IOWA CITY, Ia. Iowa was one of the best first-half football teams in the nation for much of this season.
The Hawkeyes led at halftime in each of their first eight games. And lost three of them.
So when Michigan took a gift-wrapped 21-7 halftime lead Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, hope was just hanging on.
Iowa’s locker room was fiery, but not over-the-top rant-and-rave.
“We knew what we had to do,” said cornerback B.J. Lowery, one of 16 seniors playing their final game at Kinnick Stadium. “It was a gut check.”
On this day, Iowa flip-flopped an all-too-familiar script and beat the Wolverines, 24-21.
A sign of maturity for a team that improved to 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten?
“I hope it is,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Our whole team grew during the second half (Saturday).”
It came down to playing. Hard. On every snap. Maybe it was maturity, senior linebacker James Morris said. Maybe hunger. Or resiliency.
“All those things,” Morris said. “It’s probably a combination. It just comes down to every play, doing your dead-level best not knowing when you’re going to make that play.”
Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock threw a career-high three interceptions. His first two resulted in Michigan touchdowns. Iowa placekicker kicker Mike Meyer missed a 36-yard field goal and never got a chance to try a 37-yarder at the end of the half when holder Connor Kornbrath mishandled the snap.
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“I don’t want to say we were embarrassed, but I think we we knew we could play better offensively, certainly in the second half,” Ferentz said. “I knew we were going to have to. You always want to. But the guys really put their foot on the gas.”
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who blitzed Iowa’s defense for six touchdowns — three rushing, three passing — in a 42-17 butt-kicking last season in Ann Arbor, had time to throw and run the first half. The second half, he spun in neutral. The Wolverines had three first downs and 45 yards of total offense over the final two quarters.
“There really wasn’t much yelling at halftime,” defensive tackle Carl Davis said. “It was, ‘Guys, come on, we’ve got 30 minutes left. Let’s go.’ We knew what we had to do. We knew we had to shut them out. And that’s what we did.”
Rudock flipped a page himself, from bad Jake to good Jake. There was Tevaun Smith’s spectacular one-handed catch and then a run for a 55-yard touchdown on Iowa’s first series of the second half.
Rudock’s third interception followed late in the third quarter. But he kept his head up, guiding Iowa to a tying touchdown on a nine-play, 60-yard drive in the fourth quarter
The play that Ferentz said “might have been as big a play as there was in the game” came on third-and-9 from the Michigan 32.
Rudock changed the play at the line of scrimmage, and Damon Bullock gained 8 yards around the left end.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Rudock said. “They could have brought the corner. That’s the risk you take. Sometimes you get lucky. It’s better to be timely than good.”
Facing a fourth-and-1, Mark Weisman barreled his way for 4 yards to the 20. After a 11-yard screen pass from Rudock to fullback Adam Cox, Weisman thundered his way for the final 9 yards. Tied up, 21-21.
And Kinnick was rocking.
Meyer’s 34-yard field goal gave Iowa its first lead of the game, 24-21, with 6:02 to play. After Anthony Hitchens put the wraps on Gardner’s miserable half with a strip and fumble recovery, it was on Rudock and the offense to close the deal.
Facing third-and-10 at the Michigan 47, with the Wolverines out of timeouts, Rudock rolled to his right on play action had and two choices: run and melt some of the clock, or attempt a pass to C.J. Fiedorocwicz. He threw.
Completion. First down. Game locked up.
“He wasn’t open when I came around the corner,” Rudock said. “So I had it tucked away ready to go. He just kept getting a little more separation. I gave him a shot.”
Rudock’s day had gone from rags to riches in 30 minutes. And that’s why they play 60.
“That’s just the game,” Rudock said. “There are going to be mistakes and errors. You can’t keep dwelling on it. It’s something my coaches and parents taught me when I was young. Bad things are going to happen. You’ve got to focus on the next play, and the future.”
And that second-half role reversal let the seniors say goodbye to Kinnick with a smile.
“It was a ton of fun,” Morris said. “You can’t ask to go out a better way. It will be a fun memory for me the rest of my life.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football