Three cool things:
1. Back when this was happening, I dished probably an inaccurate amount of credit to the offense.
The 2002 Hawkeyes were fueled by the best offensive line of the Kirk Ferentz era and one of the best in the Big Ten since I’ve been doing this. Things happened faster back then, if that makes sense. Or maybe it’s probably this: I simply wasn’t aware of what to really track during a game. I rarely got past yards and blah, blah, blah.
During one of the greatest runs of success in Iowa football history, the Hawkeyes had The Avengers playing defense.
Going into this one in 2002, Ferentz didn’t know if he had a D-line or not. Or maybe he was playing coy. Ferentz has more buttons than you think.
He played that up a bit during the week. Iowa’s defense hadn’t been tested heading into this one.
“Yeah, that could’ve been it,” defensive end Jonathan Babineaux said. “Our D-line is improving every week. I think we still have some things to prove, but I think we can have a great defense.”
It took exactly one play for the D-line to answer the challenge here.
On Penn State’s first play, defensive end Howard Hodges sacked quarterback Zack Mills for a 5-yard loss. Defensive tackle Colin Cole and linebacker Kevin Worthy also had sacks.
Mills was skittish in the pocket, completing 7 of 15 for 89 yards, a touchdown and an interception during the first half, when the Hawkeyes bolted to a 26-7 lead.
“We got him (Mills) to the point where he was looking around for us more than he was looking downfield for receivers,” Babineaux said. “We came out and played our ball, Iowa ball. We played hard all the way.”
Mills did end up getting his, completing 23 of 42 for a school-record 399 yards and four TDs. And that’s where my analysis ended, pretty much. Frankenstein monster voice: Passing yards baaaaaad.
Iowa also hurried Mills into two picks. Tackle Jared Clauss and Babineaux flushed Mills out of the pocket and into a wobbly pass down the middle. Free safety Derek Pagel intercepted, setting up Iowa at its 47-yard line.
More than a handful of times, Clauss ended up chasing Mills to the sideline.
When it wasn’t Clauss, it was Babineaux. When it wasn’t Babineaux, it was Hodges. When it wasn’t Hodges, it was sophomore end Matt Roth.
“We based a lot of our game on their personnel groups,” Clauss said. “We saw some things and took advantage of them. And we had a lot of guys come through.”
The Hawkeyes also held the Lions to 54 rushing yards on 27 carries, a 2.0 average.
The D-line was heard from on the biggest play of the game. On fourth-and-4 at Iowa’s 5-yard line, Mills dropped back, looking to set up a screen pass to receiver Bryant Johnson. But Babineaux rushed untouched, forcing Mills to throw before the play jelled, hitting center Joe Iorio in the back of the helmet.
Nothing special was called, defensive coordinator Norm Parker said. The same defense, four times in a row, Parker said. Just a red zone defense, four times in a row.
We were just talking about Norm.
”Just one of the defensive linemen, running around down there,” Parker said. “I have no idea how he broke free, but I’m happy he did.”
The week before, Ferentz shook his head because he didn’t know what he had on the defensive line. After this one, he shook his head in that “wow” kind of way.
“I just think it was great effort,” said Ferentz, who at the time became just the third coach to beat Joe Paterno-led teams three straight years.
“We weren’t really blitzing,” Ferentz said. “It was four guys up there who kept digging, fighting, clawing. We might not be getting the sacks, but if we can disrupt the quarterback, that can go a long way for us.”
It went all the way.
2. This was just two weeks removed from the Seneca Wallace game. Don’t pretend you don’t know. (He was the Iowa State QB who engineered an amazing 36-31 comeback victory at Kinnick in 2002. It was Iowa’s lone regular-season loss.)
It also was the Cyclones’ fifth straight win over Iowa. In that one, Iowa spilled a 24-7 halftime lead. In this one, Iowa led 35-13 with 8:58 left in the game.
“It was a situation where guys got down on themselves,” senior free safety Derek Pagel said. “It happened in the Iowa State game. We’ve put the Iowa State game past us, but it was like deja vu, that’s what I was thinking. It’s a terrible feeling because you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it.”
I think if you watch closely, you’ll notice Ferentz kind of does that “not mentioning the opponent by name” thing.
He didn’t call it the “Iowa State game,” he called it “two weeks ago.”
“We were in a similar situation two weeks ago and didn’t answer the bell,” Ferentz said. “If nothing else, I think our team has grown from the experience two weeks ago.”
The Seneca Wallace game did this.
3. D.J. Johnson’s 99-yard return of Pagel’s blocked PAT for two points remains the only one of its kind in Iowa history.
It happened about midway through the third quarter. The game finished tied at 35-35, so of course, these two points were a big deal. Also, you know who the kicker for Penn State was that day? Robbie Gould. He went on to have a good NFL career with a team named “Two Weeks.” Kidding, it was the Bears.
I can’t find any numbers on how rare these are. I think one in almost 20 years pretty much says it all.
I hope this never goes away. I get giddy over dead-ball action.
Quote: “Was I (concerned)? Was I? I’ve got a pulse. I promise you I have a pulse.” — Kirk Ferentz.
Hope I didn’t ask that. (I know I didn’t.)
Note: At the time, the Beaver Stadium crowd of 108,247 was the largest ever to see an Iowa game. Since then, six games have passed it, including two at Penn State. Trivia winner? 112,784 saw Iowa’s 2010 victory at Michigan.
Why No. 16? — It was a record crowd. At that time.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2002
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The game started with a big bang. Then, with about 10 minutes left, there’s this choking sound. A rheumy cough, like someone trying to eject a chicken bone.
That would be a football-shaped chicken bone. And it would be lodged in the tracheae of many, many Hawkeyes. Quarterbacks, defensive linemen, coaches, all of them.
Cough, a 22-point lead comes up. Cough, a touchdown with 1 minute, 20 seconds left. Cough, tie game.
This game, this wonderful up-down-and-all-around game that had something for everybody, had one more sound in it.
The last play went thud.
With defensive end Jonathan Babineaux closing like some sort of tropical weather system, Penn State quarterback Zack Mills rifled a screen pass toward the line scrimmage on fourth-and-the game in Penn State’s possession during the overtime.
Thud, the ball bounced off the back of center Joe Iorio’s helmet.
Thud, the ball hit the Beaver Stadium sod.
Thud, thud, thud.
That was the sound of the Iowa Hawkeyes piling into the north corner of Beaver Stadium, celebrating their 42-35 overtime victory Saturday in their Big Ten opener at No. 12 Penn State.
“It was an eerie feeling in the second half,” kicker Nate Kaeding said. “No gagging. But we were definitely back on our heels.”
Back on their heels, scratching their heads, pulling out their hair, pick your international sign for football frustration.
And don’t forget both hands around the throat, the international sign for choking.
“Was I (concerned)? Was I?” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I’ve got a pulse. I promise you I have a pulse. I was very concerned because of the swing in momentum. The crowd was back into it.
“Just about everything that could go wrong for us, did go wrong for us.”
Let’s start with what is right with the Hawkeyes’ world. There’s a lot of what’s right. This might take a couple breaths.
Iowa (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) beat a ranked team on the road for the first time since a 21-20 victory over No. 6 Penn State here in Happy Valley in 1996. Saturday was also Iowa’s first victory over a ranked team since it knocked off No. 12 Northwestern in 2000.
And, don’t look now, but the Hawkeyes might be looking at their very own top-25 ranking, their first since 1997.
“Some things didn’t turn out the way we wanted them to today,” Iowa quarterback Brad Banks said. “But we only needed one thing to go our way in the end. That final score is all that matters.”
Banks threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ed Hinkel to give the Hawkeyes a 23-0 lead with 6:04 left in the second quarter.
It got better for Iowa.
The Nittany Lions (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) finally answered on Mills’ 28-yard TD pass to Bryant Johnson, making it 23-7. But on the final play of the first half, Kaeding drilled a career-long 55-yard field goal — tying the third longest kick in school history and adding to his school-record 13 straight field goals — to give Iowa a 26-7 halftime lead.
Even when it went wrong, it went right for Iowa.
Kaeding’s 55-yarder dinged the left upright and still somehow bounced over the crossbar.
Then, after Penn State made it 26-13, free safety Derek Pagel blocked the extra point, cornerback D.J. Johnson picked it out of the air and followed his blocking for 99 yards and two points, the first time in school history Iowa scored points off an opponent’s botched extra point attempt.
“At the time, you think it’s great,” said Pagel, who also had an interception. “But now, looking at the whole game, you think every point counts and thank God we had those two.”
Banks was right for Iowa, completing 18 of 32 passes for 261 yards, two interceptions and four TD passes, a career-high.
Banks also helped the Hawkeyes convert 10 of 18 third downs.
Penn State won the coin flip at the start of overtime and picked defense.
On third-and-goal from the 6, Banks zipped a pass to C.J. Jones, who ran a short drive route in front of two colliding PSU defenders and gave Iowa a 42-35 lead.
That play was supposed to be Iowa’s first of the game, as scripted by offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe. But Ferentz got cold feet.
“It was open the whole game, and coach came back to it,” said Jones, who opened the scoring with a 4-yard TD pass from Banks. “I looked at Brad and he looked at me. Then, I just caught the ball and scored.”
Running back Fred Russell, who missed last week with a sore shoulder, was right for Iowa, rushing 35 times for 142 yards, including a 21-yarder that gave Iowa a 17-0 first-quarter lead.
“The offensive line did a great job,” said Russell, who helped the Hawkeyes to a 209-54 advantage in rushing over the Lions. “The holes were huge and I just followed the holes.”
Everything was right for Iowa. Everything was so right that they shrugged off two turnovers inside Penn State’s 10-yard line.
With 8:58 left in the game, everything went very, very wrong for Iowa.
Mills’ screen to Larry Johnson made it 35-20 with 7:13 left. David Bradley’s 13-yard punt gave the Lions prime field position at Iowa’s 44.
Next play, Mills hit Tony Johnson for a 44-yard score, making it 35-28.
Iowa stalled and punted, and Mills completed 4 of 5 passes, tying the game with an 8-yarder to Bryant Johnson.
Defense still isn’t quite right for Iowa. Mills lit up the Hawkeyes for a PSU record 399 passing yards.
The Hawkeyes did hold PSU to 54 rushing yards on 27 attempts.
The turnstiles whirred loudly, as the crowd of 108,247 — the largest ever to see an Iowa game — made its way back into Beaver Stadium.
Everything sounded, and looked, good for PSU.
Then, overtime. Then, the thud.
Then, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno chased the officials up the tunnel.
“I thought they made a couple of lousy calls on the other side of the field,” Paterno said.
The thud off the back of Joe Iorio’s helmet said it all.