Wine Online: Sunny Day Turns Dark, Real Dark

Nov. 8, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa fans who were eager to see their favorite football team get off to a fast start and an early lead got their wish Saturday.

On a gorgeous day at Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes scored in the first minute of play on a 74-yard touchdown pass from Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt. On their next possession they moved downfield and Daniel Murray booted a 39-yard field goal.

The game was barely five minutes old and Iowa owned a 10-0 lead on Northwestern. This looked like the day the Hawkeyes would build a comfortable lead and fans could kick back and watch their team coast to victory, but it didn’t turn out that way.

One play turned this game the wrong way, and it happened early in the second quarter. Stanzi, attempting to pass from his own end zone, not only fumbled the football to give Northwestern a cheap touchdown, he badly sprained an ankle when he was taken to the turf.

The Hawkeyes had lost their quarterback for the rest of the game — and perhaps for the remainder of the regular season — and they were about to lose their first football game of the year.

James Vandenberg, a redshirt freshman whose only experience was a cameo role at Iowa State nearly two months ago, took over at quarterback. His first pass was picked off and Northwestern converted the interception into a touchdown.

The Hawkeyes found themselves in a 14-10 hole, but there was nothing unusual about that. They had faced deficits in eight of their nine victories this year and overcome them all.

Only this time the hole was too deep. Stanzi was on the sideline and an untested rookie was at quarterback. For a brief moment — when Brandon Wegher dashed 64 yards to the end zone — it looked like the Hawkeyes still had some magic. But the play was nullified by penalty, and Iowa’s offense never fired another shot.

Iowa has been very good at making halftime adjustments, outscoring opponents 148-54 in the final two quarters. But on this day, against an ordinary Northwestern defense, the Hawkeyes were outscored 3-0 and mustered only 100 total yards in the second half.

A big factor in Iowa’s success this season has been few turnovers. The Hawkeyes didn’t make many until the last two games, when they gave away the ball 10 times. They got away with that in beating Indiana, but against Northwestern it cost them dearly.

So an Iowa team that won at Iowa State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State saw its 13-game winning streak come to an end on a bright, sunny day on its home turf at Kinnick Stadium.

This is November, when Kirk Ferentz’s teams usually peak and play their best football. But that’s going to be hard to do with an ever-growing injury list that now includes the starting quarterback.

Vandenberg had a brilliant high school career at Keokuk and has received very good reviews in his short time at Iowa. But he has seen little game action, and the Wildcats capitalized on his inexperience by loading the box and changing their defensive schemes.

This Saturday Vandenberg will be looking across the line of scrimmage at an Ohio State defense that is the best in the Big Ten. He will be playing in one of the most famous stadiums in college football. But he has a week to prepare for his first start as a Hawkeye. He knows he’ll take the snap from center on Iowa`s first possession.

The Hawkeyes are still in the Big Ten title chase. They are still in the hunt for the Rose Bowl. Winning at Columbus with a new quarterback and a crippled offense is a tall order, but not impossible. After all, the 2009 Hawkeyes are still undefeated on the road.