Dec. 10, 2011
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — After two weeks of playing PlayStation 3 as No. 28 for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, the real Hawkeye No. 28 — senior Shaun Prater — is back in the bubble preparing for a return trip to the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
Iowa completed its second bowl preparation practice Saturday, and Prater looked the part of a two-time All-Big Ten cornerback, especially when he stepped in front of a pass intended for Keenan Davis and returned it for a would-be touchdown.
“It feels pretty good,” Prater said of the start to postseason drills. “I’ve been playing (NCAA) Football on the PS3 for the past two weeks, so it feels nice to get out here and actually do it.”
Yes, Prater’s video game team of choice is Iowa; yes, he keeps a close eye on the computer player representing him.
“Every single play, I’m trying to get all the stats with that guy,” Prater said with a laugh.
As for real 2011 statistics, here is the report on Prater: in 12 games he compiled 46 tackles, one for a loss, four forced fumbles and three pass breakups. In a season-opening 34-7 win against Tennessee Tech, Prater intercepted a pass and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.
He has one more game — the 2011 Insight Bowl on Dec. 30 — to impress Hawkeye fans and pester the Oklahoma offense.
“The way I look at this game is that this is a bonus for me,” Prater said. “It’s a bonus for me to show that I can play against talented wide receivers, show that I can play a full season and use my talents against a great team like Oklahoma.”
Iowa enters the game with a record of 7-5 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten Conference; Oklahoma is 9-3, 6-3 in the Big 12 Conference.
Sooner quarterback Landry Jones leads an offense that averages 532.1 yards per game — third-best in the explosive Big 12. Oklahoma is second in passing offense, averaging 365.1 yards a game.
“They’re a team that uses the whole field, especially 53 yards wide,” Prater said. “They like to spread you out and they can also run the ball. They have great tailbacks and they have a great wide receiver with Kenny Sills (58 catches, 818 yards, eight touchdowns). It will be a great challenge for us.”
Six Oklahoma players gained at least 120 yards on the ground this season, led by Dom Whaley (113-627-9) and Roy Finch (105-601-3). Whaley has not played (broken ankle) since gaining 165 yards on 30 carries against Kansas on Oct. 15.
The Hawkeyes are returning to Tempe as the defending Insight Bowl champions. A year ago they upset No. 12 Missouri, 27-24; this time they will tangle with the preseason No. 1 team in the nation.
While most fans remember a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown by Micah Hyde, the game’s defensive most valuable player, Prater had a hand in a big fourth-down stop the following series. Faced with fourth-and-6 from Iowa’s 43, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert attempted a pass to receiver T.J. Moe that was reviewed (and reviewed, and reviewed) before being ruled incomplete with 2:15 left in the game.
“There are plenty of memories, especially with Micah scoring the game-winning touchdown and that fourth-and-5 or whatever it was,” Prater said. “I jumped in to try to break it up and it took about five minutes for the referee to finally rule that the ball hit the ground and it wasn’t a catch.”
Prater finished that bowl game with nine solo tackles and a pass breakup.
On Nov. 28, three days after Iowa’s final regular season game at Nebraska, Prater was named first team All-Big Ten by league coaches for a second consecutive year. He joined teammates Marvin McNutt, Jr. (wide receiver) and Riley Reiff (offensive tackle) on the first unit.
“It’s nice to get honors like that,” Prater said. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work during the offseason, two-a-days, practice the whole season, so it’s nice for the coaches to vote for me. I’m truly honored to be playing for the Hawks and especially to be playing down in Arizona again.”
Kickoff from inside Sun Devil Stadium is set for 9:05 p.m. (CT). The game will be televised by ESPN.