Wine Online: A Defense Battle
Oct. 24, 2004
With an open date prior to last Saturday's game with Iowa, Penn State had two weeks to figure out a way to score a touchdown against the Hawkeyes. The Nittany Lions needed more time than that.
How much more we'll never know, but judging from the way Iowa's defense stuffed Penn State's offense, two additional months might not have helped. When a football team has extra time to prepare for a much-needed victory at homecoming, it usually introduces an element of surprise. If the Hawkeyes were surprised, they didn't show it.
Meanwhile, the Lions' defense used the extra time to develop a game plan that stymied Iowa's passing attack. It made Drew Tate - who recently scorched Michigan State and Ohio State - look a like a sophomore with little experience, which he is.
Epic defensive struggles - and this was one -- often create bizarre scores, and no score last Saturday was more bizarre than Iowa 6, Penn State 4. Two field goals always beat two safeties.
More than 108,000 fans and a national television audience witnessed the game, but you'll never see it replayed on ESPN Classics. It may someday be used as an instructional video for defensive coordinators, however.
Sixty minutes of football produced 10 points at Beaver Stadium. Later in the day, the Red Sox and Cardinals scored twice that many runs at Fenway Park in the first game of the World Series.
Some fans and members of the media suggested that this was an "ugly win" for the Hawkeyes. Sure, you could make a case that it was ugly, but remember that an ugly win beats you-know-what out of a moral victory.
For the third straight week, Iowa's defensive regulars did not allow a touchdown. For the second consecutive game, they did not allow a point. They held Penn State to season lows in total yardage (154), passing yardage (79) and first downs (6).
The Lions failed to make a first down on seven possessions. That number would be higher if Iowa hadn't intercepted four passes and recovered a fumble.
With defenses dominating, the game came down to this: Each team had two opportunities in the red zone. Kyle Schlicher kicked two field goals for Iowa. Penn State missed a field goal and had a pass intercepted.
Both teams played to form in red zone efficiency. Iowa went into the game leading the Big Ten in that statistic. Penn State was last. That will not change this week.
With eight minutes remaining in the game, Kirk Ferentz faced perhaps his biggest coaching decision at Iowa. His team had a fourth down at its one-yard line, clinging to a 6-2 lead. Rather than have David Bradley punt, Ferentz ordered his kicker to take a safety, which would close the margin to two points.
So Bradley took the snap, ran along the end line and stepped out of bounds. The thought occurred to me that Ferentz might have had center Kody Asmus simply snap the ball over Bradley's head, which Asmus had done when Penn State scored its first safety. (A little humor helps relieve tension in a tight game.)
The decision by Ferentz revealed what he was thinking at the time. He might as well have sent a manager over to Joe Paterno with a note that said, "Joe, I don't think you can score on my defense."
This has been a season of adversity for the Hawkeyes. First it was defensive coordinator Norm Parker out with a diabetic ailment (have you noticed how much better the defense has played since his return?), then four running backs went down like dominoes, then Coach Ferentz lost his father.
Through it all the Hawkeyes have shown determination and resolve. They've won three straight Big Ten games and are one victory short of becoming bowl eligible for the fourth straight year.
They just beat Penn State for the fifth straight season. The first of those victories came late in the 2000 season and sparked a turnaround for a struggling program. Since that 26-23 triumph in double-overtime, the Hawkeyes own a 35-13 record
Saturday's game at Beaver Stadium goes alongside three other great victories when Iowa did not score a touchdown. Two were against Michigan, 9-7 in 1981 and 12-10 in 1985. Both were instrumental in Big Ten championships and Rose Bowl berths and included an offensive line coach at Iowa named Kirk Ferentz.
But my favorite might be the game in 1939, when the legendary Ironmen won at Purdue, 4-0. Tackle Mike Enich blocked two Purdue punts out of the end zone for safeties. Called "Iron Mike" by his teammates, Enich told reporters after the game that he blocked the second punt "to make the outcome more convincing."
The Ironmen not only had character, they also had a sense of humor. The current Hawkeyes could use plenty of both as they head into the final four games of the season, beginning this week at Illinois, a team looking for its first Big Ten victory.
The Hawkeyes will be favored at Champaign, but they better not let their guard down. I suspect their coaches will remind them of that this week. Several times.
Editor's Note: George Wine, the University of Iowa's long-time sports information director who is now retired and living in Coralville, Iowa, is the author of George Wine Online. George has remained very close to the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI since his retirement and, in fact, has authored two books during that time. The first was a collaboration with the subject of today's editorial, Hayden Fry, and named "A High Porch Picnic." The second, "Black & Gold Memories, The Hawkeyes of the 20th Century," included many of the essays George originally wrote for "The Voice of the Hawkeyes." As he wrote in the book, "Collectively, they serve as a historical reference, and hopefully provide entertaining reading." "Black & Gold Memories" is currently available at Barnes & Noble book stores across Iowa and on the world wide web.