It would be an understatement to say that Ohio State was out for revenge against Iowa in 2005. They felt it. They needed it. A cleansing was necessary. It was like having an open wound for a full year and finally getting a chance to bandage it.
The 2004 season had been a roller-coaster ride for OSU players and fans alike, but the low point was definitely that afternoon in Iowa City when the Buckeyes were humiliated by Drew Tate and the Hawkeyes, 33-7. The debt accrued by that public thrashing would need to be repaid. Revenge would have to be taken.
Even offensive coordinator and theoretical offensive line coach Jim Bollman grasped the difference one year would make. Interviewed after the San Diego State contest the week before, he seemed delighted to be going up against Iowa the next week and practically salivated at the prospect of matching up with their suddenly inexperienced defensive line. It's not unusual for college teams to become suddenly weak at one area due to players completing eligibility. It is unusual for an opposing coach to start taunting that team about their weakness one week in advance.
A weak Iowa defensive line would be just the tonic that this Buckeye squad needed to get its offense going. Through the first three games of the season, the team had driven the ball well at times, but had a lot of trouble finishing in the red zone and as a result frequently settled for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. The lack of scoring punch had already cost them one game.
After a lackluster 34-14 win over Miami (OH), OSU faced the Texas Longhorns at home, the first meeting ever between the two storied programs. Ohio State struggled on offense, despite getting good field position after three Texas turnovers. Placekicker Josh Huston tied a school record with five field goals, but the team ultimately fell to Vince Young and the Horns, 25-22.
It was thought that San Diego State would be a sacrificial lamb for the Buckeyes to take out their frustrations against, but again the Buckeyes struggled to finish drives, turning the ball over twice and settling for two more field goals on their way to a 27-6 victory. The team actually trailed the Aztecs 6-0 after they surrendered an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game.
And did I mention the quarterback controversy? Ironically, this had begun the previous season, when the Buckeyes were rallying from their lowest point in the season to grab one bit of dignity out of a bucket of ignominy. Yes, that was the 33-7 loss at Iowa. The depths of that awful defeat led to the discovery of the arm that would guide them to greater glory.
Troy Smith engineered Ohio State's only touchdown drive on the Buckeyes' last possession, hitting Rory Nicol with a 23-yard pass for the score. After that, Smith was elevated to starter over Justin Zwick and he led the team to wins in four of their last five contests, including a soul-cleansing 37-21 victory over Rose Bowl-bound Michigan.
So how did the controversy develop? Shortly after the win over UM, it was discovered that Smith had taken $500 from a booster, and he was suspended for two games. Zwick led the team to victory in their bowl game and against Miami the next season as Smith sat. Both QBs played against Texas but neither distinguished himself. Smith won back the starting job the next week, but was rusty even in victory.
Iowa's inexperienced defensive line was indeed the right medicine to cure what ailed the Buckeye offense. As it turned out, Ohio State dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and crushed the Hawkeyes 31-6 in a game that was not even as close as the score indicated.
OSU piled up 314 yards rushing and 530 yards overall on 81 offensive plays, holding the ball for over 39 minutes in the process. The Buckeye defense also did their part, holding Iowa to 137 total yards on 67 offensive plays, 146 yards in the air and minus nine yards on the ground. Not only did they physically punish the Hawkeyes, but they got to them mentally as well.
Iowa quarterback Drew Tate had passed and run at will against the Buckeyes in Iowa City the previous year, notching his second straight 300-yard passing game. His whirling-arm celebration after one particular touchdown pass was replayed endlessly on game highlights afterward. But in this game, his emotions would again come to the surface, and not in a good way.
The Ohio State defense, led by linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, pressured Tate relentlessly the entire game, and then contained him when he tried to run out of the pocket. For every move Tate made, Hawk and company seemed to have an answer. His running game was going nowhere and his receivers were not getting open.
Finally, boiling over in frustration after being sacked outside the pocket by Carpenter, Tate jumped up and spiked the football. Carpenter immediately pointed this out to the nearby officials, and they dutifully flagged the Iowa QB for unsportsmanlike conduct. It was a microcosm of the game in general, the perfect absolute opposite of his celebration the previous year. Revenge taken, wounds healed.
For his part, Smith seemed to regain the brashness and the daring he had displayed late in 2004, before the untimely suspension. He was everything that Tate was not, going for 191 yards and two touchdowns through the air and also gashing the Hawkeyes for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. There was no arm-windmill act on this day, but a message was sent nonetheless. Confidence regained, controversy ended.
It would not be the end of the struggles, however. The very next week at Penn State, the offense again ran into problems, this time courtesy of a very good defense. The Nittany Lions prevailed, 17-10, on their way to an 11-1 season in which they would finish ranked No. 3 in the country. After that game, Ohio State would reel off 7 straight victories, including a thrilling 25-21 win at Michigan and a resounding 34-20 triumph over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Having thus defeated two of college football's most celebrated programs, the Buckeyes finished the season right behind Penn State at #4, setting them up to make a run for ultimate glory the next season.