A clockwork blue

Nov. 9, 2008

by Sean Neugent

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Like a magician, No. 3 Penn State made a sizable amount of game clock disappear with the use of several first downs in the first half before the University of Iowa football team made some second-half adjustments to win in thrilling fashion, 24-23, inside historic Kinnick Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Iowa took the momentum early when the defense forced a three-and-out to make Penn State punt from their endzone. Two plays later junior running back Shonn Greene broke loose for a touchdown to put the UI up early.

Penn State nearly had the ball the remainder of the first half using every first down to its advantage and with efficiency, watched the clock tic away. The Nittany Lions used 47 plays for 203 yards to get 18 first downs and work 23:34 off the clock — to the UI’s 6:26.

Of the three Nittany Lion scores, Penn State sustained drives of 9:43, 5:02 and 8:18. The Hawkeye defense refused to let the Nittany Lions win the battle, and held them to three field goals and only a touchdown throughout Penn State’s 203 yards in the first half.

Iowa has done a nice job making halftime adjustments and the Hawkeyes came out in the second half making sure they did a better job of sustaining drives and using the clock to their advantage. Iowa did just that and outscored Penn State 17-10 in the final half of play.

The Hawkeyes looked like a completely different team in the second half, amassing 202 yards on 42 plays and using 17:82 of the clock. It was a complete turnaround from the first half when Iowa ran 15 plays for 70 yards. The defense also locked down, holding Penn State to only 86 yards over the final 30 minutes.

Making a first down on third down has been tough to come by this year for the Hawkeyes. Completing first downs may have made the biggest difference in Saturday’s game. After going 0 of 2 in the first half, Iowa finished the game 7 of 10, putting them in position for victory.

“We didn’t get it done in the first half,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We missed two third-and-3’s. Statistics are certainly lopsided there. But that was a big difference in that second half. You convert third downs, you get a chance to be a good offensive football team, and it made big difference for us.”

The Hawkeyes have come close to winning every game this season, losing four games by a combined 12 points. They were determined to pull off the upset bid and the clock that was unfavorable to them in the first half was their best friend in the fourth quarter.

“Last year proved that six wins doesn’t get you into a bowl game. We have to win at least one more — maybe two– so we just have to keep fighting and plugging away.”
UI senior Mitch King

“Every game we’ve lost has been close and, quote unquote, “winnable,” and that’s, I guess, the losing team saying that, but the only way to get over the hump is to push over the hump,” Ferentz said. “As I said the other day I think it was, 2001, it took us to game 12 to get it. It was in a bowl game against Texas Tech — tough ballgame, and we found a way to get that one done, and we did it today, so I’m hoping maybe this will show us we can get it done. Hopefully it will be tangible evidence.”

“[Coach Ferentz] told us to keep doing what we are doing,” said linebacker A.J. Edds. “He told us to keep making plays, we were doing good things and just keep it up, keep playing and things will eventually go our way and that is what happened.”

Ricky Stanzi led Iowa’s final drive and used a 15-play, 57-yard drive in the final minutes to set sophomore kicker Daniel Murray up for heroics. Murray finished the job with a 31-yard field goal that set the scene for hysteria for fans and players. With one second remaining in the game, fans rushed the field before being sent back to the stands so Murray could kickoff. After the kickoff, the fans rushed right back onto the field.

“As soon as I got my stance I knew I’d remember this the rest of my life,” said punter Ryan Donahue, who is the holder on field goal attempts. “I saw it go through the uprights and looked back and Murray was halfway down the field.”

“We know we have confidence in ourselves and our offense,” Stanzi said. “We know we can win the games. It’s just we have come down on so many close drives, close finishes and we obviously got sick of it. No one likes to play a game like that and you want to finish. We were fortunate to win the game today- they are a great team. Everyone focused really well, it went down to the wire and we did a good job in the fourth quarter of keeping our poise and finishing the drive when we needed to.”

With the upset over Penn State, the Hawkeyes are bowl eligible with two games left on the regular-season schedule. They will look to take their momentum into next Saturday’s game against Purdue at Kinnick Stadium with an 11 a.m. kickoff. It will be Senior Day as well as the final home game of the season.

“Last year proved that six wins doesn’t get you into a bowl game,” said defensive lineman Mitch King. “We have to win at least one more — maybe two– so we just have to keep fighting and plugging away.”