Iowa's fourth quarter magic works again

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The thought crossed Kirk Ferentz's mind. The Iowa head coach started to worry that his team's edge-of-the-cliff dance would finally come to a painful end.

"I thought maybe we had dug too deep a hole today," Ferentz said.

As it turns out, there's no hole too deep for Iowa. There aren't enough interceptions to keep Ricky Stanzi from rallying his team. There aren't enough mistakes to keep these Hawkeyes from believing and, eventually, prevailing.

And after escaping a 14-point canyon Saturday against Indiana, Iowa might end up on top of the mountain after all.

Team Comeback did it again, rallying for the eighth time in nine games, this time from its largest deficit of the season, to remain perfect at 9-0. It didn't come down to the final play this time, as Iowa actually could relax in the final three or four minutes of a 42-24 win.

But Ferentz and his players agreed Saturday's rally was the most improbable.

"It's got to be up at the top," Ferentz said. "I know I haven't been in a game like this, and I doubt I've seen one like this because it was just so, so different. You never survive five turnovers, let alone five picks. The odds are, I would almost say nil."

Almost. Iowa defied the odds once again, and the biggest boost came from the man who put the team in the hole.

Stanzi threw a career-high five interceptions Saturday, four in a miserable third quarter. Entering the fourth quarter, Stanzi had completed just 10 of 23 passes for 160 yards and no touchdowns.

A stat line like Stanzi's usually lands the quarterback a seat on the bench, but Ferentz didn't think twice about making a change, despite some boos from the crowd.

"I'm not alone in this one," Ferentz said. "We all believe in Rick Stanzi. The guy has done a hell of a job."

Stanzi has done his best work in the fourth quarter, and the trend continued Saturday.

His first pass went for a 92-yard touchdown to Marvin McNutt. His second went for a 66-yard touchdown to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. He finished the fourth quarter 3-for-3 passing for 177 yards and the two scores.

"The frustration doesn't really mount," Stanzi said. "That's when it can explode on you and cause even more problems for the team. You don't want to let your team down, and everyone on this team has a great job of having that attitude.

"We can all bounce back together."

Iowa admits it's a "slow-start team," as Johnson-Koulianos said, but Saturday's opening act was uncharacteristically poor. The Hawkeyes got pushed off the ball, committed silly penalties and struggled on special teams, an area of strength.

Johnson-Koulianos sensed something was wrong during warmups.

"There was just an eerie feeling," he said.

When told of Johnson-Koulianos' sentiment, linebacker A.J. Edds laughed.

"Halloween?" Edds said.

The date certainly seemed fitting, as Iowa came back from the dead again. And anyone who doubts Iowa has some magic this season became a believer in the third quarter.

Indiana led 21-7 midway through the third quarter and had third-and-goal from the Iowa 2-yard line. But Edds rushed Ben Chappell and got his hand on quarterback's arm.

What happened next was crazy.

Let's let safety Tyler Sash explain.

"The ball hits me and then goes off [Hoosiers tackle James Brewer] and Christian Ballard and A.J. Edds both got a hand on it, tipped it up," Sash said. "All of a sudden, the ball's parallel with my face and I just took off."

No one caught him, as he raced 86 yards to the end zone. Though Sash's runback didn't knock out the Hoosiers, it certainly staggered them.

"Luck? Eh," left tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "Some say it's better to be lucky than good. Is it going to run out? I don't know. It may. But as long as it keeps going, let's keep riding it."

Iowa's detractors will point to luck as the reason the Hawkeyes are undefeated and cite an inevitable letdown. It will be interesting to see how Saturday's game affects Iowa's spot in the polls and BCS standings.

The first three quarters were ugly, but Iowa fourth-quarter surge made the final score lopsided.

"We're 9-0," Johnson-Koulianos said. "So whatever the BCS standings are, whatever the rankings are, we haven't lost a game. ... Critics right now, they don't want to believe in us, but you know what? We don't want them to believe in us.

"This is about Hawk Nation and everybody that's involved."