Nov. 7, 2009
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — In a season of fortuitous bounces, this one bounced away.
The University of Iowa bolted to a 10-0 lead, but tasted defeat for the first time in a calendar year after Northwestern scored 17 unanswered points to claim a 17-10 victory in Kinnick Stadium. The Wildcats have won three consecutive times in Iowa City.
“There was no effort problem,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ll get things cleaned up and move on quickly. This doesn’t end the season by any count. My guess is we’ll see a great effort next week (at Ohio State).”
Iowa, which suffered a loss for the first time since Nov. 1, 2008, dips to 9-1 overall, 5-1in the Big Ten Conference. Northwestern improves to 6-4, 3-3.
The Hawkeyes have missed several key players during this miraculous season and recovered each time. Not today. The departure of quarterback Ricky Stanzi, undoubtedly Iowa’s offensive leader, was too much for Iowa to overcome. Backup signal-caller James Vandenberg completed 9 of 27 attempts for 82 yards. He was intercepted once.
“I thought James stepped in and did a good job,” Ferentz said. “He’ll be a much better player the next time he hits the field.”
X-rays to Stanzi’s ankle were negative, leading to speculation that he suffered a high ankle sprain. Stanzi watched the second half on crutches from the sideline.
“If they X-rayed it, I have to figure it’s fairly serious,” Ferentz said. “We have to take the approach that he won’t go.”
“There was no effort problem. We’ll get things cleaned up and move on quickly. This doesn’t end the season by any count. My guess is we’ll see a great effort next week (at Ohio State).”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
Still, the Hawkeyes owned the overall yardage battle, 281 to 239, but had a large deficit in possession time (8:40 advantage for the Wildcats). UI linebacker Pat Angerer posted a game-high 17 tackles, followed by Jeremiha Hunter (10) and Broderick Binns (nine). Free safety Joe Conklin, starting for the injured Brett Greenwood, intercepted his first collegiate pass. For the game, Northwestern averaged 3.1 yards per 76 plays; Iowa averaged 4.5 yards per 63 snaps.
“Northwestern did a good job of defensive us,” Ferentz said. “There weren’t a lot of clean holes there.”
Before the injury, Stanzi gave the sellout crowd of 70,585 plenty to cheer about.
The now reliable pitch-and-catch combination of Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt stunned Northwestern just 60 seconds into the contest. Thanks to great protection by the offensive line, Stanzi had plenty of time on third-and-7 and hit a wide-open McNutt in stride for a 74-yard touchdown pass. The successful point-after kick by Daniel Murray made it 7-0.
Hawkeye defensive tackle Christian Ballard had the first big play on defense. On third down, he broke through the Northwestern line and sacked Wildcat quarterback Mike Kafka for an 8-yard loss. That forced a 39-yard punt and Iowa took possession at its own 37.
The Hawkeyes opened their ensuing drive with an 11-yard run by Wegher and a 30-yard completion from Stanzi to Trey Stross that took the ball to the Northwestern 20. The Wildcat defense forced a 39-yard field goal attempt by Murray, which was good, with 9:50 remaining. The 10-0 lead was Iowa’s first to begin a game since Oct. 3 against Arkansas State.
A second Iowa sack on third down — this one by end Broderick Binns — forced another Wildcat punt with 5:31 left in the first quarter. The Hawkeyes penetrated Northwestern territory to the 48 before punting. Stanzi completed two passes on the drive — 16 yards to Johnson-Koulianos and a 14-yarder to Wegher.
Stanzi completed 4 of 8 passes in the first quarter for 134 yards and a touchdown. The second quarter was not kind to Stanzi — or the Hawkeyes. He was intercepted by Jordan Mabin on Iowa’s first possession of the second quarter; on the second play of the second Hawkeye drive of the period he lost a fumble in the end zone that was recovered by Northwestern.
On second-and-10 from the Iowa 6, Stanzi rolled to his right and was smothered by Wildcat defensive end Corey Wooton. Stanzi dropped the ball and it was recovered by Northwestern defensive tackle Marshall Thomas in the end zone with 11:46 left in the quarter. The PAT by Stefan Demos cut the Iowa advantage to 10-7.
“We came out ready to play and did a good job in the opening quarter. We didn’t have enough gas in our tank to rally back in the second half.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
Stanzi was helped off the field before being replaced by Vandenberg. Vandenberg’s first pass attempt was intercepted by Quentin Davie — the third consecutive Hawkeye drive thwarted by turnover.
Northwestern turned the Vandenberg interception into a touchdown when quarterback Dan Persa found Drake Dunsmore in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 5:20 left before the break. That score capped a 10-play, 46-yard drive that consumed five minutes.
Iowa found the end zone — very briefly — at the 4:27 mark. Wegher took a handoff from Vandenberg, used what appeared to be a pancake block by center Rafael Eubanks and sprinted 64 yards for a score. Officials whistled Eubanks for holding and Iowa was faced with third-and-13 from its 29. Two plays later, the Hawkeyes lost their fourth turnover — this one a fumble by Wegher, after a 6-yard rush.
Northwestern started its drive inside Iowa territory at the 42, but on first down from the Hawkeye 29, Persa was intercepted in the end zone by Iowa free safety Joe Conklin. It was the first career interception by Conklin, who was starting for injured Brett Greenwood.
“We came out ready to play and did a good job in the opening quarter,” Ferentz said. “We didn’t have enough gas in our tank to rally back in the second half.”
As halftime arrived, it was a case of What’s New? For the Wildcats, they had a halftime lead for the 10th time this season. For Iowa, it was playing catch-up for the fifth game in a row.
It was a dreadful second quarter for the Hawkeyes, with four of five possessions ending via turnover. The half closed on a positive note for Iowa, as punter Ryan Donahue booted a 73-yard punt as the first 30 minutes came to a close.
At halftime, the Hawkeyes had 181 yards (160 coming in the first quarter). Conversely, Northwestern gained 63 of its 109 yards in the second quarter.
The Hawkeyes drove to the Northwestern 29 on their first possession of the third quarter, but Murray was wide left on a 46-yard field goal attempt. Vandenberg began settling into the flow of the game, completing 3 of 6 passes for 37 yards. Two of the completions went for first downs — 17 yards to McNutt and 12 yards to Johnson-Koulianos.
The third quarter ended with Iowa trailing by four and Northwestern moving to the Hawkeye 41. The Wildcats went back to Kafka, who converted two first downs before the third quarter ended. Northwestern scored the first points of the second half with a 47-yard field goal by Demos with 13:29 remaining. The 14-play, 52-yard drive gave the Wildcats a 17-10 advantage.
Iowa was inches away from adding a fourth-quarter scoring pass play. With 5:14 remaining, the Hawkeye offensive line picked up the blitz and Johnson-Koulianos had his defender beat, but the third-down pass was slightly overthrown. Iowa had a final chance for points with a drive that began with 2:04 left, but the undefeated season died at the Hawkeye 32 after four consecutive incomplete passes by Vandenberg.
Four quarterbacks saw action in the game. Stanzi and Vandenberg played for Iowa; Northwestern shuffled between Kafka and Persa before settling on Kafka after Persa suffered a hand injury.
The Hawkeyes travel to Ohio State to face the Buckeyes in Columbus for the first time since the 2005 season. The game will be televised by ABC with a 2:35 p.m. (Iowa time) kickoff.