IOWA CITY – They understand it will take a nearly-perfect game, but this Iowa football team will take the field against third-ranked Ohio State working to create a moment to call its own.
“Every team needs something to be remembered for, something that gives it an identity. We’re still working to create that," Hawkeye tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “This is a big opportunity for us."
It’s not unlike the opportunity Iowa found itself in a year ago this month when second-ranked Michigan showed up at Kinnick Stadium with playoff hopes and a number two national ranking and left with a 14-13 loss.
Last year’s Wolverines weren’t alone.
Three of the last four visitors with a top-five national ranking to take the field at Kinnick Stadium have been beaten by Iowa.
That includes a third-ranked Penn State team which lost 24-23 in 2007 and a fifth-rated Michigan State team which Iowa humbled 37-6 in 2010.
The exception came earlier this season when the Hawkeyes battled but lost to fourth-ranked Penn State 21-19.
That game, along with the win over the Wolverines season, provides Iowa with a blueprint to build on for today’s 2:30 p.m. game against Heisman hopeful J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes.
“I think the fight we had in the Penn State game shows what we are capable of doing against one of the best teams in the country," quarterback Nate Stanley said. “The intensity we brought to that game, we need to recreate that and we need to build off of it."
Tight end Noah Fant sees that as well, but said intensity alone won’t get the job done in a game that will be as much about execution as attitude.
“We will need our best game of the year,"Fant said. “Anything less, that won’t get it done."
Fant does believe the Hawkeyes’ history of competing favorably against top-rated opponents can be a benefit when Iowa faces a rated opponent for the second time this season.
“We know we can go up against those guys. We know we have what it takes to take down a team like that," Fant said. “The mental part, believing, we’ve got that. It comes down to execution."
Barrett at the controls of the Big Ten’s most-productive offense – one which averages 46.3 points and 571.3 yards per game – and a defense which has held its last three opponents below 100 rushing yards are at the heart of the challenge facing Iowa.
“In playing Penn State early in the year and Michigan last year, really the commonality is it’s going to take our absolute best football to have a chance to compete against these guys," Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“We’re going to have to play with a great defensive effort out there, find a rhythm offensively and just take care of the basic things such as ball security, eliminating the penalties that are drive stoppers and obviously, we need to play well on special teams."
Iowa hasn’t faced Ohio State since a 34-24 loss at Ohio Stadium in 2013, but that lack of familiarity with the Buckeyes’ isn’t at the core of the Hawkeyes’ concerns.
“The thing that hasn’t changed is that they have really good players," Ferentz said. “… We’ve got a lot of tape. The challenge is trying to match up against them in any phase."
This is a time of year when Iowa traditionally has been at its best.
The Hawkeyes are 7-1 in November games since the start of the 2015 season, losing only at Penn State a year ago.
“Coach always talks about us playing our best football in November," running back Akrum Wadley said. “Teams either go up or go down and we talk about us going up, not the roller coaster where you go up and down."
As a senior, Wadley expects Iowa to uphold its tradition of finishing strong.
“We know what it takes to get the job done," he said. “We’ve got four weeks left on our schedule, it’s time to get it done."