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Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz has 143 wins under his belt at the University of Iowa, one away from the all-time record.

The Gazette will count down each win, as ranked by writer Marc Morehouse.


Matt Roth brushed off the haters

No. 13 Iowa 41, Illinois 10 | Nov. 1, 2003

Iowa defensive lineman Matt Roth tackles Illinois fullback Carey Davis during the third quarter of a game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2003.
Iowa defensive lineman Matt Roth tackles Illinois fullback Carey Davis during the third quarter of a game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2003.

Three cool things:

1. Before the 2004 season, I went to Matt Roth’s house. No creepy sleepover crap. I used to do home visits with players who 1) were open to it and 2) were important pieces to the Hawkeyes’ puzzle.

Already in this series, I’ve run the Mike Klinkenborg visit. The Roths talked a lot. I needed a roll of butcher’s paper to keep up with the notes.

So, I’m going to milk that one.

In this one, Roth told us his sack dance was called “Brushin’ off the haters.” I’d love to be able to add “Electric Boogaloo” to that.

This was a sidebar to the visit story. For everyone who had parents who worked and brothers and sisters, you can totally relate to near-death experiences. Everyone has them. We lost our daughter once in downtown Cedar Rapids. I almost hit the boy in the head with a puck. Every family has these stories.

Enjoy the Matt Roth version below (I don’t think some of these even ran online). Oh, he almost went to Nebraska. Almost.

2. Roth did have three sacks in this game, but my editor (hi, Sam Paxton, Gazette night sports editor) thought of a better game for a full Roth rollout. So, you have another Matt Roth story coming.

3. Roth sacked the Illini QB. Bob Sanders plucked the ball off the kid’s shoulder pads and ran it into the end zone.

Iowa’s defenses from 2002-04, just nasty, nasty business.

Quote: “I was joking with (linebacker Chad) Greenway. He said I had to brush off the haters because I was in a drought. People were doubting me, so I had to brush them off.” — Iowa DE Matt Roth

Note: This was the middle of the greatest three-year run in school history. Or something close to that.

So, remember when the Hawkeyes said stuff like this? It was fleeting, so I don’t really. These teams earned the right to talk like this. They certainly backed it up.

“Here we are,” defensive end Howard Hodges said. “We’re still here, hanging around. And you know what, we’re not going anywhere.”

Why No. 85? — Illinois. I know, I’ve lit up Illinois football pretty good during this. Their fans should be in total revolt. The AD is trying. Maybe Lovie is. Hard to tell.


Game story from 2003

IOWA CITY — Really, in a nutshell, it’s sort of the theme of the season. And it comes from the unlikeliest of sources, doing the most unspeakable of acts, at least against the workaholic plugger backdrop that is Iowa football.

They’re not big on the demonstratives at Iowa.

Coach Kirk Ferentz is as button-down, blue-collar as it gets, pure western Pennsylvania work ethic. The lunchbox, 40-hour workweek mentality wafts throughout the Iowa football program.

Sack dances fit here like sequins on shoulder pads. Yet, Matt Roth’s goofy little diddy at the beginning of the third quarter Saturday said it all for the Hawkeyes’ season.

Roth crushed Illinois quarterback Dustin Ward, shot off the Kinnick Stadium turf and started brushing off his uniform, like he was on fire.

“I was joking with (linebacker Chad) Greenway,” Roth said. “He said I had to brush off the haters because I was in a drought. People were doubting me, so I had to brush them off.”

The No. 13 Hawkeyes (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) dusted off hapless Illinois, 41-10, Saturday before 70,397 fans at Kinnick. They’ve been brushing off the haters all season.

New quarterback, new offensive line, wideouts dropping weekly and here are the Hawkeyes, set for a three-game sprint to the finish. A Big Ten title, a spot in the Bowl Championship Series, rings and big TV games, it’s all still on the table.

Brushing off the haters. Sounds like it’ll play to the kids.

“Here we are,” defensive end Howard Hodges said. “We’re still here, hanging around. And you know what, we’re not going anywhere.”

The Hawkeyes finish with a three-game stretch that begins Saturday at No. 18 Purdue (4-1 Big Ten), winds back to Kinnick for No. 24 Minnesota (4-2) and finishes at Wisconsin (3-2).

That’s a lot of hate to be brushing off. But hey, they’ve made it this far with a gum-and-spackle offense, a gritty defense and stellar special teams. And now the offense is getting major body parts back from the shop.

Saturday, senior wideout Mo Brown returned from an ankle injury and caught two passes for 31 yards, including a 30-yarder that set up a second-quarter touchdown that gave Iowa a 17-0 lead.

Running back Jermelle Lewis (ACL) showed bursts of his old self, gaining 61 yards on nine carries. Wide receiver Ed Hinkel (groin) caught a pass for 23 yards, converting a third-and-21 and helping Iowa to a 7-0 lead, its first first-quarter lead since week 2 against Iowa State.

“There’s some positives going on right now for us,” Ferentz said. “It’s been awhile since we’ve had all those guys on the field at one time.”

Iowa brushed off the Fighting Illini (1-9, 0-6) on the game’s initial possession.

The Hawkeyes muddled through three penalties for 37 yards and pasted together their longest drive this season in plays (18) and time of possession (9:06), capping it on quarterback Nathan Chandler’s 1-yard TD pass to tight end Tony Jackson.

It was the first time since Iowa State the Hawkeyes scored on their first possession.

“We were out there forever,” Chandler said. “Anytime you can eat up that much clock and get seven out of it before they even touch the ball, that’s a big deal.”

Chandler brushed off some haters with his best game, completing 14 of 23 for a career-high 243 yards and a TD. Chandler has thrown a TD pass in eight of Iowa’s nine games.

“We’ve got so much depth right now and that makes my job so much easier,” Chandler said. “A week ago, everybody was saying we don’t have any depth. All of a sudden, we start getting guys back and it’s a lot of fun.”

Iowa’s next TD drive could have been subtitled “Return of the Living Injured.”

Lewis was stopped for a 1-yard loss on the first play, but turned around on second down and gained 10 yards to give the drive a chance. After fullback Edgar Cervantes went 8 yards for the first down, Chandler zinged a 30-yard completion to Brown, seeing his first minutes since blowing out his ankle against Iowa State.

Brown got inside shoulder on redshirt freshman cornerback Sharriff Abdullah and held the position to gather the ball in. An identical play to wideout Matt Melloy set up the first of Nate Kaeding’s two field goals on Iowa’s previous possession.

Tight end Erik Jensen, who missed last week with a sore knee and hamstring, caught a 13-yard pass for a first down at Illinois’ 15. Running back Fred Russell finished it with a 2-yard run, giving Iowa a 17-0 halftime lead.

Iowa’s offensive line, also mired in injuries, matched last week’s dominant performance against Penn State.

Iowa’s offense hummed to a season-high 505 yards.

“The question was, for a while anyway, if we would get any of these guys back,” Ferentz said. “The key now is keeping everyone out there practicing so we can develop some continuity and get some rhythm and tempo to us.”

The Iowa defense held the Illini to 58 rushing yards. The Illini’s only TD came after a 47-yard completion against reserves.

Roth matched a career-high with three sacks. His third-quarter sack forced a Ward fumble. Strong safety Bob Sanders plucked the ball off Roth’s shoulder, bobbled it and took it 3 yards into the end zone, his first-career TD.

“I think defensively, they’re very, very good,” Illinois Coach Ron Turner said. “It’s an unbelievable defense. A really good defense.”

Those aren’t the words of a hater. But “brush off the admirers” won’t play with the kids.

Matt Roth feature from 2004

Obstacles in Matt Roth's Iowa path

Five things that almost kept Matt Roth from coming to the University of Iowa: Nebraska

— Matt Roth was a high school senior in 2000, gathering 47 written college football scholarship offers. In 2000, the Iowa Hawkeyes finished 3-9. In 2000, the Nebraska Cornhuskers finished 10-2 with a 66-17 victory over Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl. So, Roth would play his college football for the Huskers, who recruited him as a defensive end.

“I told him he needed to go to Nebraska,” said T.J. Roth, Matt’s older brother.

“Want to tell him the truth, Matt? Who you picked the first time?” said Tom Roth, Matt’s dad.

“Oh, yeah, Nebraska,” Matt said.

Matt Roth was a Husker for two days.

His dad asked him, if he wasn’t playing football, where would he want to go? Matt knew then-Iowa offensive lineman Eric Steinbach, who’s also from the Chicago suburbs.

The two are so close Steinbach took Roth to Hawaii during Roth’s spring break last March. T.J. had friends at Iowa. Matt had friends at Iowa.

“I felt good at Iowa,” he said, “but they were so bad. They were horrible.”

During his recruitment, Matt and his dad had the strength coaches from their final schools write letters telling them what they could do with Matt. Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle sent a list of players and their gains in strength and speed.

“There was just so much vast improvement,” Tom said. “That worked. Everyone else wrote letters that were full of crap. Coach Doyle had hard, concrete stuff they showed us.”

The Roths said Iowa assistant Lester Erb, who recruits Illinois, was key. And defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who told Matt, who came to Iowa as a linebacker, there would be a lot of blitzing.

You can count on one hand how many times the Iowa defense, one of the top in the Big Ten the last two years, has blitzed since Roth arrived.

“Yeah,” Matt says with a big smile, “Norm lied.”

— The fort and the train.

In the seventh grade, Matt was building a fort with a friend. They pilfered a few boards from a lumberyard and had to drag them over some train tracks and under a train.

“The train started moving,” Matt said. “We barely made it out.”

— Breathe, kid, breathe.

There was a time when the kids were in the doctor’s office, when Matt was very young. Matt felt a tightness and couldn’t catch his breath. He stopped breathing and had to spend three days at Loyola Hospitals in Chicago.

“He almost needed a tracheotomy,” Tom said.

— 31 Flavors.

Since Matt picked No. 31 at Iowa, the Roths have looked for the number in their lives. Matt finished 31-0 his senior year in wrestling. His mother, Kelly, had seat 31 on a flight to Miami for the Orange Bowl. Matt’s cellphone is dominated by 31.

There’s a 31 in a family member’s security code. Can’t say who or which, then it wouldn’t be a security code, would it?

And then there was the time Matt got lost. He was 3 or so and got lost for 15 minutes or so during a trip to Kohl’s. They found him at a Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors eating an ice cream cone.

— Riptide.

On a family vacation to Florida, Matt, then 7 years old, went surfing with a local kid. About a half-hour after Matt went out, the kid he was with knocked on the Roths’ condo door and asked if Matt was there.

“We thought he was with you,’” Tom Roth said. “The kid said he was but hadn’t seen him for a while.”

The family was frantic for a half-hour, running up and down the beach looking for Matt. After about a half-hour, Matt came walking up the beach.

He got caught in a rip tide and was pulled a half-mile into open sea before he could swim back.

“We were frantic,” Tom Roth said. “That, by far, was the scariest.”