The sun was starting to sneak behind the press-box. The west side of the stadium, now in the shade, got cold. The fans around me were contemplating leaving and some did as Iowa botched the snap to a 36-yard field goal and went into halftime down 21-7. It was a here we go again type of feeling. Iowa didn't capitalize in the first quarter with the wind and made mistake after mistake. A pick-six. A missed FG. Another interception. A bad hold on a FG attempt. And Michigan took advantage of mistakes. So, even with Iowa playing well up front on both sides, they trailed by 14.
At halftime, there was some Motown music and band seniors honored or something. I was just trying to keep warm and thinking, "Why am I sitting out here to watch Iowa make all these dumb mistakes?" But then the second half started and Canzeri made a play. Then Smith made a HUGE play. And bam, all of a sudden my teeth stopped chattering, my toes regained feeling, and I was feeling pretty good. The third quarter was good and the fourth even better. And the seniors ended up with a heck of a game to remember their time in Kinnick.
The collective senior group played a great game Saturday and easily is the reason Iowa came away with a W. It's the obvious choice and has been talked about a million times, but you have to start with the 3 senior linebackers and particularly Anthony Hitchens. He had 8 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 QB hurries, and most importantly a forced fumble and fumble recovery to seal the win. He was all over the field and even when he didn't get a tackle he was often right there ready to cleanup. There was a screen pass early in the game that both Hitchens and James Morris read perfectly. Morris blew up the running back as he caught the ball, but Hitchens would have gotten a tackle for loss on that play if Morris had whiffed. That play, to me, was very representative of the linebackers' play.
Morris had himself a good game too. He also finished with 8 tackles and a couple TFLs. He, along with the defensive tackles (which Carl Davis had himself a great game), shut down Michigan's inside running game. Devin Gardner escaped a few times, and it wasn't a negative rushing output that the Wolverines have had a couple times this year, but Iowa held them to just 60 yards on 21 rushes. Pretty solid.
It's kind of easy to forget about Christian Kirksey with the other two LBs stealing the spotlight. But he quietly had a nice game as well. He was good in run support and combined with Davis to have a big 14 yard sack at the end of the third quarter that led to some pretty good field position for Iowa's game tying drive.
Tanner Miller and B.J. Lowery were good too, in the secondary. Iowa held Gardner bellow 100 yards through the air. The defensive backs played more man coverage with all the blitzing Iowa was doing up front, and Lowery came away with 2 pass break ups and overall good coverage (that pass interference called on him seemed kind of bogus).
And while we're talking defense...it was good to see Dom Alvis get in there for a few plays. I liked the way Ferentz made sure all the seniors got on the field. Nolan MacMillan got a few snaps at right guard. Gavin Smith was also credited for a tackle (I think on special teams). And Jordan Cotton was thrown in for the final victory formation.
Cotton also had his best return of the season at the end of the first half. When things were looking really bad for the Hawks, he gave them a spark with a 60-return. Even though Iowa failed to capitalize with the botched FG hold...it did at least give Iowa a little boost of momentum heading into half.
A few other special team seniors made big plays too. Mike Meyer kicked the game winning FG into the wind after missing his first. It was just a 34-yarder, but from the difficult right hash, with the wind blowing, and the temperature freezing...that was a big kick.
Even Casey Krieter got into the action a little. The botched hold was not his fault...it was a fine snap. He did manage to down a punt that was bouncing back the wrong way for the Hawks. So that probably about as exciting as it gets for a long snapper.
Finally, on the offensive side of the ball, C.J. Fiedorowicz was the shining senior. He had Iowa's first touchdown and the game sealing first down catch. Both were plays where he was able to get space as Rudock rolled out and was in the perfect spot downfield. He also had a long catch early in the game that set up a FG attempt.
Up front, the line with Brett Van Sloten and Connor Boffeli was pretty solid. Michigan was able to get pressure a few times blitzing, which led to 2 of Rudock's picks. But the running game really got going well in the second half when Iowa was rotating Weisman and Canzeri. Iowa had 168 rushing yards on 44 attempts (which was more like 180 yards, but all those knees at the end of the game). When the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Iowa went to the run game. They had 14 rushes (not counting the kneel downs) to just 4 passes in the 4th quarter. On the game winning FG drive, Iowa started with 2 passes, but then 6 straight times to move into FG range.
It turned out to be a cold, but beautiful day in Kinnick Stadium and a great way to send out the seniors. The win puts Iowa at 7-4 and secures a decent bowl game and a definite improvement over last year's mess. 7-5 or 8-4, either feels a lot better and is at the minimum an acceptable path to getting this team back to competing for B1G championships. So beating Nebraska, in Lincoln, would be some very thick, creamy, and delicious icing on the cake to this season.