When #17 Indiana invades Kinnick Stadium Saturday it’ll mark the first time in almost 30 years—10,892 days to be exact—that Iowa will face-off against a ranked Hoosiers squad.
That week in early November, Magic Johnson announced he was stepping away early from basketball, the Billboard 100 #1 song was Prince and the New Power Generation’s “Cream,” and the top film at the box office in the United States was something called Curly Sue starring the indelible Jim Belushi.
As for the actual game, the '91 Hawkeyes, ranked 10th in the nation at the time, were 7-1 and fresh off of an emotional 16-9 victory at #13 Ohio State in the aftermath of the tragic Gang Lu shooting (their last win in Columbus to date) when 5-2-1 #25 Indiana arrived in Iowa City.
Hoosier signal-caller and Cedar Rapids native Trent Green threw for over 2600 yards that season, but his afternoon in Iowa City was disastrous from the start. The Hawkeyes' picked off each of Green's first three passes and suffocated the Indiana offense in jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.
Defensive end Matt Wells finished with a game-high 11 tackles while a junior defensive lineman by the name of Bret Bielema added four tackles, making his presence felt early by delivering a big hit on Indiana running back Vaughn Dunbar in the first quarter.
The star of this late fall contest, however, was Iowa's converted wide receiver to running back Mike Saunders who rumbled for 121 yards and four touchdowns—rushing for three scores as well as catching one from quarterback Jim Hartlieb.
Hartlieb went 11-18 for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the other to wide receiver Danan Hughes on a 26-yard strike late in the first half.
You gotta love the pre-instant replay era, especially considering the following play early in the second half when the football seemingly disappeared from Saunders' hands mid-play, yet somehow Iowa kept possession of the ball:
Despite Green’s struggles, Indiana had several opportunities to climb back into the contest late, but the Hawkeye defense stopped the Hoosiers at every turn. Indiana’s last hopes were extinguished when Green was picked off for a fourth time late in the final quarter by defensive back Eddie Polly, his second of the game, sealing the 38-21 Iowa win.
The Hawkeyes went on to finish 10-1-1 and #10 in the country, their lone loss to Michigan keeping them out of the Rose Bowl and sending them instead to the Holiday Bowl where they would tie BYU 13-13. Scott Dochterman of The Athletic did a really nice look at the ’91 Hawkeyes last month and it’s definitely worth a read. The Hoosiers meanwhile fell out of the rankings but rebounded to beat Baylor 24-0 in something called the Copper Bowl that December.
30 years of. . .something
Speaking of that Copper Bowl, since the '91 season Indiana and Iowa have embarked on two different paths. Let's just say that over the past three decades it's been much better to be a Hawkeye than a Hoosier:
Since Bill Mallory retired in 1996, the Hoosiers have cycled through 6 different head coaches:
- Cam Cameron (18-37 overall)
- Gerry DiNardo. . .yep that Gerry DiNardo (8-27)
- Terry Hoeppner (9-14)
- Bill Lynch (19-30)
- Kevin Wilson (26-46)
- Tom Allen (24-22)
Collectively, these six coaches put together a sterling .371 win percentage. In the same timeframe, Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz have combined to go 187-122 overall (.605).
The most successful Indiana head coach against Iowa over the last 30 years was Cam Cameron who won just 18 games overall but went a shocking 3-0 against the Hawkeyes from 1998-2000. We’re talking late Fry and early Ferentz teams here, but still. . .Cam Cameron?
(Ed. Note: I think Antwaan Randle-El deserves more credit here than Cam Cameron. -- RB)
- According to The Helmet Project Indiana has used 34 (!!) different helmets, none of them particularly good or memorable, and one of them perhaps the worst helmet in the history of college football. Over that same stretch, Iowa has used eight different lids.
- Since the Hoosiers won the 1991 Copper Bowl, the Hoosiers are 0-6 in bowl games while the Hawkeyes are 11-10.
- Indiana's last victory in Iowa City was a 38-20 win in 2007. The Hawkeyes have won three straight at home and seven of the last eight overall games in the series since.
An Unprecedented Opening Slate
Speaking of the #7 Cyclones, they, along with the #17 Hoosiers present the most formidable opening two games the Iowa football program has faced in a loooong time. To find a tougher slate would require you to go all the way back to the 1974 season in Bob Comming’s first year as head coach. Those Hawkeyes started with an opening four weeks you’ll likely never see again (at least in this era of the sport):
- at #6 Michigan (L, 24-7)
- vs. #12 UCLA (W, 21-10)
- vs. #19 Penn State (L, 27-0)
- at. #9 USC (L, 41-3)
Iowa started 1-3 en route to a forgettable 3-8 campaign—not surprising given that most of 1970's Iowa football was essentially hot dog water with helmets. Seriously though, the Hawkeye program is in a much better spot and this year should be a bit different. While it's very reasonable to expect the Hawkeyes to start 2021 2-0, they could easily play good football for two weeks and still start this season 0-2. These first two contests will be quite the challenge.
At the same time and at the risk of sounding too dramatic, the gravity of Saturday's game should not be lost on all of us. Iowa really needs to get back to Indianapolis, and soon. Not only is it insane (at least to this Hawkeye) that jNorthwestern has won the West more than Iowa, it's also clear that Ferentz likely doesn't have many years left to get another shot at his third conference title. The Hawkeyes have to start on the right side of the Big Ten ledger out of the gate and (whispers) have to win this game.
Additionally, for nearly all of the reasons listed above, Saturday may very well represent one of the most important contests in Indiana football history. The Hoosiers may be "only" ranked 17th nationally, but the hype surrounding them challenging for the Big Ten East crown is at a fever pitch. And if you think that fever pitch coming from Bloomington is loud, just wait until we get to what may be the Cy-Hawk Week to end all Cy-Hawk Weeks in the lead up to next Saturday. Iowa State, like Indiana, has had *ahem* limited success in football so it's realistic to say that the Hawkeyes are not only playing two top-17 teams to start the season but also playing in two of the biggest games their opponents have ever played.
And so, Saturday Indiana will be looking to create some new history, while Iowa attempts to fight through a historically-challenging 14-day stretch and position itself on the fast track to Indianapolis. Get ready. We’re less than 24 hours from Hawkeye football.