Oct. 12, 2009
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by Sean Neugent
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Winning football games is a relatively easy concept: the team that limits mistakes and turnovers usually winds up winning the game. The University of Iowa has forced 19 turnovers to date, so it is clear why the Hawkeyes are off to their first 6-0 start since 1985.
The Hawkeyes pride themselves on forcing turnovers and their true colors showed Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium after collecting five turnovers that led to a 30-28 victory over the University of Michigan.
The Iowa and Michigan offenses started on the wrong foot Saturday night. The second play of the game, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi threw a dart to Wolverines’ defensive back Donovan Warren who returned it 44 yards for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 advantage. Michigan’s quarterback Tate Forcier threw an interception on his first attempt of the game to Iowa linebacker Jeremiha Hunter that led to a 28-yard Daniel Murray field goal.
The difference in Iowa’s win was after Stanzi’s interception, the Hawkeyes settled down and did not turn the ball over the rest of the game. Stanzi finished 20 of 38 for 284 yards, two touchdowns, and the lone blemish on the interception. Forcier was rattled the rest of the night going 8 of 19 for 94 yards before backup Denard Robinson took over late in the game.
The Hawkeyes recovered three fumbles and intercepted two passes against Michigan. It was the third time this year that Iowa recorded at least four takeaways in a game (four at Penn State, five against Michigan and six at Iowa State).
“All season we have been practicing getting to the ball and just playing good defense,” Hunter said. “That is what we did today, we just came out and did the best we could and we were able to get to the ball.”
“Credit the defensive line. It was able to get some pressure to cause some bad decisions by the quarterback and got a couple of forced fumbles,” safety Tyler Sash said. “We got the job done that is all you can ask for.”
Defensively, Iowa is among the best in forcing turnovers and turnover margin. The Hawkeyes have 12 interceptions and recovered seven of the 13 fumbles they forced. They are only one interception away from tying Southern Methodist University for the most in Division I, are tied for 16th in fumble recoveries (leader has 11) and are tied for fifth in turnover margin (+1.50) with No. 2 ranked Alabama.
The numbers speak for themselves and are a big reason that the Hawkeyes are the No. 11 ranked team in the nation.
“I thought we played aggressively and the turnover margin, if we take care of the ball better not only today but over the long haul, our margin would be even better. Last year we really started gaining ground on the take-away margin, which was great, and the defense seems to be picking up on that now and the special teams. It’s being opportunistic, its guys hitting out there when it’s appropriate and it’s great to see.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
“I thought we played aggressively and the turnover margin, if we take care of the ball better not only today but over the long haul, our margin would be even better,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Last year we really started gaining ground on the take-away margin, which was great, and the defense seems to be picking up on that now and the special teams. It’s being opportunistic, its guys hitting out there when it’s appropriate and it’s great to see.”
The Hawkeyes have 10 turnovers of their own (eight interceptions, two fumbles), but have limited the mistakes in crunch time to help them beat three teams by a combined six points.
Three interceptions off of Stanzi have been returned for touchdowns this season. Defense has limited the damage when the offense has turned the ball over and opponents have scored only nine points (30 points total with 21 off interception returns). Iowa however, has scored 60 points off turnovers this season.
Iowa ball-hawker Sash has been a big reason the Hawkeyes have forced so many turnovers and is tied with UCLA free safety Rahim Moore for most interceptions in the country with five each. UI free safety Brett Greenwood is not far behind with three interceptions.
“It feels good any time you can get some turnovers and that is what we talk about every day in practice, causing turnovers,” Sash said.
Greenwood sealed the win against the Wolverines. Michigan had the ball down by two with 46-seconds remaining before Robinson threw a deep pass that Greenwood picked off. For a defensive-minded team, it was only fitting the gamed ended off of a turnover. A kneel down later set Hawkeyes fans in a frenzy as they rushed the field.
“It felt great. Anything that can help the team out is great,” Greenwood said. “We were able to get the ball back and run out the clock. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and make the play. I knew I needed to make the catch, get down and give the ball back to our offense to run out the clock.”
Iowa has collected at least one turnover in 19 consecutive games, dating back to the final contest of the 2007 season. They are well on their way to last season’s mark of 32 takeaways.
The Hawkeyes still know they have a lot of work to do and everyone will be vying to be the first team to give them a loss.
“You can’t be satisfied because when you are satisfied that is when you stop growing,” defensive end Broderick Binns said. “We know that it is going to take everything we have from here on out. I think we have a good defense, but I think we have the potential to be a lot better. There are some things that we need to clean up.”
The Hawkeyes have another test waiting in Madison, Wis., when they meet the Badgers next Saturday inside Camp Randall Stadium with an 11 a.m. kickoff.
“That is what you want if you are a competitor is to go into a hostile environment,” Sash said. “We saw that at Penn State, that was a pretty hostile environment and we handled it pretty well. We are excited about the challenge and can’t wait to get back to work.”