Three cool things:
1. After this one, Kirk Ferentz made the most definitive statement I’ve seen him make about the direction the Hawkeyes were headed.
I’d love to say Ferentz and I locked eyes when he said this, but I think it was probably KWWL’s Rick Coleman. Or was it Paul Burmeister?
Either way, he said it.
“OK, you guys have been trying to get me to say we’ve turned the corner all season,” Ferentz said. “OK, we’ve turned it.”
If Ferentz ever says anything like this again, write it down.
The Hawkeyes had just demonstrated everything they would be in 2002.
Bob Sanders and Nate Kaeding were sophomores. The bulk of an offensive line that herded a Big 12 defense around the Alamodome before Big 12 defenses were known widely as “meh” (yes, I know Iowa State is turning that around, smart, smart, smart) was mostly underclassmen.
This was the easiest game ever to be an Iowa running back. Aaron Greving really wasn’t being hit until he was 6 yards down the field.
Iowa dominated on the line of scrimmage, but didn’t finish enough to run away from Tech. The Red Raiders had Kliff Kingsbury (jury still is out with him as Tech coach, and if he doesn’t work there, who the heck will?), Wes Welker and speed.
Still, the Hawkeyes were the ones popping balloons that fell when the fireworks went off in the dome.
I don’t remember if Ferentz stepped on a balloon on the field. He saved his most interesting air for the postgame and that “OK, we’ve turned the corner,” really stood out to me at the time.
2. OK, Nate Kaeding game.
I’d say Nate should run for mayor in Iowa City, but he’s too busy. Big Grove, Tailgate Clothing Company and I’m sure a whole bunch of other stuff (restaurants for sure, I’ve lost count). Kids, life and Jason Isbell concerts.
Nate has taught me lessons in social media customer service rants and quoted Isbell lyrics to me on Twitter. That’s a kicker. They don’t get emotional, they wait for the next run at the holder.
It’s been cool getting to know Nate as an adult human person.
3. I covered the combine this year because there were like 20 Hawkeyes. OK, I’m overshooting that. When there are four or more, I feel like I need to cover the Underwear Olympics.
Anyway, I escaped Lucas Oil Stadium for a quick stroll to the Kurt Vonnegut library (shaddup, I’m a nerd) and ran into former Iowa DT Jerry Montgomery, who’s now the Green Bay Packers D-line coach (yes, I notice people wearing Packers stuff, but I remember Jerry, give me some credit).
We talked about the Alamo Bowl. Through the postgame balloons, confetti and Hawkeyes celebration, Montgomery spotted his dad and ran in for a hug.
Montgomery’s dad, Jerry Sr., hadn’t seen his son play football since Jerry Jr.’s pee-wee days in Lake Charles, La.
”When it was all over, I ran to my dad,” Montgomery said. “Today was the first time he’s ever seen me play. We picked a good day, didn’t we?”
Picked a good day, indeed.
Jerry Sr. lived in Lake Charles. Jerry Jr. grew up in Las Vegas with his mom, LaRee Curtis, and played high school football at Virgin Valley in Mesquite, Nev.
“This bowl game was a real blessing for us,” Jerry Jr. said. “It was close enough for him to drive down, and he made the trip. Seeing him on the field, winning the game, it’s crazy. I’ll never forget it.”
I might’ve freaked him out because I just walked up and introduced myself, but 17 years later in Indianapolis, he sure remembered it.
Quote: For some reason, coordinators were allowed to talk after this one. Iowa got burned on a zone blitz. I think Joe Uselman was asked to cover Wes Welker.
“It was a bad call by Iowa’s defensive coordinator,” — Norm Parker, who was said defensive coordinator.
Note: Iowa doesn’t do the juco thing much. I think maybe it needs to be more aggressive there, because Iowa is a team that does find itself with some emergency needs. Jucos help with that. But, you do need to give Iowa credit for being aggressive in finding running backs late the last two years (James Butler and now Mekhi Sargent).
My point: If all jucos could be DT Derrick Pickens, Iowa would have more. He was exactly what Iowa needed and played a lot of good football for the Hawkeyes.
Why No. 30? — Mike Leach was the Tech coach. I don’t remember him saying a ton during this week. It probably was a lot about his time with Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan (what a nutty college football program that must’ve been, probably a ton of fun, at least for the offense).
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2001
SAN ANTONIO — On Friday before Iowa’s final Alamo Bowl walk-through, Nate Kaeding stood outside the Alamodome in football pants, tennis shoes and with a ball under his arm. He couldn’t get in the joint. Security didn’t believe he was the kicker.
“Yeah, what a ...,” said Kaeding, minus the colorful language.
Kaeding didn’t have any problems Saturday.
The sophomore kicker from Iowa City booted a 47-yard field goal with 44 seconds remaining to lift the Hawkeyes to a 19-16 Alamo Bowl victory over Texas Tech before 65,232 fans.
Kaeding’s four field goals (36, 31, 46 and 47) helped the Hawkeyes (7-5) to their first bowl victory since blanking Tech, 27-0, in the ‘96 Alamo Bowl.
The game was everything the Hawkeyes wanted. They dominated time of possession (35:03 to 24:57), they made Tech scratch a Heisman campaign for touted quarterback Kliff Kingsbury and they won a close game, something that’s driven them to twitches all season.
“OK, you guys have been trying to get me to say we’ve turned the corner all season,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “OK, we’ve turned it.”
It was everything Iowa wanted and more.
Sophomore running back Aaron Greving replaced senior Ladell Betts, who was limited to three plays because of a hamstring injury, and rushed 25 times for 115 yards and Iowa’s only touchdown.
Senior quarterback Kyle McCann completed his first 12 passes, leading Iowa to a 10-0 head start, and played a clean, mistake-free game compared to three interceptions for Kingsbury. And Iowa’s defense clamped down on Tech’s much-hyped, hocus-pocus offense.
All systems go, except Kaeding’s post-field goal flop and run.
First, holder David Bradley tackled Kaeding, who then found himself doing one of the worst back flips/somersaults/cartwheels in the history of mankind.
“He’s been watching too much Sebastian Janikowski,” senior receiver Kahlil Hill said.
Then, Kaeding ran toward the end-zone seats, which were a sea of gold-clad Iowa fans, looking for someone to hug. It was part Jim Valvano, part Bill Grammatica. It was ugly.
“Nate is a hard worker and does everything we ask him in practice,” Iowa special teams coach Lester Erb said. “But we don’t teach him how to celebrate. He’s on his own there. He might need some work.”
The field goal, that was the important part. Kaeding nailed that.
“I only get out there five or six times a game. I’m going to make damn sure I enjoy it,” said Kaeding, who has a streak of 9-for-9 from 40-plus yards. “I had no idea where I was going. I was just running wherever my emotions were taking me.”
It was a game of awkward celebrations.
Defensive tackle Derrick Pickens had his first career interception. From his backside, tight end Erik Jensen caught a pass to convert a key first down before Greving’s 2-yard TD gave the Hawkeyes a 10-0 lead with 3:19 left in the second quarter. In full-celebratory mode, Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker dissed himself while giving the defense a compliment.
Kingsbury, who finished 29 of 49 for 309 yards, one TD and three interceptions, hit Wes Welker for a 20-yard score to pull Tech (7-5) to a 10-10 tie with 11:36 left in the third quarter. The Hawkeyes were caught in a zone blitz. With tackle Joe Uselman assigned to cover, Welker was wide open in the end zone.
“It was a bad call by Iowa’s defensive coordinator,” said Parker, who happens to be Iowa’s defensive coordinator.
It was Iowa’s only misstep on defense all afternoon. The Hawkeyes made it a grip-and-grunt battle royale instead of the Texas shootout Alamo Bowl officials expected.
Parker drew on his days as defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt, when Tech Coach Mike Leach was offensive coordinator at Kentucky and the Wildcats were the talk of the Southeastern Conference with Leach’s spread offense.
The Hawkeyes flipped between their base 4-3 defense and a junk defense that replaced a lineman with a linebacker. The tweak put Iowa in place to make plays. And it worked because Iowa’s three down linemen, Pickens, Aaron Kampman and Colin Cole, kept Kingsbury on his toes the entire game.
They chased Kingsbury like he was wrapped in pepperoni pizza. And he might have been, perhaps explaining how Iowa’s three were able to beat Tech’s five O-linemen.
“It was just desire, man,” said Pickens, who earned the game’s defensive MVP honor. “They came out with a no-huddle and that had us bending over tired. But the desire took us a long way.”
Greving, who was named the game’s offensive MVP, rode Iowa’s offensive line to a big first half, when he rolled up 82 yards on 13 carries. Often, Tech wouldn’t lay a glove on Greving until he was 6 yards down field.
“I want to take credit and say, sure, that was all me, but 95 percent of that was my O-line,” said Greving, whose 25 carries and 115 yards were career highs. His attempts were also an Alamo Bowl record.
“I wasn’t going anywhere without them today. They were dominating,” he said.
With Betts out, the Hawkeyes called a conservative game. With Iowa’s defense stifling Tech — and knocking the living daylights out of it (see the hits by free safety Derek Pagel and strong safety Bob Sanders) — they milked a three-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Tech tied the game, 16-16, on Robert Treece’s 37-yard field goal with 2:05 left.
On third-and-10 from Iowa’s 30, Kingsbury was stopped 6 inches short of a first down after a 9-yard scramble. Leach decided to kick.
“I wish now that we had gone for the touchdown, but I didn’t know how far we needed to go,” Leach said. “We requested the officials for a measurement, but we were denied.”
Iowa’s winning drive included a 21-yard completion to Hill, who led Iowa with six catches for 49 yards, and 16-yard scramble by McCann, who completed 19 of 26 for 161 yards.
The drive also included an intentional grounding penalty, after receiver Chris Oliver missed a call.
“We had some ugly plays, that was one,” Ferentz said. “That’s why you’re reluctant to say we’ve turned a corner.”
Tech tried to ice Kaeding, but it didn’t take.
“We work on that in practice,” Erb said. “We’ll stop him and say this is it, last play, last second, save the day for us. He doesn’t flinch. He’s just a tough mental competitor.”
Tech wasn’t done.
Kingsbury drove the Red Raiders to their 49. With 5 seconds left, he launched a Hail Mary into Iowa’s end zone.
“I heard Texas Tech’s fans cheer, and my heart just sank,” Kampman said. “I just thought, no way, no way did they just do that.”
Sanders caught a deflection and the celebration started.
Everybody had someone to hug or high-five or slap on the back. It was a perfectly orderly chaotic explosion, complete with explosions, right there inside the Alamodome.
It was everything the Hawkeyes wanted. And more.
Nate Kaeding feature from 2003
By the book
MADISON, Wis. — The notebook landed on his desk last spring. Chris Doyle opened it and found out why Nate Kaeding is college football’s best kicker.
The reason the kicker was in the strength and conditioning coach’s office last spring was for fine tuning. Kaeding wanted a fresh leg heading into fall camp in August and figured Doyle could help. Doyle wanted to know what Kaeding did during the offseason.
Kaeding brought out the notebook.
“It went back a long ways. He probably has a ton of them,” said Doyle, who’s in his fifth season as Iowa’s strength coach. “He charted every kick, practice, games, in and out of season.
“He is just so meticulous and detailed. I think the story there is that this is no accident.”
Kaeding the kicker is no accident.
Kaeding is among three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation’s top kicker. He won the award last year.
Kaeding is Iowa’s career scoring leader with 351 points. He is third in Big Ten history with 345 career kicking points. He has virtually every kicking record at Iowa, including a streak of 22 straight field goals.
Last week, Kaeding equaled career highs with four field goals, 16 points and a 55-yard boot at the end of the first half. The senior earned his second weekly Big Ten special teams player of the week honor this season and the fifth of his career. He has been honored at least once in all four of his seasons at Iowa.
He’s made 15 of 16 field goal attempts going into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Wisconsin.
None of this has been by accident.
“You can’t really envision anything like this,” Kaeding said. “It’s almost exceeded expectations.”
In the middle of this thought, when Kaeding could go into a full-on “Kaeding for Groza” stump speech, he veered to the team, which is so Kaeding and which is why Kaeding the kicker is universally respected, from coaches to managers to linebackers.
“The way the coaching staff approached it was that we would come in and bust our butts every day,” Kaeding said. “We’d focus on doing the right things — going to class, being on time, tucking your shirts in.
“Eventually, you build that solid foundation on what’s right and you’re going to end up having a program like this, something that’s going to last.”
Kaeding knows about building solid foundations.
Before he was on teams that won state titles in football, basketball and soccer at Iowa City West, Kaeding was a junior high defensive back/receiver who eventually gravitated toward kicking.
He honed his skills going to the Midwest Kicking Camps his junior and senior years at West. The Kaedings didn’t take out a second mortgage. It was more nurturing a passion.
Larry Kaeding, Nate’s dad, never saw the notebook, but certainly saw the effort, detail and dedication.
“It means a lot to him,” Larry Kaeding said. “He’s put a lot of time into it. He’s still having fun out there.”
Kaeding’s notebook is full of the landmark kicks.
The 50-yarder when he was a senior at West.
The Alamo Bowl game-winner, a 47-yarder with 44 seconds left, is probably highlighted. The last two road trips to Penn State — an overtime game-winner in 2000 and a 55-yarder last season — are written in pen. Last week, of course. The Iowa State game in September, in which he broke Iowa’s scoring record.
But given Kaeding’s grinder nature, you know the wide rights and lefts, the bounces off the uprights and the plain flubs are in there, too.
Given Kaeding’s grinder nature, they’re probably the ones in magic marker.
“He’s so detailed. He’s so thorough, so conscientious,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And it all starts because he’s got tremendous pride. We don’t have a guy who has more pride, and we’ve got a lot of guys who have pride, don’t get me wrong.
“He’s a guy who adds so much. And he’s added so much to our football team. A lot more than just what he does when he kicks the football.”
What landed the kicker in the strength coach’s office was Kaeding’s dogged dedication. He didn’t know when to say when.
“He would kick until he was satisfied,” Doyle said. “That could be 20 balls or 100 balls. Knowing Nate, that always was closer to 100.”
Said Kaeding, “I’m the kind of guy who sees some little tweak and then goes and kicks 50 balls and try to make up for it.”
Doyle cycled Kaeding’s workouts, ensuring that Kaeding’s leg strength would be at its height going into the season.
Instead of 50 or 100 balls until he felt right, Kaeding would concentrate on 20 or 50, with more at the beginning of game week and fewer as game day approached.
“He kind of put on something like you see pitchers in the major leagues are on, a pitch count,” Kaeding said. “How many reps? How often? How much intensity?
“It was kind of different. I’ve always prided myself in outworking and outpreparing the guy next to me. It’s not like you have to run more sprints than this guy or kick more balls than this guy, but you’ve got to be more prepared in the sense that you know your strengths and weaknesses.”
Kaeding’s kicking season won’t end with Saturday’s game against Wisconsin and Iowa’s bowl game.
He’s going to the Senior Bowl in January. Then there will be the NFL combine and numerous individual workouts for NFL teams thinking about drafting a kicker in April.
He’ll juggle the NFL circuit while he finishes his history/secondary education major as a student teacher in Wilton.
Given the tenuous life of kickers in the NFL, Kaeding is going into the NFL meat market with an open mind.
“It’s a matter of what these teams need and what the circumstances are,” he said. “I just put out my best effort. If a team really likes me, then I’ll be happy getting drafted by whoever that may be.”
Open mind, open notebook.