IOWA CITY, Iowa — Anything can happen on a college football Saturday. Big moments pop up when least expected.
There were plenty of big moments in the first eight Iowa games. Some a casual fan could anticipate; some no one saw coming.
With the Hawkeyes on a bye this week, let’s look back at the five biggest moments that have impacted how Iowa got to 5-3.
5. The Daniels run that wasn’t
Called back big runs from running back LeShun Daniels were all too common in the beginning of the season. The most costly came against North Dakota State. The first play of the second half was a 62-yard run negated by a holding penalty on tight end George Kittle.
Had the run stood, it would have significantly altered the contest. The Hawkeyes had momentum, having scored the last two touchdowns, and led 14-7. A touchdown here — Daniels got Iowa to the 3-yard line — might not have turned what would become an Iowa loss into a win, but it likely would have forced the Bison to pass more in the second half instead of rushing for 239 yards. The run game fueled North Dakota State’s 23-21 comeback victory.
4. King me!
Iowa cornerback Desmond King has come close on a weekly basis to making a memorable moment in the return game. Though he didn’t find the end zone on special teams, King did on defense against Purdue. His first interception in nearly a year secured a 49-35 victory over the Boilermakers on Oct. 15. Racing 41 yards to the end zone put an exclamation mark on it.
Teams aren’t throwing in King’s direction as much this season. This interception return for a touchdown shows the reigning Thorpe Award winner can still make plays when tested.
3. Snyder scoops up a victory
Iowa and Rutgers were tied at 7-7. Nine minutes remained in regulation. The next player to make a big play would likely win the contest for his team.
That player turned out to be Iowa safety Brandon Snyder. He saw Rutgers wide receiver Andre Patton cutting in front of him. He could have tried to jump the pass route, but instead went for the sure tackle and a strip. He indeed tore the football loose, and then recovered it.
Snyder’s fumble recovery set up the game-winning touchdown run from running back Akrum Wadley on the next play.
2. Wadley runs wild
Big runs are becoming Wadley’s thing. He went 26 yards to score at Rutgers. He broke off a 75-yard touchdown at Purdue.
But his biggest score of the season came against Minnesota. Arguably the biggest play for Iowa this season, his 54-yard fourth-quarter touchdown scamper down the left sideline ensured a 14-7 victory over Minnesota.
The run did more than win a game, it helped the Iowa rushing attack rediscover its identity. The Hawkeyes had struggled with the run coming into the contest, but plugged away for four quarters until everything came together on the Wadley run.
The Hawkeyes want to be a run-first team. They started becoming just that after Wadley waltzed into the end zone.
1. Breaking up the passing attack
Not every big moment is good. The most important one for the Hawkeyes didn’t happen in a game, and it’s one Iowa fans didn’t want to see. Wide receiver Matt VandeBerg went down in practice with a broken foot on Sept. 26. It ended his regular season.
Iowa dealt with a lot of adversity in the first month of the season, from injuries along the offensive line, to trouble defending the run, to seemingly never-ending self-inflicted wounds. Losing VandeBerg, though, has hurt the Hawkeyes the most.
He was a true No. 1 playmaking wide receiver, and quarterback C.J. Beathard leaned on him in the passing game. VandeBerg led the team with 19 catches, 284 receiving yards and three touchdowns before his injury.
With no VandeBerg, Iowa lacks a big-play threat, and the passing game is struggling. The Hawkeyes have topped 200 passing yards once without him, and the offense isn’t as explosive.
Iowa may be able to get the passing game going by looking more to Wadley, but there isn’t a player on the roster who can replace what VandeBerg did. That’s why his injury is the biggest moment of the first eight games.