IOWA CITY, Iowa — Happy New Year and welcome to an unusual New Year’s Day for the Iowa football program.
The last time Iowa has watched January bowl games without competing in one was in 2013 after a 4-8 season. The previous four years Iowa played on Jan. 1 or 2 and lost them all. This year, the Hawkeyes played in the Pinstripe Bowl and ended a five-game bowl skid by beating Boston College 27-20 on Wednesday.
Watching bowl games on Jan. 1 isn’t a feeling the Hawkeyes want to experience too regularly, unless they’re in a New Year’s Six bowl. But last week’s victory happily overshadows any possible negativity.
As for the program’s previous January bowls, the Hawkeyes have several terrific individual performances worth celebrating. So here’s Iowa’s five best January bowl performances followed by five honorable mention selections.
5. Shonn Greene takes a bow, then bows out
Iowa junior Shonn Greene was the nation’s best running back in 2008 with 1,850 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. He ran for more than 100 yards in every game, won the Doak Walker Award after the season, claimed the Silver Football as the Big Ten’s MVP and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting with little publicity. Greene figuratively put a cherry on top of an outstanding season with his performance in the 2009 Outback Bowl.
Greene rushed for 121 yards on 29 carries and scored 3 touchdowns in a 31-10 pounding of South Carolina. The carries and touchdowns set Iowa bowl records.
In a television interview after the game, Greene announced he was turning pro.
“I’m proud of the way he’s handled his recognition and accolades. He’s going to be extremely valuable and a great asset to any team that’s smart enough to take him next year,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said afterward.
4. A beautiful performance by Kenny Ploen
Iowa reached its first Rose Bowl after the 1956 season when it claimed the Big Ten championship. The Hawkeyes traveled two weeks early to California to become acclimated. Then they dominated Oregon State 35-19.
Quarterback Kenny Ploen engineered victory that day, completing 9 of 10 passes for 83 yards and a 16-yard touchdown pass. He also rushed 8 times for 59, including a 49-yard touchdown run, and was named the game’s MVP.
“We had a great team that year,” Ploen said. “It was great to be the quarterback of it. I could run those guys right, left, up the middle. It didn’t make any difference. We had a great line, a great bunch of backs and our defense was outstanding. It was a great team effort.”
3. Abdul the ass-kicker
No defender put up big-time numbers in every Iowa bowl like linebacker Abdul Hodge. He played in four January bowl games and impacted every one of them. Hodge didn’t start in the Hawkeyes’ Orange Bowl loss to USC in 2003 but he had 6 tackles. Hodge had 8 tackles in the Hawkeyes’ 37-17 win against Florida in the 2004 Outback Bowl.
Then Hodges’ performances became even greater. In the 2005 Capital One Bowl, which is known more for a 56-yard touchdown strike by Drew Tate to Warren Holloway on the game’s final play, Hodge guided a tenacious defense against LSU in a 30-25 win. Hodge set a Capital One Bowl record with 15 tackles, including 10 solo stops, and 2.5 sacks.
In his final game at Iowa, Hodge may have produced his finest performance. He set an Iowa bowl record and Outback Bowl record with 19 tackles, including 14 solos and 1 tackle for loss, in a controversial 31-24 loss to Florida in 2006. Hodge ranks third in all-time Iowa tackles and is one of the program’s greatest defenders.
2. Bob Jeter off to the races
Running back Bob Jeter made a New Year’s resolution the morning of Jan. 1, 1959, to score 2 touchdowns against California in the Rose Bowl.
“And I only got one,” he told The Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Well, that one was a record-breaker and helped Iowa crush California 38-12. Jeter ran only 9 times, but he gained 194 yards. In the third quarter, Jeter scored on an 81-yard run that put the game out of reach. His 21.6 yards-per-carry remains a Rose Bowl record for 9 or more rushing attempts, and he was named the game’s MVP.
The 81-yard run was the Rose Bowl record and still ranks as its fifth-longest touchdown run. On the play before, Iowa was penalized 15 yards for clipping.
“If it hadn’t been for that 15-yard penalty, my run wouldn’t have been a record,” Jeter told The Gazette afterward.
Although most of the polls closed before bowl season and Iowa finished second to LSU by the Associated Press and United Press International, the Football Writers Association of America crowned Iowa its champion after the Rose Bowl victory.
1. Clayborn’s Orange Crush
Iowa entered the 2010 Orange Bowl with one of the nation’s top defenses and it faced the country’s No. 2 rushing attack in Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets employed an old-school option offense that confounded defenses all year. Entering the game, the Yellow Jackets had the fewest number of three-and-outs (14) in the country and hadn’t punted in 22 consecutive possessions.
But Iowa’s defense was prepared for Georgia Tech, and defensive end Adrian Clayborn was at the forefront. Clayborn was everywhere with 9 tackles and 2 sacks in a 24-14 win. Iowa held Georgia Tech to 155 total yards and 1 pass completion. The Yellow Jackets registered 5 three-and-outs and 5 punts in the first half alone.
But it was Clayborn who was unblockable.
“The fact that Adrian won the MVP in a BCS bowl, it doesn’t happen too often when a defensive lineman dominates the way he did,” Ferentz said afterward. “But our whole group up front did a good job. Everybody played great football.”
Clayborn refused to take credit for the performance and instead pointed to defensive coordinator Norm Parker’s game plan. But Clayborn provided the most dominant January bowl performance in Iowa history, and that should not be understated. The Hawkeyes won their first major bowl since the 1959 Rose Bowl, and their No. 7 ranking was the highest since 1960.
QB Drew Tate, 2006 Outback Bowl. In a controversial 31-24 loss to Florida, Tate rallied Iowa from a 24-point deficit to just 7 with almost sheer will. Tate completed 32 of 55 passes for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus rushed for 24 yards. If a hideous offsides penalty wasn’t called on Chad Greenway after recovering an onside kick, who knows how many more statistics Tate would have had?
RB Fred Russell, 2004 Outback Bowl. In his final game at Iowa, Russell rushed for 150 yards and compiled 204 all-purpose yards in a 37-17 win against Florida. Russell added a 34-yard touchdown blast for the Hawkeyes.
RB Nick Bell, 1991 Rose Bowl. In one of the wilder Rose Bowls, Bell rushed for 64 yards, accumulated 85 receiving yards and ran for scores of 15 and 20 yards. The Hawkeyes fell short in a 46-34 loss to Washington, but Bell helped make it a game after Iowa fell behind 33-7 in the third quarter.
QB Chuck Long, 1986 Rose Bowl. In perhaps the most disappointing bowl loss in Iowa history, Long still kept slinging it. He completed 29 of 37 passes for 319 yards and 1 late touchdown in a 45-28 loss to UCLA. Iowa had an outside chance at a national title with a bowl victory.
DT Jonathan Babineaux, 2005 Capital One Bowl. Babineaux had 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in the Hawkeyes’ 30-25 win against LSU.