A Solid and Interesting Start
Sept. 3, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa - If the goal is Indianapolis - and for all Big Ten Conference football teams, a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship is among the top priorities entering the 2011 season - then consider the Iowa Hawkeyes 1/12 of the way to Lucas Oil Stadium.
Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes overcame several periods of heavy rain - the heaviest seen on a game day at historic Kinnick Stadium in decades - and a very rare and interesting twist to claim victory No. 1 of 2011, a 34-7 win over the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles before another sellout crowd of 70,585.
As good as the Hawkeyes were, they couldn't overcome Mother Nature. The stadium was evacuated and the game was delayed for a little over an hour with a little less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter because of lightning strikes in the immediate vicinity of Kinnick.
The Hawkeyes took this game over during the second quarter when the Iowa offense and defense erupted to put 24 points on the scoreboard...and a lot of the dirty work was done by Hawkeyes long on talent but short on experience including junior wide receiver Keenan Davis whose brilliant 23-yard grab on a fade from junior quarter James Vandenberg set up a sneak for seven by Iowa's signal-caller with 10:30 left to play before intermission.
Iowa pushed it to 17-0 about three minutes later on its very next possession when Vandenberg looked to veteran pass catcher Marvin McNutt, who took a simple square out 88-yards for his first touchdown of his senior season.
Sophomore placekicker Michael Meyer moved the needle to 20-0 when he knocked through a 20-yard field goal - his second field goal of the game -- with a little more than three minutes left in the stanza. Those three points were the by-product of a 52-yard interception return by sophomore linebacker James Morris, who looked more like a running back as he took the pigskin to the Golden Eagles' nine yard line.
The Hawkeyes weren't finished, however. On the last offensive play of the quarter, Shaun Prater grabbed an errant pass from TTU's Tre Lamb and took it 89 yards to paydirt to close the book on 15 minutes of football that proved to be the difference in the game.
The only down side of the first half - and it appears to be a big one -- was the loss of freshman running back Mika'il McCall, who ran for 61 yards on just nine carried before an injury to his right ankle that appeared to be significant.
"If we lose Mika'il for the season, it's really, really unfortunate. He had an absolutely wonderful fall and had really impressed his teammates and the coaching staff," said Ed Podolak, the former Hawkeye All-American and the color voice for the Hawkeye Radio Network.
The weather also proved to be an important hurdle that almost slowed the development of the 2011 Hawkeye, according to Podolak.
"The weather almost hurt a real important opportunity for the coaching staff. You want to put your younger guys in the game during the fourth quarter when the outcome is decided like this one was and give them quality reps. Fortunately we didn't lose that opportunity. I'm sure the coaching staff really wanted to have the opportunity to give some guys who have been working so hard to get some real game experience," said Podolak.
However, instead of a lost opportunity, many back-ups and Hawkeyes even a little deeper on the depth chart saw action in the game's final 18 minutes. That group included No. 2 quarterback A.J. Derby, the son of former UI linebacker John Derby and the brother of current Hawkeye tight end, Zach, who threw his first completion late in the fourth quarter.
Vandenberg might have enjoyed a few more reps. Iowa's starting quarterback was making only his third start as a collegian. His numbers were solid: 13 completions, 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Vandenberg's favorite target should come as no surprise: McNutt. The lanky leader had six catches for 140 yards and a pair of scores.
The Hawkeyes' defensive shutout for the game's first three quarters was the result of another strong effort against the run by Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker's troops. Tennessee Tech was held to just 58 net yards on 25 carries against the first-team UI defense.
"There were a lot of positives, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Prater's return for touchdown was probably the play of the game for us although James' (Morris) return was well done, too. Lots of guys in addition to Shaun did a lot of good things on that play," said UI coach Kirk Ferentz.
With respect to the weather delay, it was a first for Ferentz.
"I don't think anyone on the staff has had that experience. Pretty interesting," he said.
Iowa travels to Ames next Saturday for the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series football game with intrastate rival Iowa State. Game time is set for 11 a.m. Iowa time inside Jack Trice Stadium.