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How Iowa saved its season and won the Big Ten West

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After two consecutive losses, the Hawkeyes were at a crossroads.

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The Iowa Hawkeyes were rolling in October, ranked No. 2 in the country and had just beaten Penn State at home 23-20 to reach 6-0. The comparisons to the 2015 team, which began 12-0, had already begun to trickle in and with this defense — especially the secondary— the comparisons seemed apt.

But two weeks later, the Hawkeyes were 6-2 having suffered consecutive losses to Purdue at home (24-7) and at Wisconsin (27-7). Suddenly, the season was falling apart and Iowa was struggling to find answers.

Quarterback Spencer Petras had been awful, going 26-for-51 for 288 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions in those two losses. The defense was struggling to prop up this offense, especially against Purdue when the Hawkeyes allowed an 11-catch, 240-yard performance from Boilermaker receiver David Bell.

How did the Hawkeyes fix these issues and win their final four games?

Running Back Tyler Goodson

A shoulder injury to Petras allowed back-up quarterback Alex Padilla the chance to win three games against Northwestern, Minnesota and Illinois. However, Padilla was pulled in the win last week against Nebraska and Petras led the Hawkeyes from behind to clinch the Big Ten West (with some help from Minnesota on Saturday).

Despite the ongoing mediocre quarterback controversy, one constant has been running back Tyler Goodson. The junior has carried the ball 89 times over the final four games for 488 yards (5.5 average per carry).

The concerted effort to establish the run with Goodson has eased the pressure on whoever lines up under center and allows the Hawkeyes to dictate the pace of the game. When Goodson struggles, Iowa struggles, because more of the burden goes on the shoulders of Petras or Padilla.

Even when Goodson struggled against Minnesota, however, the Hawkeyes found a way late which has become a staple of this four-game stretch.

Fourth Quarter Scoring

In Iowa’s final four games, the fourth quarter has been the highest scoring quarter for the Hawkeyes in three of the four contests. Against Minnesota, Iowa carried a one-point lead into the fourth quarter and outscored the Gophers 10-6 to hold on to victory 27-22.

When facing Illinois, the Hawkeyes led by four entering the fourth and outscored the Illini 13-7 in the final frame to win by 10. Lastly, against Nebraska, Iowa trailed 21-9 entering the fourth and outscored the Cornhuskers 19-0 to seize victory from the jaws of defeat, 28-21.

With increasingly better final quarters, this Iowa team has fully embraced the ‘It aint over, until it’s over’’ mentality. This is a team that will not quit until the final whistle.

Scheduling

The Big Ten West is indisputably the lesser division of the conference and Iowa feasted upon three of the worst in the final stretch of the season. In order, Illinois, Nebraska and Northwestern are the three worst teams in the Big Ten West.

Nebraska and Northwestern both only finished with one conference win and three wins overall. The Illini went 5-7 and had four conference wins.

Minnesota is a formidable opponent and finished 8-4 and third in the West. However, the Hawkeyes were again fortunate with this being one of their two home games in this final four-game stretch.

The Hawkeyes won by margins of five, five, 10, and seven to finish the season 10-2. While not overly impressive, Iowa found a way down the stretch to win. Behind Goodson, an undying resilience, and a favorable schedule, the Hawkeyes are headed to Indianapolis.