By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — As freshman placekicker Keith Duncan lined up his 33-yard field goal Saturday, Jaleel Johnson couldn’t stomach the drama.
“I couldn’t even look at it,” Iowa’s standout defensive tackle said.
Johnson looked away, and Duncan kicked his way into Hawkeye football history with a walk-off field goal to beat No. 2 Michigan, 14-13, before at sellout crowd at Kinnick Stadium.
But it was a play turned in by Johnson, a 310-pound force at the point of attack, that turned momentum in Iowa’s favor.
Michigan was leading, 10-0, midway through the second quarter, when Iowa punter Ron Coluzzi nailed a beauty that was downed on the Wolverines’ 2-yard-line. After an incomplete pass, Johnson wrapped up Michigan running back De’Veon Smith and tackled him in the end zone for a safety.
“I think their offense probably messed up,” Johnson said. “The tackle did something else, and the guard did something else, and I was free to make the play.”
A play, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said, that was pivotal in the sixth victory of the season. A victory that made the Hawkeyes bowl eligible for the 15th time in 16 seasons.
“That was a big play,” Ferentz said. “It starts with the field position, and them having a long field to go. Our defense came up with a big play, and that’s a big, physical offensive line that they’ve got and they’ve been proficient all season long. Outside of Jaleel, we’re outweighed everywhere up there. It gave us a big spark.”
Michigan’s offense could only generate three more points after Johnson’s safety.
“That gave our team momentum,” said Johnson, who finished with team and career-high nine tackles. “It gave our offense some juice, to go out there and perform at their best.”
The Wolverines entered play Saturday averaging a Big Ten-best 278.7 yards rushing. Michigan also led the league in scoring at 45.2 points an outing. Iowa’s defense was up to the task, limiting the Wolverines to a season-low 13 points and just 98 yards rushing in 38 attempts.
“This gives our defense a lot of hope and momentum pushing forward the rest of the season,” Johnson said.
Several days ago, Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell crossed paths with quarterback C.J. Beathard.
“He asked me,’How does their defense look?'” Beathard said. “I said, ‘They have a good defense. How does their offense look?'” Jewell said, “Their offense is good, but we’re ready to go. I feel it all week. Give us 14 points and we’ll win the game.'”
True story, Jewell said.
“I don’t know if it was much of a prediction or not,” Jewell said. “I guess it was right on.”
Jewell said Iowa’s defensive line played so well, it made life easy for the linebackers and safeties.
“We were able to see their reads, and understand where to be during plays,” Jewell said.
That includes one play in particular, Johnson’s safety.
“That gave a little momentum, more energy to go out there and keep making plays,” Jewell said. “We knew we could make plays.”
Safety Brandon Snyder agreed.
“Jaleel made an incredible play getting penetration,” Snyder said. “It just sparked us. It made it real that we had a chance to beat these guys, if we just came out and kept playing with passion and playing hard. That was a huge play.”