IOWA CITY — It really happened.
Amani Hooker pinched himself, just to make sure.
"You dream about having games like this and today, the dream came true," said the Iowa safety who started it all Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Hooker intercepted Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett on the first snap of the game and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown that sent the Hawkeyes on their way to a stunning 55-24 pounding of third-ranked Ohio State that sent thousands of fans spilling out of the stands and onto the turf to celebrate when it was over.
"I just strapped my helmet on tight and enjoyed the moment," said tight end T.J. Hockenson, on the receiving end of two of the five touchdown passes thrown by Nate Stanley. "It was pretty wild out there."
The Buckeyes, their postseason playoff hopes slashed, left with a different feeling.
"This is a terrible feeling," Ohio State center Billy Prince said. "… It’s the Kinnick curse, or whatever you want to call it. We just didn’t come prepared."
Iowa was more than ready, taking advantage of nearly every opportunity to earn its fourth win in its last five home games against opponents ranked in the top five in the country.
When it was all over, the victory, which made the Hawkeyes bowl eligible for the 16th time in 17 seasons, came as Iowa enjoyed its largest margin of victory ever in the 65 games it has played against Ohio State, and the Hawkeyes piled up the most points it has scored against a Big Ten opponent since putting up 55 against Minnesota in 2008.
"I thought we grew up a little bit today," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "… We did a good job in the basic areas you have to win, turnover takeaway margin, I thought we blocked for the first time like you need to if you’re going to be on the varsity and defensively, it was a rocky beginning against an explosive team, but we settled it down and finished it off."
Combined, that positioned the Hawkeyes to run off 31 unanswered points against Ohio State, breaking a 17-17 tie with a pair of scores late in the second quarter and never looking back.
After trading points with the Buckeyes — two touchdowns and a field goal apiece — Stanley targeted his tight ends to help Iowa open a 31-17 halftime lead.
The Hawkeye quarterback connected with Hockenson and Noah Fant nine times covering 125 yards, including touchdown passes of 25 and 3 yards to Fant in the final 3 minutes, 6 seconds of the second quarter.
The first came on the first snap after a targeting call that sent Ohio State defensive leader Nick Bosa to locker room, and the second, with :30 to go before halftime, followed the first of Josh Jackson’s school record-tying three interceptions.
"We have a lot of confidence in the abilities of our tight ends to make plays, and they did a great job today when they were called on," said Stanley, who completed 20-of-31 passes. "It started with the guys up front. It was a team effort all the way."
It also followed a focused week of work by the Hawkeyes.
"There wasn’t anybody outside of the (football) complex who thought we had a chance," Stanley said. "But we prepared all week to put ourselves in a position to win. We believed we could do it."
Ferentz sensed that as he watched Iowa compete early in the game, beginning with Hooker’s interception and an offensive effort which led to points on four of the Hawkeyes’ first five possessions.
"I was feeling somehow, someway," Ferentz said. "I know we had a three-and-out in there somewhere, but I thought we responded to the situations a little better overall."
Barrett did complete 18-of-34 passes for 208 yards and threw for three touchdowns, but Iowa held its own.
Led by 118 yards from Akrum Wadey, the Hawkeyes rushed for a season-high 243 yards and fell 10 yards shy of their best overall offensive performance of the year with 487 yards.
But, it took a defensive effort that limited Ohio State (7-2, 6-1 Big Ten) to nine plays and 23 yards in the third quarter to shake the Buckeyes, whose 371 yards of offense were 200 yards off of their season average.
"We came out in the second half and got things under control, started to play Iowa football," linebacker Josey Jewell said.
The Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3) used a little trickery to extend their lead as well.
Holder Colten Rastetter hit long snapper Tyler Kluver with an 18-yard pass on a fake to set up Iowa’s only touchdown of the third quarter, a 2-yard pass to Hockenson that Stanley threw with Ohio State defender Sam Hubbard wrapped around his leg.
"I got the first down and let the offense do its job," Kluver said. "Those guys had it going all day."
Stanley added a 2-yard touchdown pass to Muscatine’s Drake Kulick on the first snap of the fourth quarter to extend a lead, which grew to 48-17 when Miguel Recinos hit his second 30-yard field goal of the game with 13:16 remaining following Jackson’s second interception.
"I was just out there trying to do my job. (Barrett) is a great quarterback, and I was able to get a couple of good reads and make some plays," Jackson said. "It feels good to be part of something like this. We prepared hard all week, were focused, and we came out and played the way we are capable of playing. It was a pretty good day."