Three cool things:
1. Anthony Hitchens was one of the quietest, most unassuming, humble and friendly Hawkeyes in my however long doing this.
It certainly belied the mayhem he brought to the field.
Hitchens made a play that, yeah, probably made his position coach (then it was Jim Reid) cry. In a good way. Hitchens won this with a swat of the football as Devin Gardner ran for the sideline.
You’re going to want to read more about Hitchens below. There are probably more “The Blind Side” situations in football than we know. I’m always happy to be invited into these stories.
Anthony’s is one of the best.
2. I really did enjoy my interactions with Jake Rudock. I’m not sure who I’d like to spend 10 minutes with more, Rudock or Ricky Stanzi. Not for an interview, just to catch up and shoot the breeze.
To put it mildly, he struggled in this one. At least he did early. The second half was his, but his first play of the game was a pick-six.
“At that point, I’m thinking there’s a lot of game left,” Rudock said. “What else can you think?”
That’s the quintessential Rudock quote. He’s super smart and he did not have time for fools. I played the fool at least a few times. Nature of the thing, I think.
There was another interception from Rudock, but there was never a white flag.
”He’s a little banged up, but he’s a tough kid,” senior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz said. “He’s smart and that’s what we want our quarterbacks to be.”
Rudock was smart enough to know that one pass doesn’t make a game. Or three.
“It’s one of those where you can’t think too much about it,” Rudock said. “There was plenty of time left.”
This is about when I started tweeting “Lotta ballgame left.” That only ever sounded really smart when the second half of the Pinstripe Bowl started.
3. Can we replace “Running back by committee” — or as all fantasy football players call it “RBBC” — with “Franken-back”?
I know Frankenstein was technically the doctor and not the monster, but give me this, will ya?
Iowa is kind of a “Franken-back” program. It’s always three over one. I’m not sure when the next Iowa RB equals or passes Marcus Coker’s 1,384 yards in 2011.
Maybe this year with Toren Young, who could stay healthy and eat all of the carries, but probably not, because Ivory Kelly-Martin can attack the perimeter and who knows what Mekhi Sargent is going to be? And who knows anything, really?
In this game, Franken-back was Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri.
Franken-back flexed its muscles, ran its outside zones and whirled its way to 150 yards on 33 carries.
Weisman scored on a 9-yard touchdown run to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Canzeri gave the offense a burst when it needed it. Bullock won’t brag about his numbers, but he gained 8 yards on a third-and-9 that gave Iowa a chance to convert a fourth-and-1 (Weisman) and that eventually led to the game-tying TD (Weisman).
Iowa 2018 still is trying to sew Franken-back together. It’ll be interesting to see if the pieces stay on.
Quote: “Maybe he (Michigan’s Devin Gardner) expected not to be touched, one of those things. That’s why you play to the whistle.” — LB James Morris
Note: I’ve totally lost track of Iowa’s coldest game. I think this record went up in, uh, flames in maybe 2015 with the Purdue snow game. Anyway, it was 18 degrees in this one. I’m sure a few of you had your shirts off.
Why No. 39? — We’re entering a heavy, heavy flow of victories over Michigan. A lot of these got Kirk Ferentz paid. And paid again and then one more time. Probably not anymore, but I said that last time.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2013
IOWA CITY — It happened on the quiet part of a play. The quarterback sped up field, took a left and straddled the out of bounds. This is usually when players let up and start looking to line up.
Not this time.
Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens saw Devin Gardner had the ball in the wrong arm. He took a punch at it and ended up flat on the Kinnick Stadium FieldTurf. And there was the ball, bouncing inches from his face mask. The ball, the beautiful, beautiful ball.
“The ball could’ve easily gone out of bounds,” Hitchens said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
Hitchens’ play halted Michigan’s final drive and sealed Iowa’s 24-21 victory before 65,708 fans. Suddenly, a game that kicked off as the coldest in Iowa history — 18 degrees with 18 mph winds out of the northwest, topping 23 degrees in 1926 — broke out into “In Heaven There Is No Beer,” a runoff interview with a choked-up coach and sunny thoughts.
Yes, 18 degrees at kickoff. This set up to be a linebackers’ game, not a quarterback’s. It scripted that way all along for Iowa’s senior linebacking trio of Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey. They were going to have a say how they went out at Kinnick. They ended up having the last word.
“Maybe he (Gardner) expected not to be touched, one of those things,” senior middle linebacker James Morris said. “That’s why you play to the whistle.”
Michigan had a chance to drive for the tying field goal, facing second-and-11 from Iowa’s 39 with the wind at its back. Gardner tried to finish an 8-yard gain and also ended up flat on the sideline. There was a review, but Gardner knew. It was Iowa’s ball with 2:12 left.
This was the frozen neck roll of a day made for Iowa’s linebackers, who spearheaded a defensive effort that held the opposing offense to fewer than 200 yards (UM had 158 yards of offense) for the third time this season.
“Seniors can get distracted and go out there and punch the clock,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said, referring to the tone Hitchens, Morris and Kirksey set from day 1 this year, “but, boy, those guys were going hard all the time.”
The Hawkeyes probably played their way to a Florida bowl. Ferentz, who made it through the Big Ten Network postgame without tearing up, was told afterward it was the first time Iowa had beaten Michigan three straight times at Kinnick.
“I’m glad we got three,” Ferentz said. “I was wondering about that at halftime.”
The Hawkeyes were a frozen cadaver in the first half, trailing 21-7 at the break. The Hawkeyes’ first play was a pick-six. Quarterback Jake Rudock, who finished 19 of 30 for 239 yards, two TDs and three interceptions, was pressured and floated the ball into the waiting arms of defensive end Brennan Beyer.
“At that point, I’m thinking there’s a lot of game left,” Rudock said. “What else can you think?”
Another Rudock interception turned into a 14-7 deficit.
Halftime, as you might imagine, got a little intense. Offensive line coach Brian Ferentz made some points, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz recalled. The seniors made some more points. Many points were made and, apparently, received.
“Some guys are yellers and some guys want to hold your hand and everything in between,” Morris said.
Three plays into the second half, Rudock wiped off the ugly first with a 55-yard TD pass to sophomore wide receiver Tevaun Smith, who ran a quick slant and kind of one-handed juggled the catch.
On its next series, Iowa’s O-line won the surge and Marc Weisman ran through a couple of Wolverines for a 9-yard TD to tie it 21-21 with 12:11 left in the game.
Iowa began its next drive into the wind, and Rudock hit Smith for a 21-yard gain on first down.
The drive stalled at Michigan’s 16, where senior Mike Meyer hit a 34-yard field goal to give Iowa a 24-21 lead with 6:02 left in the game.
From there, it was on Iowa’s defense and it was good with that. Really good. Like perfect.
Anthony Hitchens feature from 2012
Love, Life and Football
IOWA CITY — The Facebook name is Anthony Anderson Hitchens. The two last names tell a story.
It’s not the whole story, because you’re just now really getting to know Hitchens, the University of Iowa linebacker who, after two years of pushing and perseverance, has broken through to the starting lineup. Through three weeks this season, the 6-foot-1, 224-pound junior leads the Big Ten and is fourth in the nation with 12.3 tackles a game.
Hitchens stood up and pinned Northern Iowa running back David Johnson last week. The ball came out, but review wiped out the fumble. It didn’t drown out the “ooh and ah” it drew from the Kinnick Stadium crowd.
His coach said the tackle numbers are nice, but there’s still work to do.
“He had a couple of plays I think he would like to have back, and closing that gap is what we are focused on right now,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s not that everybody doesn’t have a couple plays they would like to have back, but that’s what we are trying to do is raise up that speed of reaction, and then if he delivers the knockout punch at the end, too, we are all for those. That’s a good thing.”
His family is totally digging the tackle numbers.
“They keep me aware, but I’m not that type of guy to go searching on the internet, but yeah, my family is, not me as much,” Hitchens said when asked if he had any idea on the tackles. “I’ll usually get a text message after the game. My mom also calls me before and after the game. She puts stuff on my Facebook all the time. I try to ignore it. I’m just trying to focus on getting better right now.”
Repeat, the family is totally digging the tackle numbers.
“Ooh, I know!” Amy Anderson said. “I get tears every time I see him on a Big Ten field. It’s so amazing when you see one of your children realize their dreams.”
Anthony Anderson Hitchens has a lot of family eyeing those tackles.
There’s his mom and dad, Norma and Anthony Hitchens. There’s also the Anderson family, who took Anthony in during a rough patch as a seventh-grader.
This is Lorain, Ohio, a small community on Lake Erie, about 20 minutes from Cleveland.
“Our fun thing was in our neighborhood, everyone knew everyone and we played backyard football and stuff like that,” Hitchens said. “That’s about it. We just hung out with each other.”
Hitchens was a star at Clearview High School. He rushed for 3,864 yards and 52 touchdowns, setting school records for points in a season and career and most career yards. He did it after finding solid footing in the Anderson household, which now includes five boys (two Anderson boys and three live-in sons).
“The Anderson family took him in at a pretty young age, probably about 12 or 13,” Clearview Coach Mike Collier said. “They really gave him a little better life. He’s still in touch with his mom, but he lived with that family. It’s kind of like the ‘Blind Side,’ a feel-good story.”
Anthony has a relationship with his birth mother, but he also has Amy Anderson and the entire Anderson support system, which is five brothers — the Andersons’ biological sons Zachary and Chad and James Washington (who plays football at Muskingum University) and Anthony Alston, the newest member of the family who moved in recently after his adoptive mom was stricken ill.
“We’ve all been around each other,” Amy said. “I’ve heard Anthony introduce me as his ‘other mother’ and his mom. We’re all very close. There’s no animosity. One thing I know is he considers Brad his dad.”
Brad Anderson is Amy’s husband. He is very much “of” Lorain. He coached youth baseball. He played football for Clearview and has sons and more sons play for the Clippers.
While in the hospital for a kidney stone, Brad Anderson was diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis in 2008. The family needed to raise money to qualify for the liver transplant list. Lorain embraced the Andersons, with everything from a car show benefit to a teacher of the year donating half of the bonus check.
Anderson, whose son Chad is a running back/linebacker (just like Anthony) at Clearview this fall, underwent a 10-hour surgery for a liver transplant, when Hitchens was in the middle of training camp. That didn’t matter. Iowa coaches sent Anthony home to be with his family.
After the first half of the Aug. 11 scrimmage, Hitchens flew back to Lorain. The family spent a nice quiet Saturday night together, they went to church on Sunday and then Brad went in for the surgery. Anthony and James were able to stay through the next Tuesday.
“The Iowa coaches were excellent, they called the whole time wanting to know how Brad was,” Amy said. “We didn’t want to get in the way of Anthony’s dreams, but we were so happy to have him home.”
Anthony was able to break away from Iowa City after school finished in May. On the Brad Anderson Fund Facebook page, Brad offered this May 15 entry:
”What an amazing feeling to have all 5 of our boys under one roof again! At 3:30 a.m. Anthony Hitchens crawled in bed between me and Amy and talked for over an hour! Where there is LOVE, there is LIFE!”
The Brad Anderson Fund website tells the story.
In September 2005, Zach Anderson befriended Hitchens, a football teammate. The Andersons drove a group of players to practice, Hitchens included. The relationship grew from there.
“The family is a great, to do what they’ve done for the community,” Collier said. “They’ve taken kids in. Mrs. Anderson does a lot working for the community (a neighborhood center in Elryia) and does a lot with kids.”
With Anthony Hitchens, it started very simply.
“He started spending school nights with us and one night he said, ‘Hey, I think I’d like to live with you,’”
Amy said. “We just said, ‘OK.’ It really was that simple.”
The Andersons took Hitchens in. There was no adoption or guardianship. There is love.
“We consider all the boys our sons,” Amy said. “Biology doesn’t mean we can’t love them like our sons, and we do.”
It was cramped in their home. Amy said the bathroom situation was insane, but they made it work because of the bond. Part of the fundraising for Brad’s surgery included a T-shirt that read exactly what he wrote on that “welcome home, Anthony” Facebook post, “Where there is LOVE, there is LIFE!”
Those T-shirts, designed by the family, also are part of a fundraiser to help the family pay the hospital bills (more than $800.000) for the transplant.
Hitchens also is very much “of” the Lorain community. He still goes back and talks to Collier’s team.
He also plays host to Iowa teammates, inviting teammates B.J. Lowery, Kevonte Martin-Manley and Carl Davis into the family home.
“I’ve had Anthony talk to the varsity a bunch of times, giving them a heads up on what they need to improve upon,” Collier said. ”He does a great job of passing on what he’s learned. He lets them know it’s not easy, that you just don’t walk through it. You have to work at it and do the right things and be a leader in the community while you’re doing it.”
It’s been an exciting fall for Hitchens, who Amy calls the “shyest” of her sons. On Sept. 2, Brad returned home from the hospital and is recovering nicely.
If you weigh the fact that his father had a liver transplant while he sweated his way through August two-a-days, trying to secure his spot as a starter with the Hawkeyes, yes, it does make Anthony Anderson Hitchens’ start to the season, and his tackle numbers, pretty impressive.