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Hawkeyes experience elation, heartbreak in close games

[ 2 ] October 26, 2010 |

Iowa City, Ia. — When it comes to football karma, Julian Vandervelde is a skeptic.
As far as Iowa’s senior offensive lineman is concerned, narrow victories and gut-wrenching losses hinge more on performance than fate.

“We certainly do control our own destiny,” Vandervelde said. “It’s not any external force. It’s really up to us to make those small adjustments.”

Since the start of the 2001 season, the Hawkeyes have experienced stretches in which they’ve seemed both snake bit and blessed in close games.

Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi, center, celebrates the Hawkeyes' 15-13 win against Michigan State last season in East Lansing, Mich. (File photo by Dan Williamson/Press-Citizen)

Entering Saturday’s showdown with fifth-ranked Michigan State, Iowa owns a 22-21 record when the final margin is seven points or less.

“It comes down to details and making plays,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said during Tuesday’s weekly news conference. “It’s pretty simple.”

Details such as place kicking and clock management contributed to last weekend’s 31-30 loss against Wisconsin.

It was Iowa’s fourth straight loss in a game decided by a touchdown or less.
Before that, the Hawkeyes earned six consecutive wins – starting with a last-second triumph against Penn State on Nov. 8, 2008.

“I don’t think the mindset has really changed,” Vandervelde said. “I don’t think the attitude of the guys has changed at all.

“It’s just a matter of sometimes you get it done, and sometimes you don’t.”
Iowa’s tight-game success rate the past decade (51.2 percent) ranks fifth in the Big Ten Conference.

Northwestern leads the league with a mark of 31-17 (64.6 percent). Ohio State is second at 22-13 (62.9), followed by Wisconsin’s 28-18 (60.9).

“Last year we were in a lot of close games,” said Christian Ballard, a defensive lineman for the Hawkeyes, “and Michigan State was probably one of the most fun.”

Iowa beat the Spartans 15-13 when quarterback Ricky Stanzi threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Marvin McNutt as time expired.

Two weeks later, the Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern 17-10 and then Ohio State 27-24 in overtime.

The team’s two defeats this year – including a 34-27 loss at Arizona – have been by a total of eight points.

“Whenever it comes down to the wire, the energy of the team is always positive,” tailback Adam Robinson said. “We always know we can get big plays accomplished in big-time situations.

“Whenever things hit the fan, the team never panics.”

Ferentz owns a 24-28 record in close games since taking over the Iowa program in 1999.
Seven of the losses came during a two-season period in which the Hawkeyes were 4-19 overall.

“Our first 20 games we were working at it but weren’t really there,” Ferentz said.

A 19-16 win against Texas Tech in the 2001 Alamo Bowl kicked off a three-year period when Iowa went 11-1 in nail biters – ending with a dramatic 30-25 triumph against Louisiana State in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.

The Hawkeyes then went 1-8 from Oct. 22, 2005 to Sept. 22, 2007.

“The challenge is to win more than you lose in those situations,” Ferentz said. “Whether it be turnovers, third down conversions, those kind of things … the better you are, the more apt you are to be successful.”

Vandervelde is optimistic about a reversal of fortune against Michigan State.

“If we all just push ourselves just a little bit more,” Vandervelde said. “If we can tighten things up just one notch, for every guy on the team, it’s going to make a huge impact.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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