September 17, 2011
Iowa 31, Pittsburgh 27.
I wasn't in Kinnick Stadium, so I wouldn't want to report exactly what Iowa fans were saying to one another in the third quarter as if I had some sort of transcript. But it's not hard to guess: A week after being punched in the throat in a triple overtime loss to rival Iowa State, the Hawkeyes trailed Pitt 24-3 on the heels of two unanswered Panther touchdowns, had yet to find the end zone themselves and were 15 minutes away from falling to 1-2 on back-to-back losses to teams they were supposed to beat. Hint: There weren't any parties being planned for quarterback James Vandenberg — at least, not any that he'd want to attend.
It was right about this time that Vandenberg was possessed by the spirit of John Elway in his prime.* The next four times the Hawkeyes touched the ball, Vandenberg connected on 15 of 18 passes to five different receivers, racked up more than 235 total yards and led four consecutive touchdown drives covering 60, 73, 64 and 64 yards. The first he finished off with a one-yard sneak for the score; the next three, he capped with TD passes to Keenan Davis, Kevonte Martin-Manley and then Martin-Manley again for the game-winner. A subsequent interception by safety Micah Hyde put the biggest comeback in Iowa history on ice, and much relieved dancing ensued.
And just like that, in a matter of minutes, the Hawkeyes' season no longer seems destined for complete disaster before it really begins. In fact, with five consecutive games against Louisiana-Monrore, Penn State (the Nittany Lions barely escaped today at Temple), Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota on the docket, and a quarterback who may have just grown up before the home crowd's eyes — the ones who stayed, anyway — they still have every reason to except to remain in the thick of the Big Ten race well into November. From there, well, Iowa fans don't need to reminded how slippery things get from there.