Wine Online: Maybe That Close One Was a Good One

Sept. 29, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa – After Iowa and Penn State slogged their way through three quarters of a football game at Beaver Stadium Saturday night, one thing was obvious to 107,000 rain-soaked fans and an ABC television audience.

Neither team was likely to mount a 70-yard touchdown drive in the final period. Not against the defense they were facing. Not on this water-logged playing surface. Not with a slippery football.

Iowa was on the wrong side of a 10-5 score and desperately needed a touchdown. Someone needed to make a big play. In the modern vernacular, someone needed to step up. And that’s when Adrian Clayborn took the game by the throat and delivered.

The 283-pound junior end crashed through Penn State’s punt protection and blocked a punt point-blank. But he wasn’t done yet. When the ball took a friendly bounce — in baseball it’s called a Sunday hop — he snatched it out of the air and ran 53 yards for a touchdown. The only thing that touched him was rain in the face. Penn State players were nowhere near.

When Iowa’s attempt at a two-point conversion was smothered, it left the Hawkeyes with a precarious 11-10 lead and nearly a quarter to play. Penn State could win with a field goal, but what happened next might have been scripted by Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz.

Linebacker Pat Angerer intercepted a pass and showed some nice moves in returning it 38 yards to the Penn State 24. Three plays later Adam Robinson did his best impression of Shonn Greene by breaking three tackles to score from 13 yards out.

Iowa’s lead had suddenly ballooned to a more comfortable 18-10, but the Hawkeye defense was not done yet. Safety Tyler Sash forced a fumble that was recovered by Angerer. The Hawkeyes did not capitalize on that turnover and punted, but almost immediately got the ball back when linebacker A.J. Edds intercepted a pass that was deflected by tackle Karl Klug.

With four minutes remaining, Iowa picked up two first downs before Daniel Murray kicked a field goal with eight seconds remaining. Iowa had stunned fourth-ranked Penn State and its white-out fans with 16 fourth quarter points and won going away, 21-10.

On a night when the playing conditions were frightful, this victory belonged to the defense and special teams.

The Hawkeyes had four takeaways, with corner Shaun Prater getting an interception in the first half. When Ryan Donahue’s punt was downed at the six yard line, Penn State tried to throw out of the end zone, but Iowa was awarded a two-point safety when Broderick Binns smothered the quarterback.

The Hawkeyes scored 21 points with only one offensive touchdown, that coming on a 24-yard drive following an interception. Murray kicked two field goals, one from 41 yards.

Iowa’s defense has allowed only three touchdowns in four games. It leads the Big Ten with 12 takeaways, 11 in the last three games. And the only senior starters are linebackers Angerer and Edds.

Playing in poor weather conditions, it was Penn State — the more veteran and higher ranked team — that made costly turnovers. Iowa never put the ball on the ground and credit should go to Robinson and Brandon Wegher, who share time at running back. The two freshmen are showing noticeable improvement. Against a rugged Penn State defense, they combined for 33 carries, 161 yards and no fumbles.

Iowa is unbeaten in its first four games, and its four victims have a combined record of 12-4, with their only loss to the Hawkeyes. Iowa will likely appear in the Top 25 this week. It started out there but was punished by the polls’ panelists following a one-point victory over UNI in the opener.

In retrospect, the narrow win over the Panthers might have been good for this football team. Maybe it was a wake-up call. One thing is certain — the Iowa team we saw at Penn State is much better than the one we saw in the opening game. It will be interesting to see how much more improvement this ball club can make.