A Big Pick 6 for 90-Plus

Oct. 16, 2011

IOWA CITY, Iowa — As an Iowa state high school 400-meter hurdle champion, running less than a 100 yards with a football was no problem for University of Iowa sophomore Tanner Miller. He didn’t even need to jump over Northwestern players to finish an end zone-to-end zone sprint that gave the Hawkeyes a huge boost during a 41-31 win Oct. 15 inside Kinnick Stadium.

“You have to get there. It was a huge play in the game,” Miller said of the Pick Six scoring sprint.

A 6-foot-2, 200-pound free safety from Kalona, Iowa, Miller was a multi-sport standout at Mid-Prairie High School. As a senior he won a Class 2A 400-meter hurdle title in 53.062 seconds. On Saturday night, it was a different sport with a similar adrenaline-charged performance.

Northwestern started its second drive of the game from its own 31 with 8:40 left in the first quarter. Wildcat quarterback Dan Persa — a first-team All-Big-Ten Conference selection a year ago — marched his team 62 yards on nine plays to the Hawkeye 7. In the process, Persa converted on third-and-nine with a 32-yard pass completion to Kain Colter, he converted on third-and-11 with a 16 yard completion to Jeremy Ebert, and he converted on third-and-six with another completion to Ebert, this time for nine yards.

On the first-and-goal play, Persa was chased in the backfield by Iowa defensive end Broderick Binns, who held onto the quarterback’s leg while Hawkeye defensive tackle Steve Bigach thrust his 285-pound frame at the vulnerable object wearing a white jersey. Persa’s hurried pass was intercepted by Miller at what appeared to be the 4-yard line. Miller picked up two blocks against Wildcat offensive linemen and then a third from UI cornerback Micah Hyde on Persa.

Then it was flawless sailing for the speedster Miller.

“I was at the right place at the right time,” Miller said. “I have to give credit to those guys up front. They got good pressure on Persa and he had to scramble. He threw it to me and I took off. I had two pretty good blockers out in front of me. I had Micah out there to take care of Persa — he was the one chasing me — and after I saw (Hyde) make that block I had a pretty clear path to the end zone.”

For Miller, it was his first touchdown since Nov. 2, 2009, when his high school Golden Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs, 42-13, by a Solon team captained by James Morris, another current Hawkeye.

“I don’t know if I ever had one of those,” Miller said of an interception for a touchdown.

The play reminded UI head coach Kirk Ferentz of another recent Hawkeye interception . That one was Hyde’s 72-yarder for a score giving Iowa a 27-24 victory over Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl.

“We played a tremendous quarterback (Blaine Gabbert) down in Arizona in the bowl game and he made a mistake and we made them pay for that,” Ferentz said. “Certainly in this game it was a huge play in the game, too. They were taking it down and moving the ball pretty readily at that point.”

Miller finished with eight tackles, including five solo stops. Outside of the big miscue, Persa completed 31 of 39 passes for 246 yards.

“I think we stopped ourselves with turnovers and some self-inflicted wounds,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Persa’s been so good for us, it’s just unfortunate that that happened.”

Officially, Miller’s interception went down as a 98-yarder, tying him for the longest in school history with Adam Shada. Shada made his return on Oct. 7, 2006, during a 47-17 Homecoming win against Purdue.