First of all, because it's obligatory and because this is Iowa's most high-profile bowl win in a half-century (no, really), we insist on this:
Junior Senior, you are truly the soundtrack to our happiness at BHGP.
Okay, all that business aside, let's get to it. Four of the five writers here at BHGP pretty much nailed the winner and the margin of victory on this one (who's the outlier with two thumbs? this guy). The final: 24-14, Iowa Hawkeyes.
But really, this was as quintessential a game for the 2009 Hawkeyes as there could be. The defense, spurred by Orange Bowl MVP Adrian Clayborn (and a no-doubter, that) was absolutely dominant, forcing one of the nation's best chain-movers into an almost inconceivable seven punts. We don't know when the last time was that Georgia Tech was held to 156 yards in a game, but it happened tonight, and it may never happen again for decades.
As for the offense, it was its normal, schizophrenic self. Ricky Stanzi was an effective game manager, guiding the offense to 21 first downs and over 400 yards of offense; the junior QB also threw for over 230 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, since we're talking about Ricky Stanzi, we're also mentioning the fact that he also threw the horrific pick six (or, as they're starting to be called, the "Rick Six") in the first quarter that basically kept Tech in the game until Brandon Wegher sealed the deal late with a 32-yard touchdown run.
But we cannot overemphasize what Adrian Clayborn meant to the defense and the game as a whole. Though Josh Nesbitt ended up with a semi-respectable 21 carries for 48 yards, that was all done primarily in the second half and on rushes away from Clayborn. In the first half, on the other hand, Clayborn registered eight tackles and two sacks as he helped hold Nesbitt to 9 yards on 13 rushes. Georgia Tech's success--limited as it may have been--came entirely away from the left side of the field. That is not an exaggeration.
We had raised the spectre of the Nightmare Matchup last month and the paradox it created: with Iowa's two undecided star juniors facing both the NFL and super-talented opponents, it was hard as Hawkeye fans what to root for. If Bryan Bulaga and Amari Spievey succeeded against talents like Derrick Morgan and Demaryius Thomas, Iowa would likely win the Orange Bowl... and the two studs would likely declare for the draft immediately afterward. If they struggled, Iowa would likely continue its 50-year BCS bowl losing streak... but Bulaga and Spievey would more probably stay.
Today, we're still not certain whether either player will declare for the draft, but both turned in solid performances. Spievey did not give up a catch--we're not sure any of Nesbitt's nine throws were even toward Spievey--and he was predictably the more solid of Iowa's two CBs in run support. Meanwhile, Bryan Bulaga struggled at times; frankly, he could have been flagged a bit more often than once for holding, and we wouldn't have complained. And yet, Iowa's clinching drive came with runs to the left, and Derrick Morgan was a functional non-factor for the balance of the game. We're not sure how much more you can ask of a tackle than what Bulaga delivered tonight.
But that's all business for another day. Iowa has won the 2010 Orange Bowl, and they did so in typical Iowa Hawkeye fashion: substituting magic for muscle, flair for fury, and style for substance. Of course they'd win by "only" two scores in a game they dominated. Of course. That's what this Iowa team did all season long, and there was no reason to deviate tonight. It's a cliche I've fought against for years, but one you simply must apply to this Iowa Hawkeye football team: all they do is win. The "how" just doesn't seem to matter to them.
Good night, 2009 season. If next season is even nearly as awesome, we're going to be in for one hell of a year.