Three cool things:
1. OK, when we talk about “wind” games, this is the top dog.
Gazette columnist Mike Hlas and I drank beer on the balcony of whatever hotel we were at in Rantoul. We watched garbage funnel through an open field. So, you want to be a sportswriter?
For the record, the stat packet for each game has a spot on the cover that lists the game conditions. This one said “gusts of 40 mph.”
If you think about it, the Big Ten does “lose” a game weekend every season to the weather. Now, that doesn’t mean “lose,” but every season, the league has a weekend where the elements dig in and have a say. I remember on this weekend the entire Big Ten had some storm or wind.
Iowa dealt with it. And there was a funny story from the coin toss. It’s the lede in the gamer. If you think about it, how does the coin toss not get screwed up more?
2. Kind of a quintessential Kirk Ferentz game.
I don’t know if we’ll keep doing the “Pick ’ems” this year. That kind of spontaneously funny stuff gets strained sometimes and it’s been 20 years of those. But when I think that Iowa can get through and control a game, I pick the Hawkeyes to win by two scores.
For whatever reason, this is the game I think of.
That recipe usually includes a running game the QB can lean on. Well, this was 2004. You know there was no running game, so the two-score diet needed a big play and a solid effort from the defense. That’s usually a staple in that diet, along with a special teams play or two.
3. I’m trying to treat these as single events and not look too much around at the next week or previous week. Hey, I didn’t even mention that 2009 Northwestern game (the Ricky Stanzi ankle game) was the week after what ended up being a glorious, thrilling win over Indiana.
I think something like that fits here, because this was the game where you could see this team form a crust. Yeah, sounds weird, but what I mean is after this game, you felt like 2004 Iowa was going to finish this thing. Of course, it did.
Why did I think a sleepy, windy game at Illinois was such an obstacle?
This was the week after 6-4 at Penn State.
Quote: “We’re definitely getting down there, I guess,” said running back Sam Brownlee, who led Iowa with 50 yards on 19 carries. “It’s hard not to think about it. You just have to go on.”
We’ll put a pin in Sam Brownlee the topic (not the person).
Note: How much does the eye that determines who should play QB for your team matter? A lot, I think.
Iowa’s last five years at QB have been solid. Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard were drafted and have footing in the NFL. Nate Stanley, a kid from Menomonie, Wis., who didn’t camp a lot, is on the path to the NFL.
The fact that Iowa plays in the B1G West might skew this. Wisconsin has won with mailboxes at QB. But check the last five QBs for each of the contenders in the division. That’s probably a pretty good welfare check on your team.
And that’s why Illinois might be where Illinois is.
Why No. 88? — A two-score win at Illinois.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2004
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Of all things, they goofed the coin toss.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz wanted the wind, a blustery and gusty 40-mph proposition Saturday at Memorial Stadium. But Iowa always takes the ball.
In 63 of Iowa’s 69 games under Ferentz, Iowa has taken the ball. In 61 of their last 63 games, the Hawkeyes have taken the ball.
Offensive tackle Pete McMahon said Iowa wanted the ball. Or linebacker Chad Greenway said it. Someone said something and Iowa got the ball. Coach wanted the wind. Iowa took the ball. They’ll all take the victory.
“We need to have one guy speak and one guy handle the whole chore,” Ferentz said. “We had a couple guys involved, and things got twisted around a little bit.”
The wind was that big a deal Saturday, but a big third quarter gave the Hawkeyes a mulligan.
Quarterback Drew Tate threw two touchdown passes and ran for another to blow the No. 23 Hawkeyes past Illinois, 23-13, before 47,651 fans at Memorial Stadium.
Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux’s strip and recovery of fullback Jason Davis’ fumble with 13:02 left in the third quarter touched off Iowa’s run.
After Iowa’s David Bradley punted 23 yards into the wind, Illinois (2-7, 0-6 Big Ten) took its first possession and marched 49 yards to take a 7-0 lead. Redshirt freshman quarterback Brad Bower hit Kendrick Jones for an 8-yard score with 9:51 left in the first quarter.
Coin toss 7, Iowa 0. Wind 7, Iowa 0.
“We work all week and come up with a gameplan,” said Illinois Coach Ron Turner, whose team has dropped 14 straight Big Ten games. “Then the wind becomes a factor and it throws the gameplan out the window for two quarters.”
There was the wind and there was Iowa’s defense, which held the Illini to 268 yards. After its opening-drive success, Illinois went nearly two full quarters without a first down.
With the wind, Tate tied it at 7-7 with the first of his two 19-yard TD passes to wideout Ed Hinkel with 6:28 left in the second quarter.
The wind had nothing to do with Babineaux’s play on Davis. That was football. Bower threw a perfectly executed screen pass to Davis. Babineaux fought out of a double-team and came from behind to strip the ball.
“The ball fell right on me,” said Babineaux, who had six tackles, the forced and recovered fumble, two tackles for loss and a batted pass. “Coach always says someone’s got to make the big play. We were out there fighting to make it.”
With 13:02 left in the third quarter, Babineaux’s play gave Iowa the ball, and the wind, at the Illinois 37. Four plays and a pass interference penalty later, Tate hit Hinkel, who finished with a career-high 108 yards on five catches, for another 19-yard TD to give Iowa a 14-7 lead with 11:28 left in the quarter.
“That’s something our defense has been doing for us,” said Tate, who completed 24 of 34 for 243 yards, two TDs and an interception. “They carried us last week, we had to put some points on the board for them this week.”
Iowa safety Miguel Merrick ended the Fighting Illini’s next drive with a punt block through the back of the end zone for a safety and another two points.
Illinois kicked and Iowa scored again. This time Tate strolled a bootleg in from 5 yards with 3:38 left in the third. Iowa scored all 23 points with the wind.
Illinois scored its 13 points with the wind. The Hawkeyes did a better job sustaining their offense, holding the ball 35:10 to Illinois’ 24:50. A 7-7 halftime tug of war turned into a comfortable margin during that eight-minute stretch when Iowa had the wind.
“It was their choice (in the third quarter),” Ferentz said. “We didn’t know if they would take the ball or take the wind. If we had the wind, we had to make hay.”
Now they can really make hay in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) are bowl eligible going down a November stretch that includes wounded Purdue (a loser Saturday), hurting Minnesota (a loser to Indiana on Saturday) and surging Wisconsin (idle Saturday).
How they’re going to go down the stretch is anyone’s guess. Oh, by the way, Iowa lost two fullbacks Saturday, losing Aaron Mickens to a concussion and Champ Davis to a probable torn ACL, Ferentz said.
“We’re definitely getting down there, I guess,” said running back Sam Brownlee, who led Iowa with 50 yards on 19 carries. “It’s hard not to think about it. You just have to go on.”
For at least next week, at running back, it’s Brownlee and freshman Damian Sims. At fullback, it’s Tom Busch and ... well, Babineaux did start his career as a fullback.
No way, the 280-pounder said.
“I don’t remember the plays.”
Iowa is gum and Spackle and gum right now. It’s not about style, it’s about getting it done. All the possibilities are on the table. And if it takes a tackle to play fullback, don’t think they won’t do it.