Three cool things:
1. The fog lifted. Finally.
The Hawkeyes enjoyed an uptick in 2008. Running back Shonn Greene exploded, eventually winning the Doak Walker Award. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi won the job and took his first steps. Iowa’s O-line flexed its muscles and brought some of the shine back to a unit that struggled in 2007.
But at this point in the season, Iowa was still looking for legitimacy.
Iowa lost four of six games heading into the November matchup against No. 3 Penn State.
Lose this one and Iowa would’ve needed to sweep the final two to ensure itself of bowl eligibility. And remember, there was no bowl in 2007. So, this was a biggie.
Add the drama of Daniel Murray. He hadn’t stepped onto the field in five weeks. Suddenly, Coach Kirk Ferentz taps him on the shoulder for a 31-yarder into a swirly wind.
After two middling years, Iowa found its footing. This started a 13-game winning streak that ended when Ricky Stanzi’s ankle blew up against Northwestern. This actually set off a streak where Iowa went 22-4 (from this game in November 2008 to Nov. 6, 2010, at Indiana. The party ended with three consecutive losses to finish the 2010 regular season.
Really, the fog of 2006-07 had finally lifted.
2. Iowa was the best 9-4 team in the country in 2008. After two mundane seasons, the Hawkeyes again had to learn how to win the close ones.
The Hawkeyes lost their four games by 12 total points in 2008. Every loss brought a new level of frustration. QB controversy. Fullback going the wrong way. Every loss threw an element at the Hawkeyes that they couldn’t overcome.
”We’ve gotten so close before, let’s finish it,” Stanzi told his teammates in the huddle. “Let’s just do it, especially now, we’ve got the chance. The ball’s in our hands.”
The Hawkeyes overcame a lot of adversity in this one. Stanzi had two fumbles and an interception. They overcame wide receiver Colin Sandeman’s roughing the kicker penalty — punter Jeremy Boone’s foot clipped Sandeman’s shoulder pad as he ran by — that cost Iowa a possession with 6:53 left in the fourth quarter, when the Hawkeyes trailed 23-21.
On one drive, Iowa started at its 16 and drove to PSU’s 28. On first down with a world of possibilities in front of them, the center-QB exchange went ka-boom.
Center Rob Bruggeman might still feel like he’s on the hook.
”It’s great that we won the game,” Bruggeman said between nervous bursts of laughter. “I don’t quite feel off the hook. Obviously, that’s not something you want to happen.”
They overcame first-half statistics that screamed this game was against No. 3 in the nation. Penn State had 18 first downs, ran 47 plays to just 15 for Iowa and held a massive advantage in time of possession, 23:34 to 6:26.
”It was long, it was long,” defensive tackle Mitch King said. “I know it was long.”
In the second half, the Hawkeyes’ offense executed. Fans grouse about that “executing” thing. It was Ferentz’s mantra all through a disappointing 2007 season. What’s wrong with Iowa’s offense? Ferentz would consistently counter with, “We need to execute.”
The final drive was the definition of execution.
On third-and-10 at the 50, PSU linebacker Navorro Bowman looped on a blitz and had a free run at Stanzi. Greene saw this and hustled from one side of the line of scrimmage to the other and met Bowman with a shot to the sternum.
Stanzi completed an 11-yarder to tight end Brandon Myers, who muscled two PSU defenders to earn the first down.
Yes, Greene had 117 yards and two TDs, but in the film room, this block might have gotten more hoots and hollers out of his teammates.
“That’s the other part about Shonn. It’s easy to focus on his running, and why wouldn’t you?” Ferentz said. “But he’s blocked well and tough also. That’s why I say he’s a team leader right now. Players respect players who do their job and do it well.”
Then on second-and-10 from PSU’s 39, Stanzi stood in the pocket with defensive tackle Jared Odrick bearing down on him. Odrick, who tore Iowa’s O-line apart with two sacks, was close enough to smell Stanzi’s breath.
Stanzi, who completed 13 of 21 for 149 yards in the second half, delivered the 10-yard completion to Darrell Johnson-Koulianos as he was falling sideways. Johnson-Koulianos snared the ball while falling out of bounds at PSU’s 29.
Johnson-Koulianos was the go-to receiver, finishing with seven catches for 89 yards.
“The ball came his way today and he did a great job with it,” Ferentz said. “He got called upon and he came through with great production. That’s what it takes to win.”
Then, on third-and-6 from PSU’s 25, one last little bit of execution between Stanzi and Johnson-Koulianos, a 10-yard completion to PSU’s 15. This was the play that brought a certain comfort level to Murray’s 31-yard field goal with 1 second left.
“The next step is (for Stanzi) to eliminate those turnovers,” Ferentz said. “To his credit, it doesn’t seem to bog him down. That’s two weeks in a row where he’s had some tough moments but comes back and fights in the fourth quarter. That’s a real credit to him.”
Here’s another thing fans wince at when it comes to Iowa football, the “bend don’t break” philosophy on defense. That, as much as anything else, won this game for the Hawkeyes.
The Lions scored on all five of their trips inside Iowa’s 20, but managed just two TDs. In a game decided by one point, reserve defensive tackle Karl Klug’s tackle on Evan Royster for a 5-yard loss looks pretty big. After PSU drove 71 yards on 19 plays and drained 9:43 off the clock, all the Lions had to show for it was a field goal.
Linebacker A.J. Edds might be a little biased, but he believed the red zone defense spurred the turnaround.
“When they had the ball deep our territory, we kind of backed them up for tough field goals instead of what looked like easy touchdowns,” Edds said. “You could just feel the offense was starting to click a little bit and special teams was starting to play well, it just started to turn to our favor a little bit.”
Execution, “bend but don’t break,” sometimes the words don’t even change. I think you guys are good with that.
3. Iowa took some of Sunday off after this one. I used to try to keep the team’s practice schedule in my head. I don’t bother with that crap anymore. I know they practice in the morning.
Ferentz let the dudes have a Sunday Funday (before Sunday was considered an actual fun day).
“Every now and then, we’ll let them have all day Sunday,” Ferentz said. “I think they certainly earned it. The only request was we come in or wake up Monday and get our mind on Purdue and start going there. If we do our job, we’ll have ample time to get ready, but we need to do our jobs, too.”
Remember the Purdue 2008 post? Remember that it came down to a final Purdue pass into Iowa’s end zone? This is why. The Penn State game was the week before.
Quote: ”I took the night off. I was thinking about (studying), then I said ‘You know what, I’ll just hang out tonight. I’ll study all day Sunday.’ So Sunday was a long day for me.” — Kicker Daniel Murray. I believe the Iowa City native graduated with a mechanical engineering degree.
Note: Iowa got a 15-yard penalty when you guys rushed the field with one second left on the clock.
Hey, you guys made the stat sheet.
Why No. 6? — You read the part about the winning streak, right?
IOWA CITY — It’s good. It’s all good.
Daniel Murray’s 31-yard field goal with one second left was good. The Hawkeyes’ thrilling 24-23 victory over No. 3 Penn State on Saturday was really good. The feeling of 70,585 fans jumping down on top of you to celebrate the program’s biggest victory in years, yeah, that had to feel good.
“That was the biggest workout I had all day,” said senior defensive tackle Mitch King.
Kinnick fans rushed the field with one second left on the clock, earning the Hawkeyes a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. No one seemed to mind.
There was a lot of black for the “blackout.” There was a little green for the “Greene out” staged by the student section to honor running back Shonn Greene. And there was a whole lot of joy.
This season won’t turn out as well as it could have. Even as Saturday’s upset reverberated throughout the college football world — the Big Ten won’t have a spot in the BCS national title game thanks to Iowa — the Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-2 Big Ten) still have to deal with the bitterness of four losses by 12 points.
Saturday, they seemed to be dealing just fine. It was good. It was all good.
The Hawkeyes snapped a nine-game losing streak in games decided by three points or less. They beat their first top-five team since a 54-28 victory at Illinois on Nov. 3, 1990. They also earned bowl eligibility.
It’s good. It’s all good.
“To win a close game was important for us,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It had to happen at some given point, preferably this season. And then to also win against not only a ranked team but an excellent football team, it’s important to a team, it’s important to our program. Hopefully, it’ll be important to our season.”
After enduring a season that has been a mocking taunt — Iowa was the Murray field goal from losing this one, basically, on a botched snap — everything, absolutely everything, went the Hawkeyes’ way the final 3 minutes, 46 seconds.
On a third-and-24, safety Tyler Sash picked off Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark to set up Iowa at its 39 with 3:46 left. On third-and-14, quarterback Ricky Stanzi rolled to his right and had one target in the pattern — well-covered, totally bracketed wide receiver Trey Stross. Penn State safety Anthony Scirrotto arrived a tick early and came over the top of Stross’ back, earning a 15-yard penalty for pass interference.
“I tried to put it up there to let Trey make a play,” Stanzi said. “Hopefully, they’ve got enough guys there where one of them will bang him. Fortunately, they did, and that kind of gave us a break.”
From there, Stanzi, the same QB who handed the Nittany Lions (9-1, 5-1) 10 points off an interception and fumble, dissected the No. 3 team in the country. On third-and-10 at the 50, he hit tight end Brandon Myers for 11 yards. On third-and-7 from PSU’s 25, he rolled left and flicked an out route to wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos — who led the Hawkeyes with seven catches for 89 yards including a 27-yard TD — for 10 yards to Penn State’s 15.
“I think the whole season has been a growing process for Rick,” said Greene, who did his damage with 28 carries for 117 yards and two TDs. “Today, he sped it up. He never got down on himself; he never does.”
Two Greene carries moved the ball to the Penn State 14 with six seconds left. Time for true freshman Trent Mossbrucker to come in and earn “employee of the month.”
Instead, Murray trotted out. Yeah, Murray. You might remember Murray.
His last field goal attempt was a 35-yard miss Sept. 20 at Pittsburgh. Murray has held the kickoff job all season. Last week at Illinois, he booted one out of bounds, giving the Fighting Illini the ball at the 40 and eventually turning out to be a touchdown.
Why Daniel Murray? Why now?
”We were just leaning toward experience,” Ferentz said. “The wind was a little tricky, tough situation. We just leaned toward experience.”
Ferentz talked with co-special teams coach Lester Erb. Both kickers warmed up at the start of the drive. When the Hawkeyes reached the 50, Ferentz said the decision was made. Before the game, coaches decided that with the wind gusting out of the north from 22 to 30 mph, Murray would be the guy.
“You just kind of say, here we go,” said Murray, who made his first field goal since the season opener. “I was nervous until I got on the field. Once I got on the field, it was kind of like, no turning back now. Let’s just go.”
The philosophy for watching a game-winning kick varies. King couldn’t bear to watch.
“I had my eyes shut, I was just listening to the crowd to see if we made it or not,” he said.
Stanzi, who finished 15 of 25 for 171 yards with a touchdown and interception, really gave it some thought.
“I thought about not watching it and then thought that’d be dumb,” he said. “So I kind of got down there, far away from it, so I could get a good view. It was awesome.”
Ferentz said he’s tried not watching when opposing kickers have a chance for a game-winner.
“I’ve found out, it doesn’t matter either way what I do,” he said. “But when our guys are kicking, I watch our guys.”
It was good. Everyone saw it. It’s all good.