Nov. 20, 2004
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IOWA CITY, IA. — Nobody would have imagined it seven weeks ago when Iowa was standing at 2-2, but with a 30-7 win over Wisconsin Saturday night the Hawkeyes clinched a share of the Big Ten Conference title.
Before its 11th-consecutive sellout inside a 75-year-old Kinnick Stadium, No. 17 Iowa kept its collective head above two near-costly interceptions to start the game, and capitalized off of two more by ninth-ranked Wisconsin to tie Michigan for the league crown.
While the Wolverines will head to the Rose Bowl after their 37-21 loss to Ohio State in Columbus earlier on Saturday, the Hawkeyes (9-2, 7-1) appear to be Orlando bound with their first trip to the Capital One Bowl.
But Head Coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t allow himself the time to consider the game’s implications once he knew the score of the game in Ohio.
“We talked about that Tuesday and last night, and I think one thing is that our team has really done a good job of keeping their eyes to what’s right in front of them,” he said. “We had to because we’re not a pretty team. We’re not a high-octane ball club. We’ve just tried to focus and our goal was to win our ninth game overall and just try to be 7-1 in the conference. And if that put us in first place, wonderful, and if it puts us in second we couldn’t control that.”
At end, though, after the field-rushing mass of fans had allowed the coach and the press to fulfill their respective post-game obligations, the coach – who’s led two teams in the last three years to a share of the conference championship and to three consecutive bowls on Jan. 1 – took the advice he gave to his players at the start of the week.
“Today was just one of those special environments, and we thought on Tuesday we would have a chance,” Ferentz said. “We encouraged our players to really try to enjoy the moment this entire week, and it’s been a great feeling because through the month of November our guys really did a great job and gave us every chance to make each game significant.”
For Ferentz, who won the AP Football Coach of the Year in 2002, this may have been the best team he’s coached.
“It would rank up there – just because of all the challenges,” he said. “I don’t know how you could top it. The will that they’ve all exhibited – it’s really impressive.”
It was the Hawkeye defense that was the most impressive on Saturday night.
The Hawkeyes limited the Badgers (9-2, 6-2) to a mere 41 yards on the ground and 186 yards total, sacked Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco four times, forced three fumbles and two interceptions, and recorded seven tackles for loss.
Matt Roth celebrates with fans after Iowa’s 30-7 win over Wisconsin. The victory gave Iowa a share of the Big Ten Conference title with Michigan.
The back-to-back interceptions in the third quarter by Jovon Johnson and Sean Considine were the key plays of the game for Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez.
“They play a soft coverage, and if you try to force some things, that’s when you get your turnovers,” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened. John tried to force some things down the field and they just weren’t there.
“You have to take advantage,” Alvarez added. “We turned it over in the third quarter and they took advantage of it. We had great opportunities in the early part of the game, but we just couldn’t get anything going. I don’t think it deflates you, but you pass up opportunities.”
Considine’s interception led to a 32-yard drive which culminated with a 12-yard pass from quarterback Drew Tate to Scott Chandler to go up 21-7.
And while that play gave Iowa the commanding lead it needed to get through the final quarter, Wisconsin’s downward slide really started – oddly enough – after its first touchdown.
Stanley Booker ran with a sweeping right play for four yards to tie the game 7-7 with about two minutes remaining in the first half.
Iowa, however, was not about to let the Badgers ride that type of momentum into the halftime. And on an unlikely call in a hurry-up offense, Tate found junior Clinton Solomon 51-yards away and connected to go up 14-7 with exactly a minute left on the clock.
“Normally I run a crossing route with the tight end, but I honestly didn’t know what route to run,” Solomon said. “I saw the safety was one-on-one with me, so I figured I’ve got to try to beat him and get open, and I looked back and Drew and I made eye contact and he let go of the ball.
“Drew just put the ball out in front of me to the right, and I ran to go up and get it and made the play.”
The success of such an unscripted play underlines Tate’s abilities, according to Ferentz.
“We better put (that play) in,” the coach quipped. “We were in a two-minute mode, and he had the wheel at that point. He has a way of doing things. He’s an amazing guy.”
While the Hawkeyes did give up two interceptions on the day, Iowa did have the lowest turnover margin in the league going into the game Saturday. That statistic, says Ferentz, has been the most important.
“One thing we’ve done since that Michigan ballgame is we’ve done a really good job of protecting the football,” the coach said. “We ended up, at least in Big Ten stats, top of the league in turnover margins, and that’s been a big part of our success. That would have been about the worst thing that could have happened, but there’s our defense.”
Again it came back to Iowa’s defense. Even though Wisconsin was missing star running back Anthony Davis, Ferentz said the setup didn’t change and it all starts with the line.
“We’ve been riding the defense all season long, and we were ready for the challenge. And last week’s script worked out pretty good because winning with giving up 300 yards on the ground, I had a suspicion that our guys would be a little more focused this week, and I think that’s what we saw.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
“You can’t say enough about the defense,” he said. “They’re anchoring and doing a good job. We’ve been riding the defense all season long, and we were ready for the challenge. And last week’s script worked out pretty good because winning with giving up 300 yards on the ground, I had a suspicion that our guys would be a little more focused this week, and I think that’s what we saw.”
Linebacker Chad Greenway, who collected 10 tackles against the Badgers and has 251 career tackles which ranks 26th at Iowa, agreed with his coach’s analysis.
“I think it was the D-line,” the junior said. “Stocco was a great quarterback, but he’s not quite as effective when he’s running and throwing, and that’s what we wanted him to do. And we had such great pressure on him all day, to flush him out and make some bad decisions.
“Our defense came and played like they did all year. They pressured the quarterback and made it easier for the defensive backs as well,” he added.
For Tyler Luebke, a defensive lineman, the most he can say is that his unit “did a good job.”
“It’s just great to have this,” he said. “Two championships are pretty big. I’m sure it won’t hit me until tomorrow, but it’s a pretty good feeling I have right now.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com