Wine Online: The Team With Most Points Does Win

Oct. 16, 2011

IOWA CITY, Iowa – When Iowa’s football game with Northwestern ended Saturday night, I grabbed a rule book and turned to page 1, rule 1(a). And there it was, in black and white: “The winner of the game shall be the team that scores the most points.”

Then I looked at the scoreboard, shining brightly against the dark October sky. It glistened: Iowa 41, Northwestern 31.

What a relief! After listening to the chatter in the press box the past two hours, I thought the game would be decided by statistics. Things like first downs, total yardage and time of possession (not to mention third down conversions). Northwestern had a big advantage in all of those. You have probably read about it.

Whoever said, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics” was no doubt referring to football.

When I became Iowa’s sports information director in 1968 the Hawkeyes had gone six years without a winning football season. They would go 13 more before getting one. When Iowa finally broke through, in 1981 under Hayden Fry, it was as the Big Ten co-champion, headed for the Rose Bowl.

Many times during those 19 years, the Hawkeyes would win the stats but lose the game. It was agonizing, and when it happened we sought solace in winning the battle of statistics. That did not help win the games, however. We have learned in 20 years under Hayden and 12-plus seasons under Kirk Ferentz that the final score is what matters.

What we witnessed at Kinnick Stadium Saturday night was another example of a game in which statistics mean absolutely nothing. Northwestern had some positively glittering stats, but Iowa won the game.

Mathematically the contest was decided by one play in the first quarter. Northwestern was knocking at the goal line when, under heavy pressure, quarterback Dan Persa threw a pass that was intercepted by Tanner Miller. With a key block by Micah Hyde, Miller raced 98 yards up the sideline. Instead of Northwestern getting a touchdown, Miller had scored one for Iowa. That’s a swing of 14 points in a 10-point game. Do the math.

When the late Gus Schrader was sports editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, he liked to say, “You can’t beat small town Iowa boys.” That might have been because Gus was from St. Ansgar, which also produced one of Iowa’s best quarterbacks, Matt Sherman.

Have you ever seen Kinnick more colorful, with fans creating a black and gold striped stadium, and holding up cards to create the stars and stripes, plus an “America Needs Farmers” message?

Tanner Miller, who is from Kalona and played at Mid-Prairie High School, might be the latest of those small town Iowa boys. He always wanted to be a Hawkeye, and when he was offered a scholarship late in the recruiting season, he grabbed the opportunity. Now a sophomore, he broke into the starting lineup in the third game of the season and has been a rapidly-improving free safety. His interception and 98-yard sprint showed why Iowa recruited him as an “athlete.”

The most critical point in the game was late in the third quarter, after Northwestern had erased a 17-point deficit to tie the score. Iowa responded with its best possession of the game, an 11-play drive culminated by Marcus Coker’s go-ahead touchdown with a minute gone in the fourth period. It started a 24-point fourth quarter explosion that sealed the victory.

Perhaps one reason Iowa’s offense wasn’t on the field longer was because it was so efficient. It had two touchdown drives that took less than a minute each, and another that required only 1:42. The Hawkeyes had only 50 plays, but averaged 7.6 yards per snap, thanks to some big plays. James Vandenberg threw touchdown passes of 47 yards to Keenan Davis and 35 yards to Marvin McNutt.

With that TD reception, McNutt now has 21, and his next will give him sole possession of the Iowa career record. Just as important as his TD catch were the two onside kicks he cleanly fielded. He nearly ran the first one back for a touchdown.

Considering this game had no bearing on a league championship or national polls, it was a tough ticket. A lot of folks outside the stadium were looking for tickets. Nobody had any to sell.

Have you ever seen Kinnick more colorful, with fans creating a black and gold striped stadium, and holding up cards to create the stars and stripes, plus an “America Needs Farmers” message?

Finally, I hope the outcome of the game will make my friends in the news media quit reminding the Hawkeyes about their failures versus Northwestern. The point was driven home. Give it a rest.