Oct 25, 2003
IOWA CITY, IA -- The 16th-ranked Hawkeyes fired back after last week's defeat at the hands of Ohio State and became bowl eligible with their sixth win of the season Saturday.
Iowa levelled its Big Ten Conference record at 2-2 with a 26-14 victory over Penn State in front of a sell-out crowd of 70,397 inside Kinnick Stadium.
"I was tremendously pleased with the job of our team today," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We've had a tough couple of weeks and our main goal was to come out with a victory. We've had tunnel vision all week -- we wanted to get six."
The Hawkeyes join just 12 other teams with at least four consecutive victories against the Nittany Lions, who are now at four straight losses for the year and are so far amid their worst season since 1931. It is the second-longest active winning streak against Penn State.
"We were looking for that sixth win and we got it today," said strong safety Bob Sanders, who had six tackles and forced two fumbles. "It's sort of a relief because now we're bowl eligible. Now we can move on and go to the seventh and eighth win. We're just taking it one week at a time. If things are going to go by smoothly, we have to prepare and go out there and work hard each and every week."
Characteristically, Iowa was not quick to start. It failed to score on its first possession for the fifth consecutive game and the sixth time in the last eight games.
However, the Hawkeyes' third, longest and second most time consuming drive of the game climaxed as running back Fred Russell crossed three yards into the endzone with little more than three minutes on the clock in the first quarter. It was Russell's first time in any endzone since Iowa's 40-21 win over Iowa State last month.
However, a holding penalty on the Hawkeyes tacked on 10 yards and forced the ball back to the Penn State 13 yard line without a score.
"I haven't been in the endzone for a long time, and when I got in, they took it back. Hopefully, we can see what happens next week," said Russell, who had 36 carries for 148 yards to move to sixth on Iowa's career rushing chart. "The offensive line did a really good job opening up holes, and I had a lot of holes to choose from."
"I haven't been in the endzone for a long time, and when I got in, they took it back. Hopefully, we can see what happens next week."
Running back Fred Russell
As Iowa tried again to break open the game on its third possession, quarterback Nathan Chandler succumbed to the pressure of a Nittany Lion blitz and threw directly into the hands of hero Yaacov Yisrael, who returned it 83 yards for the first score of the game with 2:57 remaining in the opening stanza. It was Yisrael's second interception of the game, third of the year and fifth of his collegiate career.
"That's one of those things that no matter how hard you prepare for the game, some things won't go your way," Chandler said. "Obviously, we didn't start out the way we wanted to. The key thing is we wanted to get our sixth win today, and we did that against a great team, and we're happy with that."
Kicker Robbie Gould added the extra point to make the score 7-0 Penn State, despite the Nittany Lions having -8 yards of total offense and no first downs to that point.
In fact, Penn State had just nine first downs throughout the entire game and was held to 38 yards of rushing on 28 attempts. Not even Austin Scott, the Nittany Lions' best rusher at 379 yards for the season, could break free from Iowa's defense and was held to 14 yards.
"We lost the game in a lot of places," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "We had a lot of chances to win it, but Iowa's a good football team. We just couldn't do the things that would get us back in the ball game."
But the opening drive of the second quarter provided new life to the Hawkeyes, who were in need of a momentum shifter.
After Russell had two successful runs for 13 yards, Chandler engineered a 20-yard pass to junior wide receiver Warren Holloway to move within two yards of the endzone. It was Holloway's first reception of the year and second of his career.
On the next play, Chandler made a two-yarder to sophomore Matt Melloy for the touchdown -- Melloy's first of the season. But surprisingly, Iowa couldn't equalize Penn State as Nate Kaeding's extra point was blocked by Scott Paxson.
The missed point after was Kaeding's third of his career, the last coming at Penn State a year ago. He had converted 56 consecutive PATs before Saturday's block and is 22-of-23 for PAT attempts this season and has made all nine field goal attempts.
The Hawkeyes put together another scoring drive on their next possession culminating with a 4-yard reception by senior Ramon Ochoa for the score. But again, the point after conversion was dashed when Iowa got a little cheeky and faked a kick, having David Bradley, the holder, attempt the run.
Despite leading 12-7 at halftime, the Hawkeyes didn't crack Penn State until the Nittany Lions' opening drive of the second half.
On a fourth-and-seven punt by Jeremy Kapinos at his own 42 yard line, Chad Greenway picked up his first career punt block, while linebacker Jermire Roberts returned it for 26 yards for his second career touchdown and the third score of the game for the Hawkeyes. It was the fourth blocked punt this year that resulted in points for Iowa.
"I was just in the right place," said Roberts, a senior. "It's always been in the playbook. We just designed it differently. It's a great feeling to beat Penn State four times in a row."
Ten minutes on, Chandler made a 1-yard run to cap off a nine play, 67-yard drive, while Kaeding made the extra point to end Iowa's scoring for day.
Chandler ended the day at 13-of-26 for 174 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. He also had seven carries for 22 yards with one touchdown.
"We had audible a lot today," said Chandler. "They were shifting and changing things around a lot. But I felt we did a pretty good job of catching them. Our line did a great job of adjusting and that allowed us to get some pretty big plays in the run game.
"When you're able to come out and get a win against Penn State, that's a great day," he added.
"I thought (the win) was very, very important for a lot of reasons. I won't say it was a must-win game. I'm not a big believer in that. But I thought it was a critical game for a lot of reasons and for our psyche. It was a big win for us."
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
On a separate level from the win, it was a great day for Iowa too. As injuries to some of their most prominent players, like wide receivers Maurice Brown and Ed Hinkel and defensive linesman Jonathan Babineaux, add up, the Hawkeyes have received a major confidence builder with the victory.
"I always worry about (the team's mental state)," Ferentz said. "All the hardships we've been through, it's been a hard year in certain regards. I thought if we couldn't have come out of it (Saturday), it was going to be really difficult next week.
"I thought (the win) was very, very important for a lot of reasons," added Ferentz. "I won't say it was a must-win game. I'm not a big believer in that. But I thought it was a critical game for a lot of reasons and for our psyche. It was a big win for us."
Iowa improves to 6-2 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten, while Penn State falls to 2-6 overall and 0-4 in the conference. Iowa hosts Illinois next Saturday at 11.10am.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com