IOWA CITY — So now it's Iowa headed to Indianapolis for the Big Ten football championship game, right?
“That was a good win, but there are a lot of things to improve,” said running back Mark Weisman, who kept his meet-the-press poker face intact Saturday after the Hawkeyes squeezed past Northwestern 17-10 in overtime.
Then Weisman glanced across the interview room to the TV showing Minnesota finishing its 34-23 upset of No. 24 Nebraska. And just for a moment, the 236-pound bulldozer went off script.
He cracked a smile.
“Hey, it's an open field,” Weisman said. “But you can't think about that. There is no big picture.”
The snapshots from Saturday's win will do for now.
Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who caught the deciding 8-yard touchdown pass in overtime, wasn't sure he was going to survive the postgame celebration.
“I about had a heart attack,” he said.
Linebacker James Morris, who had eight tackles and recovered a fumble, took delight in seeing his teammates go wild.
“Guys were running around like they won the lottery,” he said.
Place-kicker Mike Meyer, who moved into second place on the Iowa all-time scoring list with a field goal and two extra points, recounted the locker room scene almost in wonder, including singing the school fight song in record time.
“What was going on in there,” he said with a mighty grin, “is why you play football.”
The joy from those three seniors is significant. Iowa football, during their careers, had developed a bit of a loser's limp with records of 7-6 and 4-8 the past two seasons.
Now, they are helping the Hawkeyes regain their stride.
“This one came hard,” U of I coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It's a real tribute to our guys, especially our older guys. The older guys have been doing a great job of leading going back to last November.”
Iowa (5-3, 2-2) still has a game left against Purdue, which almost assures getting the sixth win needed for bowl eligibility. Beyond that, as mixed up as the Legends Division is, who knows?
About the only thing certain after Saturday was that Northwestern, which comes to Nebraska this week, is out of the title chase.
Yet it was the Wildcats (4-4, 0-4) who were on the verge of celebrating. Down 10-0 at halftime, they outgained Iowa 208 yards to 135 in the second half and controlled play while tying the game.
Then came the latest in a series of self-inflicted wounds for Northwestern, on a four-game skid after being ranked as high as No. 16 a month ago.
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While driving deep into Iowa territory with less than four minutes remaining, H-back Dan Vitale committed an illegal and unnecessary block that not only negated an 8-yard scramble by quarterback Kain Colter but also cost Northwestern 15 yards to the Iowa 45.
On the next play, Colter's option pitch to tailback Dan Trumpy missed the mark and Iowa cornerback Desmond King recovered to end the threat with 3:14 to go in regulation.
“Iowa made the plays that winners make down the stretch, and we didn't,” said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who looked like he wanted to eat a football. “The two plays at the end of the game are inexcusable.”
Even with Iowa pulling out the win, huge concerns remain over finishing games.
The Hawkeyes have led at halftime in all eight games this season. In their three losses, they were outscored 53-10 in the second half (13-3 by Northern Illinois, 16-0 by Michigan State, 24-7 by Ohio State).
Iowa's second-half deficit was 10-0 Saturday until overtime, when quarterback Jake Rudock stared down an all-out blitz and lobbed the deciding pass to the corner of the end zone.
“This was huge,” Rudock said. “Every single win is tough to come by. But there is a lot more work to be done.”
Among those who should put in overtime this week is Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
Even though some Iowa media have saluted Davis as the key to Iowa's recent surge, he needs to figure out a second-half game plan now, too. The long scoring drives and ball control from successful first halves — 11- and 14-play drives vs. Northwestern — isn't translating into the final 30 minutes.
Still, when you can end a two-game losing streak, snap a four-game skid in Big Ten home games and keep yourself in the division title race — all while never making more than 21 yards on any single play — it's a good day.