Comeback therapeutic for Hawkeyes


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Through just three games, the Iowa football team has abundant areas of concern.

The running game has been unreliable, averaging 127.3 yards a game — the second-worst mark in the Big Ten. The defense has often struggled to get off the field, allowing opponents to convert a league-worst 50 percent of their third downs. Roster depth is being tested, specifically at running back and linebacker after a season-ending injury to Mika'il McCall and a nagging injury to Tyler Nielsen. The team's two-deeps are still littered with players yet to be tested in Big Ten play, which begins in under three weeks.

But for all of the Hawkeyes' shortcomings, they found a way to win in historic comeback fashion against Pittsburgh after falling into a 24-3 hole.

That comeback and subsequent 31-27 win may prove therapeutic for Iowa.

"My sister could have been at the game and said, 'Boy, this team has a lot of work to do right now.' And we do," Ferentz said. "Despite our deficiencies right now, to push through and still win the game, have the guys feel good about themselves afterwards, that's something a growing team really needs. You need that."

Players said the postgame locker room scene was one of raw emotion. Jordan Bernstine called it "crazy." Micah Hyde said it was "definitely one of the greatest memories I've ever had."

The jubilation from completing the largest comeback in school history was only magnified because of the gut-punch suffered a week earlier, a triple-overtime loss to archrival Iowa State.

"Last week, we couldn't finish the game like we wanted to," senior receiver Marvin McNutt said. "This week, to come back like we did, it was just an emotional experience. It was awesome."

The defense's inability to get stops in key situations against Iowa State — it allowed the Cyclones to score touchdowns on five of their final six drives — was costly. Against Pittsburgh, defense kept Iowa in the game, and many of the top contributors were first-year starters.

Sophomore linebackers Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens combined for 15 tackles.

Sophomore safety Tanner Miller forced a fumble and recorded a tackle for loss in his first career start

Bernstine said he sees the victory as a serious confidence-booster.

"We have young guys, and everybody's starting to feel comfortable," he said. "I'm sure this win will help them. I feel like we'll really start to gel as a defense."

Though slow to start, the offense wasn't without big plays from underclassmen, either. James Vandenberg found redshirt freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley for the second and third touchdown catches of his career on successive drives, with the second ball serving as the game-winner.

"I think we all knew we had a young team, and there are going to be mistakes. We have to keep growing," Vandenberg said. "This was a great situation today for everybody. We were backed into a corner today, and we never quit swinging … This was just a huge learning step for a lot of guys."

Follow DI Pregame Editor Jordan Garretson on Twitter.

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