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl. Iowa started 3-0 before losing to Purdue to open October, and technically, the Hawkeyes may not have had an undefeated September had not the Iowa State game been postponed because of the 9/11 attacks. The Cyclones beat Iowa in late November that year.

If that loss to Iowa State is counted as a September loss, Iowa hasn’t truly had an unblemished September since Fry’s 1997 Hawkeye squad. That team also finished 7-5, struggling through Big Ten play and losing to Arizona State in Fry’s final bowl appearance.

A decade later, Iowa is in position to pair a solid start with Ferentz’s annual firm finish. And the most intriguing aspect of Iowa’s fast start is that it almost didn’t start at all.

In a 17-16 win against Northern Iowa on Sept. 5, Iowa had to make Football Bowl Subdivision history by blocking two field goals in the game’s final seven seconds to preserve the victory.

Hawkeye fans reacted as if Kinnick Stadium were crumbling at its foundations after the performance, but they have since all but forgotten the near debacle after three-straight dominant, defensive-driven wins.

“We survived a close call [to start this season], and in years past, we haven’t,” Ferentz said on Tuesday. “Some of them haven’t been so close. The Arizona State game [in 2004] wasn’t real close, obviously.”

The 2004 campaign Ferentz referred to was a perfect example of what fans have come to expect from Iowa teams throughout this decade. Following losses to Arizona State and Michigan, Iowa won its final seven conference games in 2004 to earn a co-Big Ten title. The Hawkeyes went on to win the Capital One Bowl that season in dramatic fashion on the shoulders of quarterback Drew Tate.

He emerged midseason as a savvy leader for the Hawkeyes, as did defensive stalwarts Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge. This season, a host of Hawkeyes have stepped into similar roles, providing an early corps of leadership some players point to as a key to this team’s early success.

“In the past, we’ve had fewer leaders,” freshman running back Adam Robinson said. “We’ve only had maybe four or five guys who are leaders for the whole team. [Now] we have 10 or 12 real leaders on the team who are stepping up and leading through their play. I think the whole team feeds off that.”

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