Iowa’s fraternity culture paves the way for a strong response to early adversity

MINNEAPOLIS, MN– Iowa left ColumbUs, Ohio, on October 22 in stunned silence after one of the most embarrassing losses of the Kirk Ferentz era. There were 158 total yards and six turnovers by the Hawkeye offense. The Hawkeye defense played superbly given the circumstances they were put in and still allowed 54 points.

Sitting at 3-4, outside noise was at an all-time high. Pitchforks were sharpened. Torches were lit. Voices were at an unhealthy volume. However, that was all it was for Iowa. noise from outside. Within the walls of Kinnick Stadium there was leadership, cohesion and a belief that the season still had many opportunities to earn.

“This family atmosphere that we have. Leaning on your brothers and having your brothers’ backs,” Kaevon Merriweather said of what helped turn the tide. “Whenever someone puts their head down, you put it back up and stay in a corner. You have to have that family atmosphere with each other to really be real brothers and to bounce back in a situation like this.”

Earlier in the year, Iowa recorded one of the most unconventional 7-3 wins you’ll ever see. Two safeties and a field goal later, Iowa defeated South Dakota. Suddenly all the preseason excitement died down. It was then that Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell took the podium in front of the media and reiterated his unwavering belief in each of his teammates.

“There’s no time to point fingers or whine or complain because I think the offense is doing as good a job as we are,” Campbell said. “And for the outside world, anybody can point fingers and stuff like that. But when you’re in a dressing room, you’re a team. You are one and we just play for each other no matter what.”

“I hate to tell you, but they are more than football players. They’re brothers, they’re sons, they’re grandchildren, and I feel like a lot of people are losing sight of that,” Campbell said. “No matter what happens, I will always stand behind them and never point a finger at them. I will never complain.”

Iowa’s defense is among the best in college football in a decade. Saturday was a rare day off for the consistent Hawkeye defense. Minnesota running back Mo Ibrahim rushed for a stadium-record 263 yards and 39 carries. Every time Iowa put them in a bad spot, Ibrahim responded.

In the fourth quarter, all the momentum belonged to the Gophers, and for the first time in several weeks it felt like this was going to be too much for Iowa to overcome. It’s good that the fans don’t play along in the games. With every passing second, Iowa’s hopes of getting the ball back were dwindling, and then Campbell gave a speech in his defense that sparked the two games that changed everything.

“[Jack]broke us down and said, ‘You dream of those moments when you’re a kid,'” said Iowa linebacker Seth Benson. “That’s really true. Tight ball game. Big Ten football in November and us against them and they ran the ball really well. The game is still a tie and could go either way.”

Campbell was widely regarded as one of the best linebackers of the Ferentz era, but he cemented his legendary status on Saturday night. On Ibrahim’s 14th carry on the drive, Campbell knocked out the ball and defenseman Deontae Craig lunged for it to flip the Gophers in the red zone.

On the next drive, Campbell picked out Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis and returned him to the Minnesota 45-yard line. That would trigger a 33-yard completion to defeat Spencer Petras’ Luke Lachey and put Iowa in the red zone. The drive ended with the game-winning 21-yard field goal.

Iowa Football is what it is. It’s not sexy. It’s not for everyone. But there’s one thing Ferentz has always delivered… wins. The Hawkeyes have now won 14 straight games in November and have an opportunity to win the Big Ten West against Nebraska on Black Friday at Kinnick Stadium.

“It’s great to win four straight games like we’ve done,” Petras said after his 221-yard rush. “Each game has its own unique challenge and each week is its own challenge. I just think it’s a testament to the culture of our program and our head coach. The things we preach ring true.”

The victories do not overshadow criticism of what will go down as one of the worst offenses in Big Ten history. While it’s going to be a big topic of conversation in the off-season, players don’t care what anyone says. Ferentz and his players are fixated on trusting the process and believing that everything will work out in the end. And for Iowa, it works.

“It starts with Kirk Ferentz, just everything that he stands for and what a great person he is. I feel like there are some coaches these days and some other professions and careers that deviate and do weird things. Coach Ferentz does the same stuff. He lets us know that if we consistently do the little things every day, it will add up.”

“We may not see it on day one. We might not see it on day 43, but you might see it on day 122. I’m doing exactly the same thing right. That’s when I feel like this breakthrough happened. It’s not all pretty, but I’m just so proud of our boys going out there… and no one ever really believes in us. And we keep going.”

“A lot of teams would have thrown the season away or looked at next season and considered what’s to come,” Merriweather said. “We focused on what we have now and what we can still achieve. I think we can hit back strong with that.”

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