Oct. 14, 2007
by Sean Neugent
IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa defensive attack showed its true colors Saturday afternoon as the Hawkeyes deflated the red-hot Illinois Fighting Illini, 10-6.
Illinois (5-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) came into historic Kinnick Stadium with a five-game winning streak, an unblemished league record and ranked No. 18 in the nation. The Hawkeyes (3-4, 1-3) figured out the Illini play-option scheme early and baffled a team that had been averaging 30 points a game.
It started with the Iowa offense sustaining several long and time-consuming drives — something the Hawkeyes lacked in the last few weeks. The offensive drives allowed the Iowa defense to rest — a much needed rest after last week’s game against Penn State when it was seemingly on the field the entire game. The Hawkeye offense held the ball for almost 10 more minutes than Illinois.
“We knew coming into the season that we had a good defensive ball club,” Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It hasn’t always shown at times because I think we had them out there too long. Today was one of those days where we got some balance in the game between our offense and defense and that is going to help you perform.”
One of the defensive stars of the game for Iowa was senior linebacker Mike Humpal.
“I looked up during the first half and it was almost over and we felt like we haven’t even played much,” Humpal said. “The offense played its tail off and did a really good job today.”
“It definitely helped us to stay fresh,” sophomore linebacker A.J. Edds said. “You look at how much we were on the field last week compared to this week and it makes a world of difference. It is always good when (the offense) can put some plays together — they’re doing a great job. They had a good week of practice and it showed.”
Senior linebacker Mike Klinkenborg is still out with a concussion he sustained a few weeks ago, but it didn’t stop players like Humpal from punishing the Fighting Illini. Humpal led the charge with 18 tackles, one sack, and a pivotal fumble recovery in the fourth quarter that was forced by senior defensive end Bryan Mattison.
“Mike (Humpal) has been playing well and I don’t know if he is compensating for his sidekick being out (Klinkenborg),” Ferentz said. “He’s been playing well all year and he is just a quality senior. We’re getting some great leadership from him.”
With just over a minute left in the fourth quarter, freshman free safety Brett Greenwood ended then Illinois comeback threat when he intercepted a forced throw by backup quarterback Eddie McGee. All that was left to do to preserve the win was for the Iowa offense to pick up one first down, which it did — thanks to an improving offensive line and the strong legs of senior running back Albert Young. Any frustration of the four-game losing streak disappeared as the Hawkeye Nation jumped out of their seats and rushed the field.
“We just wanted to come in here and shut down Illinois as much as we could,” defensive lineman Mitch King said. “The winning streak and losing streak? I didn’t even think about that today. Getting a win was huge for this program and for this team.”
Humpal continued his outstanding season and his consistent play has led him to a team-leading 73 tackles. That is 26 more than senior Adam Shada, who is second on the team’s tackle chart.
“Being a senior, I feel that you always need to be a leader — no matter who is playing,” Humpal said. “All the guys on defense have just been coming closer and closer together.”
The Iowa players and coaches were nothing but smiles after the game and they will take that rejuvenated energy and confidence to Purdue next week.
“It’s good to see everyone smiling again especially the seniors,” Edds said. “You don’t want the seniors to go out like that, so it’s good to get back in the winning column.”
“It is great to walk into the locker room and see the guys happy,” Ferentz said. “That’s what they work so hard for.”
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