Hawkeyes Rout Gophers, 40-22
Nov 15, 2003
IOWA CITY, IA. -- According to senior receiver Ramon Ochoa, Iowa needed to take Saturday's game against No. 19 Minnesota and set an identity -- to prove one last time this season what Hawkeye football was all about.
But the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes didn't quite set an identity in front of a sold-out Kinnick Stadium, when they retained Floyd of Rosedale and knocked down the Gophers, 40-22.
Instead, the Hawkeyes merely proved that the team's previously known and natural strengths haven't been lost after countless injuries and illnesses and three Big Ten Conference defeats, including the toughest last week at Purdue.
"For the guys to get it up and do what they did today, that says an awful lot about their character and heart. It's a tremendous tribute to our players," said coach Kirk Ferentz.
"To me, the win was very representative of the kind of football team we are right now. It was a great team effort offensively, defensively and our special teams -- we looked like ourselves on special teams," added Ferentz.
"When we needed something we got it. That's how we have to play right now. That's how we are."
Thanks to four field goals by Nate Kaeding -- including one for a personal best-tying 55 yards to end the second quarter -- some big punt returns by Ochoa and punting that brought David Bradley out of a slump, Minnesota didn't stand a chance.
"It's one of those things where special teams are going to make the difference whether you win or lose. It's better when you're a special teams' player to have contributed to a win like this," said Kaeding, who tied his own records for kicking points (16) and field goals (4) in a game.
"Special teams played a big part today," leading Iowa rusher Jermelle Lewis said. "They had a couple of good returns by [Ochoa], we had a couple of kickoff returns. We were playing the field position game. As long as our defense and special teams play well, we're always in good position for scoring."
Indeed, the defense hardly played a supporting role in the confidence-building league victory for the Hawkeyes, who are now 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten.
Gophers Could Have Been Their Own Worst Enemy
Minnesota (9-3, 5-3) had five turnovers, a season high for the Iowa defense and for the Gophers, who entered the game with just 11 on the season.
"You can't play a good team like the University of Iowa and turn the ball over 5-to-1 and be successful. We made mistakes and they didn't," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "Turnovers and poor field position really hurt us today. We have to credit a good Iowa football team."
And sophomore cornerback Jovon Johnson got his fourth interception of the year, setting up Ochoa with the first touchdown of the second half by breaking free of a double block to make a 6-yard reception with less than three minutes remaining in the third.
To add insult to injury, Iowa held the nation's best rushing offense with a 303.9-yard average per game to just 175.
"That's our goal," said Johnson. "They had some great running backs and we stopped them as much as we could and forced them to pass.
"Those are the things a great defense has to do. You need to stop the run first. The run keeps everything going."
"Let's face it -- Iowa has a tremendous defense," Mason said. "We knew that coming in. It's the best one we've faced all year long. They're very physical and good.
"But it just seemed like we were our own worst enemies out there today."
Injuries and Illness Have Battered But Not Broken Team
But finally, the game came down to just how hardnosed the Iowa football team has been or has had to become.
Call it character or heart, they've been tough.
Throughout the season, major injuries to some of the team's most important players have slowed down the Hawkeyes, but they haven't been broken.
This week alone, a flu-like virus ravaged the team and forced starting defensive tackle Matt Neubauer to go home early this morning and caused offensive linesman Robert Gallery to become ill prior to the game.
In fact, antibiotics were given to players and coaches before the game.
"It's been that kind of week for us," said Ferentz. "But when the bell sounded, our guys really answered. I couldn't be more proud of that. They pulled together in the last 48 hours or so and made up their minds that they were going to play a great football game."
Iowa's 24 Seniors End Home Season Undefeated
And what a way for the Hawkeyes' 24 seniors to exit the stage at home.
"I can't say enough about our seniors," Ferentz said. "They've done a great job all the way through their careers. The work's not done certainly, but they led us today, and that was great to see."
The game was the last inside Kinnick for many Iowa notables like quarterback Nathan Chandler and running back Fred Russell. But it was perhaps most emotional for Kaeding, a Coralville, IA.-native, who grew up watching Hawkeye football.
"I played the game with a lot of emotion," he said. "I haven't had much time to put [my collegiate career] into perspective yet. It's tough to see that it's over, but I'm glad I've been able to have such a successful career, and I've been able to leave my print on Iowa football."
Kaeding is Iowa's all-time scoring leader with 335 points and third in the Big Ten for kicking points at 345. He's made 62-of-75 career field goal attempts and 159-of-162 points after touchdown.
Iowa's final game of the season is at Wisconsin next Saturday.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com