Nov. 6, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Any post-mortem of Iowa's stirring 24-16 victory over Michigan last Saturday has to start with a defensive unit that has not received a lot of accolades lately.
Michigan came into Kinnick stadium ranked No. 13 in the nation, averaging 35 points and 441 yards per game. It left with 16 points, 323 yards, its second loss of the season and a downgrade in the rankings. Tyler Nielsen, Jordan Bernstine and Broderick Binns spearheaded an Iowa defense that made sure of that.
This is the same defense that couldn't protect late-game leads at Iowa State and Minnesota, and caught a lot of grief for its failures. Saturday it played one of the Big Ten's most explosive offensive teams and slammed the door with a rousing goal-line stand to end the game.
It was a total defensive effort, but three players stood out. Nielsen made 15 tackles and had a quarterback sack, forced a fumble and recovered the ball on the same play. Binns knocked down three passes, had two tackles for loss and a sack. Bernstine had an eye-popping 15 tackles.
Iowa's defenders made an early statement, forcing a three-and-out after Michigan received the opening kickoff. The same thing happened on the Wolverines' second possession. By that time Iowa led 7-0 and the visitors played catch-up the rest of the way.
Iowa's defense forced two turnovers in the second quarter that were game-changers. Nielsen recovered a fumble that led to an Iowa field goal. Christian Kirksey intercepted a pass at the goal line that stopped a Michigan scoring threat. The Wolverines came into the game leading the Big Ten in turnover margin.
Finally, when Michigan had a first down at the three-yard line in the final minute, Iowa's defense was up to the challenge, forcing four straight incomplete passes with a variety of blitzes. B.J. Lowery broke up the last pass as time expired, triggering a celebration by the Hawkeyes and their fans.
This is not Norm Parker's best defense in his 13 years as coordinator. It has no Chad Greenway, Bob Sanders or Matt Roth. Four players off last year's defense are now in the NFL. The current unit might not have a first-team all-Big Ten selection.
Yet on Saturday it played inspired football and held a potent Michigan offense to its second-lowest point total of the season. Collectively, it gets my vote for player of the game.
MOVING ON . . .
Iowa's offense was crisp and efficient. It scored a touchdown on its first possession of the game to forge a lead the Hawkeyes never relinquished. It sustained two other TD drives. It crossed the goal line each time it penetrated the red zone. And it had no turnovers.
Marcus Coker punished the Michigan defense with 132 yards rushing and moved past the 1,000-yard mark for the season. James Vandenberg surpassed 2,000 aerial yards for the season. Marvin McNutt caught a career-high nine passes and is only 41 yards shy of 1,000 yards for the season.
After beating Michigan three straight for the first time, Iowa will try to win three in a row against Michigan State this Saturday. But it wouldn't be the first time. The Hawkeyes beat the Spartans five straight in the early 1980s and have enjoyed success in recent years, winning 10 of the last 15
When Mike Meyer uncharacteristically missed two field goals at Minnesota, Kirk Ferentz firmly supported his kicker. The head coach's faith was justified Saturday when Meyer drilled a critical 42-yarder on a windy day.
Iowa was one of six clubs to upset a Top 25 team on Saturday, illustrating the parity in college football. Consider this: If the Hawkeyes had beaten Iowa State (it lost in three overtimes) and Minnesota (a one-point defeat) they would be 8-1 and likely be ranked in the Top 10.
On a day when Tim Dwight was the honorary captain, the Hawkeyes seemed to play with more energy and enthusiasm. See a connection there?
There were two official video reviews, both involved touchdown calls, and both were ruled in Iowa's favor. Yes, reviews disrupt the flow of a game, but at least they get the calls right.
After beating Michigan three straight for the first time, Iowa will try to win three in a row against Michigan State this Saturday. But it wouldn't be the first time. The Hawkeyes beat the Spartans five straight in the early 1980s and have enjoyed success in recent years, winning 10 of the last 15. MSU comes into Kinnick Stadium with a defense that allows only 249 yards per game, best in the Big Ten.