Pound, Pound, Pound...and Break the Rock

Oct. 4, 2008

EAST LANSING, Mich. –“Break the Rock.” The University of Iowa football team that played in the 2003 Orange Bowl used those words as daily motivation to win a Big Ten Conference championship.

What did it mean? The answer is really pretty simple: Keep pounding each play, each day, each practice, each game and eventually, you will break through…you’ll break the rock and achieve what you’ve been working for.

The 2008 Iowa Hawkeyes face that same challenge after playing well enough to win their game Saturday against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium but, instead, came up on the short end of a 16-13 score.

They’re pounding. Hard. With force. With determination. But they’re coming up shy in the column that matters most: The win column.

Sure. The Hawkeyes hurt themselves with three turnovers, two inside the red zone when points – a valuable commodity for the visiting team in a Big Ten Conference football game – seemed likely.

And, sure, the Hawkeyes’ Shonn Greene won the battle of the tailbacks, outgaining the much-ballyhooed Javon Ringer 157 to 91.

But, pound as they might, for the second straight week, the Hawkeyes came up short when it mattered most: On their final offensive possession with a chance to win.

This time, a chance for victory was snatched from Iowa’s grasp when a Michigan State linebacker shot a gap and tackled Greene for a two-yard loss when all he needed to gain was a little more than a football to give Iowa a fresh set of downs.

Iowa plays at Indiana next Saturday in a game that kicks off at 11 a.m. and will be televised live by the Big Ten Network.

The Hawkeyes have lost three games in a row by a combined nine points. They could have easily won each, but they didn’t and that fact undoubtedly has a lot of fans scratching their heads, lighting up radio call-in shows, and burnin’ the blogs and chatrooms.

But, there’s another point of view. The “Break the Rock” point of view….keep pounding because, sooner or later, good things will happen.

“They just need to get over the hump and they will. For what it’s worth, from where I sit, the Hawkeyes will be playing in a bowl game this year,” said Ray Bentley during ESPN2’s coverage of the game.

Bowl eligibility is three victories away. Iowa fans learned last year that seven wins – not six – is probably a better place to get to if you want serious post-season consideration. Will the Hawkeyes get there?

“This Iowa team is a very young team that’s going to be very good down the road and I’m not talking next year. It’s a good team with a solid head coach – one of the best in the business. As Kirk (Ferentz) said earlier this week, they need to protect the ball and clean it up because they’re giving themselves opportunities to win. They will and they’ll also learn how to win and when they do, look out,” added Bentley.

Iowa put itself in a position to steal a league victory on the road in great measure by doing what they’ve done very well in each of their first six games of 2008: Call Shonn Greene’s number. Greene pounded the Michigan State defense and defenders, sending three green-and-white clad defensive backs to the sidelines with injuries.

Then, when everyone in Spartan Stadium expected more the of same, the Hawkeyes went up top and took advantage of the new faces in the defensive backfield with a pretty 31-yard touchdown strike from Ricky Stanzi to Andy Brodell that trimmed the MSU margin to three.

“What a great call by (Offensive Coordinator Ken) O’Keefe. He saw new faces in the defensive backfield and took advantage. And Brodell’s catch was perfect….good today and good on Sundays,” Bentley said, commenting on the question of whether Brodell had full possession of the pigskin.

The catch was one of a team-high five for Iowa’s wide receiver. He also averaged better than nine yards on four punt returns.