IOWA CITY, Iowa — Afterward, they were as stunned as everyone else.
The Ohio State Buckeyes said they had a good week of practice after their dramatic comeback win over Penn State.
They knew about the Hawkeyes’ history of upsets over highly ranked teams at Kinnick Stadium. A three-touchdown favorite, the Buckeyes were on high alert about a letdown against Iowa.
This wasn’t a letdown. This was a collapse. Iowa 55, Ohio State 24? It seemed almost unfathomable.
Forget the College Football Playoffs. Forget J.T. Barrett’s Heisman Trophy chances. The Buckeyes still have a chance for the Big Ten title, but otherwise, they’re playing for pride the rest of the season.
The 55 points were the most an Urban Meyer team had allowed in his 16-year head coaching career.
"Obviously, it’s a terrible feeling right now,” said senior center Billy Price, one of only two players who spoke to the media afterward. “Coming off an emotional win last week over Penn State and walking into a hostile environment, we knew it’s got its ‘Kinnick curse’ or whatever you want to call it. We just didn’t come prepared today and weren’t nine units strong, and it resulted in a loss."
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The Buckeyes allowed Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley to throw five touchdown passes, including two apiece to tight ends D.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. He finished 20 of 31 for 226 yards. The Hawkeyes, who entered the game averaging only 3.3 yards per rush, ran for 243 yards in 38 carries, a 6.4-yard average.
“It’s like a punch to the gut when a team runs for that many yards,” defensive end Tyquan Lewis said.
From the first play from scrimmage, the game didn’t go according to plan. Barrett was intercepted by strong safety Amani Hooker, who returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. It was the first of four interceptions — the final three by cornerback Josh Jackson — by the senior quarterback. Entering the game, Barrett had been intercepted only once, in the second-week loss to Oklahoma.
“I hear what’s going on from upstairs,” Meyer said, “and they were baiting him. They were playing between two receivers. That’s their coverage, and we just didn’t play very well.”
After the pick-six, the Buckeyes offense seemed to settle down. Barrett threw two touchdown passes. The score was tied at 17 with just over 3 minutes left before halftime when one play marked the line of demarcation.
On third-and-8 from the Ohio State 40, Stanley threw an incompletion from a collapsing pocket. But just after he let go of the ball, Buckeyes defensive end Nick Bosa head-bumped the quarterback. That drew a targeting ejection and gave Iowa a first down.
Iowa (6-3, 3-3) dominated from that moment on. Stanley threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Fant on the next play for a 24-17 lead.
On Ohio State’s next series, Barrett tried to force a pass to tight end Marcus Baugh in double-coverage and Jackson intercepted it. Three plays later, Iowa scored on a 3-yard pass to Fant for a 31-17 halftime lead.
Ohio State rallied from a bigger deficit against Penn State, but the Buckeyes didn’t get a first down in its first four possessions of the second half, and by then Iowa led by 31 points.
The Buckeyes’ only points in the second half came late in the fourth quarter when Johnnie Dixon caught a 22-yard touchdown pass, his second score of the day.
Barrett finished 18 of 34 for 208 yards. He had rekindled his Heisman chances against Penn State, but those are all but extinguished.
So are Ohio State’s chances at returning to the College Football Playoff. No team has made the CFP with two losses, let alone two as ugly as the Buckeyes’.
Ohio State still has a chance to win the Big Ten East. Next week, the Buckeyes play visiting Michigan State, which beat Penn State on Saturday.
But first, Ohio State must come to grips with what happened Saturday.
“Sure, I was concerned,” Meyer said of a post-Penn State letdown. “I didn’t see it, and I tried to watch very closely like I normally do, and I didn’t see any signs.”
Even Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz seemed shocked by the outcome.
“It was an outstanding effort by all of our guys,” he said. “We came into this game as heavy underdogs, with good reason.”