Comeback Falls Short

Stats | Boxscore

Nov. 1, 2008

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Iowa Hawkeyes, buried and left for dead early in the fourth quarter when they fell behind by double-digits inside a hostile Memorial Stadium, fought, clawed and battled, but it was too little, too late and the visitors were handed a 27-24 loss by the Fighting Illini of Illinois.

The Illini won the game on a 46-yard field goal by red-shirt freshman Matt Eller, who split the uprights with 24 ticks left on the clock. The kick was the final play of a hurry-up 12-play drive by the Illini that was necessary after UI running back Shonn Greene rambled five yards to paydirt to set up a successful two-point conversion between Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi and tight end Allen Reisner.

Those heroics were the direct result of Iowa’s mainstay: Its defense. Mitch King – Iowa’s defensive leader – stripped the ball from UI freshman Jason Ford on a second-and-six play at the Illini’s 33 with precious time slipping away. Tyler Sash recovered and Iowa’s offense went to work to make it interesting…before the Illini stole Cinderella’s slipper.

“We had opportunities early that we didn’t capitalize on and that became a factor at the end of the game,” explained Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, who had entered the game with a five-game winning streak over the Illini.

The loss dropped Iowa to 5-4 overall and 2-3 in Big Ten Conference play. The loss was another heartbreaker, like the three this season: By one at Pitt, by five to Northwestern, and by three at Michigan State.

“To their credit, they did a nice job of tweaking their defensive game plan to make it tough for Shonn and the run game and tough on Rick. On the other hand, to his credit, Rick bounced back from bumpy third quarter to be a strong leader for us in the fourth,” added Ferentz.

“If there’s a positive today, it was how the guys battled back in the fourth quarter. I’m sure it appeared to a lot of people that the game was over after they scored on the fumble. But our guys responded and that’s a big positive.”
Kirk Ferentz

“If there’s a positive today, it was how the guys battled back in the fourth quarter. I’m sure it appeared to a lot of people that the game was over after they scored on the fumble. But our guys responded and that’s a big positive.”

Statistically, Greene gained 100 yards for his ninth straight game, accumulating 103 on 21 attempts. Stanzi completed 11 passes for 191 yards. On the receiving end, Andy Brodell and Reisner each had three catches.

Iowa limited the Illini – the Big Ten’s most productive offense – to just 332 yards, 130 under its league-leading average, and only 60 yards on the ground. Iowa gained 329 yards and had 21 first downs compared to Illinois’ 14.

In the end, thought, this was, as Ferentz noted, a game of opportunities lost, particularly early in the game when Iowa won the battle of time possession but could punch their ticket to the endzone.

Illinois appeared to put the game out of reach early in the final stanza when UI lineman Dere Hicks hammered Stanzi, who looked to be attempting a pass, picked up the loose ball and returned the fumble seven yards to put the home team ahead 24-9 with just under 14 minutes to play.

It was the second big play for the big-play Illini. The home team hooked up on a 50-yard touchdown in the third quarter to push the score to 17-9.

Stanzi and the Hawkeyes responded with their most efficient and effective series of the day: A 24-yard pass to Brodell up the right sideline. A 17-yard completion to Trey Stross and, after a four-yard sack, Stanzi rolled right, improvised and found Brodell at the Illinois 10, who scurried to the pylon to cut the margin to 24-16.

“As I said, if we’re looking for a positive, it’s the way they responded when they scored on that fumble. Many teams would have packed it in. Our guys didn’t and that’s a positive, a big positive,” said Ferentz.

Illinois got on the board first at 5:07 of the opening quarter with a methodical 10-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that ended with freshman running back Jason Ford scoring on a two-yard dive. Williams hooked up with his favorite target Arrelious Benn for gains of 20 and 24.

Iowa responded by moving the ball on a number of series but failed to find the endzone. Trent Mossbrucker’s first field goal of the afternoon – a 26-yarder – came at the end of a 13-play drive that stalled in the red zone. The Hawkeyes successfully moved the ball into the red zone again on their next possession, but the drive stalled and this time Mossbrucker missed from 35 yards out.

Iowa rebounded with an interception by Amari Spievey and turned to their running back to find paydirt. And, after gains of five, eight, four and nine, it appeared as if they Hawkeye offense had found its groove. However, Greene was stuffed by a blitzing Illini safety for a loss of one on three-and-goal from the one and the Hawkeyes had to settle for a 20-yard field goal and a 7-6 margin.

Iowa now must turn its attention to the Big Ten’s leader, Penn State. The third-ranked Nittany Lions visit historic Kinnick Stadium next Saturday in a game that will kick off shortly after 2:30 p.m. Iowa time and will be televised live by ABC to a regional audience and will be seen by the rest of the country on ESPN.