Wine Online: MSU Win Huge

Oct. 4, 2004

Iowa’s 38-16 Homecoming victory over Michigan State on Saturday was important for two reasons.

First, it kept hopes alive for a fourth straight bowl berth. A loss at home, following two on the road, might not have been fatal to Iowa’s post-season aspirations, but it would have delivered a big splash of cold water.

Second, the Hawkeyes recorded their 10th straight Big Ten victory at Kinnick Stadium under Coach Kirk Ferentz. He had been tied with Forest Evashevski, who won nine in a row in the late 1950s. The best conference win streak for Hayden Fry was eight in the 1980s.

In beating Michigan State before a capacity crowd at Homecoming, Ferentz took a page from the play books of both Evashevski and Fry. Evy was famous for his surprising game plans, and Fry was an advocate of the forward pass. Ferentz junked his usual balanced attack and had quarterback Drew Tate throwing on nearly every down.

Members of the news media who regularly cover the Hawkeyes have done virtually nothing with this story, which puzzles me. Evashevski and Fry are the two greatest Iowa coaches in the last 50 years and both are in the College Football Hall of Fame. In less than six years Ferentz has put together a string of Big Ten victories that surpasses anything they were able to accomplish.

In all home games – Big Ten plus non-conference – Iowa has won 15 in a row, a Kinnick record but not a school mark. Howard Jones had a string of 20 victories at old Iowa Field in the 1920s. Ten of those wins were in the Big Ten, so he and Ferentz are currently tied at that number.

In beating Michigan State before a capacity crowd at Homecoming, Ferentz took a page from the play books of both Evashevski and Fry. Evy was famous for his surprising game plans, and Fry was an advocate of the forward pass. Ferentz junked his usual balanced attack and had quarterback Drew Tate throwing on nearly every down.

Iowa had two touchdown drives of 80 yards in the first quarter and only two running plays were called. One was Jermelle Lewis’ 47-yard dash for the first TD.

“They threw it almost every time on first down,” said MSU Coach John L. Smith. He was exaggerating, but not by much. Iowa threw on 21 of 30 first down plays, and most of the nine rushes were in the second half when the outcome was decided. Smith noted that Iowa’s strategy was “surprising,” which Ferentz was aiming for.

This was a game where statistics defied the outcome. MSU ran 26 plays more than Iowa, had 204 yards rushing, and had no turnovers — stats that normally determine the outcome of a football game. Yet the Spartans lost by 22 points.

The difference was that Iowa scored touchdowns while Michigan State scored field goals. The Spartans had two 15-play drives in the second period, but both stalled near the goal line and they settled for field goals. And they made puzzling decisions by attempting field goals twice in the second half when they desperately needed touchdowns to get back in the game.

The game took a big swing in the final seconds of the first half. After an MSU field goal made the score 14-6, Champ Davis returned a short kickoff 32 yards, Drew Tate and Clinton Solomon hooked up on a 36 yard pass, and Kyle Schlicher booted a 23 yard field goal with two seconds left.

That sent the Hawkeyes to the dressing room with a 17-6 lead and renewed momentum, which they demonstrated by driving 67 yards for a TD on their first possession of the third period. Iowa owned a 24-6 lead, and the outcome was pretty much decided.

Ferentz says he has seen improvement in his team the past two weeks. Good things came out of the game at Michigan, he said, despite the 17-point defeat. Against a decent MSU team, Iowa’s offense put up a season high 464 yards, and passed for the most yardage (340) in five seasons. The defense kept a good MSU attack under control — the visitors got most of their yardage and their only TD in the fourth quarter.

On the down side, the Hawkeyes have now lost more running backs than games. Lewis became the third RB to be lost for the season with an ACL. Marques Simmons and walk-on Sam Brownlee are now 1-2 at that important position with six games remaining. On the bright side, Brian Ferentz returned to action as an offensive guard and seemed to spark an inexperienced line that has been hit with injuries.

The solid victory over the Spartans should put the Iowa football camp in a good mood with an open weekend ahead. “We can use a break about now,” smiled Ferentz in his post-game press conference.

Next up is Ohio State, which went to Northwestern with a Top Ten ranking but got knocked off in overtime. Suddenly the Buckeyes look vulnerable. And a 16th straight win by Iowa at Kinnick Stadium looks possible.

Editor’s Note: George Wine, the University of Iowa’s long-time sports information director who is now retired and living in Coralville, Iowa, is the author of George Wine Online. George has remained very close to the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI since his retirement and, in fact, has authored two books during that time. The first was a collaboration with the subject of today’s editorial, Hayden Fry, and named “A High Porch Picnic.” The second, “Black & Gold Memories, The Hawkeyes of the 20th Century,” included many of the essays George originally wrote for “The Voice of the Hawkeyes.” As he wrote in the book, “Collectively, they serve as a historical reference, and hopefully provide entertaining reading.” “Black & Gold Memories” is currently available at Barnes & Noble book stores across Iowa and on the world wide web.