Commentary

Clutch Hawkeyes 8-0 for first time

Originally Published: October 25, 2009
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Iowa needed blocked field goals on consecutive plays to beat FCS opponent Northern Iowa in its Sept. 5 opener.

The Hawkeyes needed 16 points in the fourth quarter to beat Penn State on the road and an interception in the final minutes to defeat Michigan at home. And then Iowa had to come from behind in the second half to win at Wisconsin last week.

[+] EnlargeRicky Stanzi
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesIowa QB Ricky Stanzi once again came up big in a big spot.

"We've already had a couple [miracles]," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I hope we're not using them all up."

With the way things have gone for his team this season, Ferentz might want to make sure he keeps at least one in his pocket.

Iowa just might need one in Pasadena, Calif., in early January.

The No. 6 Hawkeyes extended what has become a dream season Saturday night, as junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi threw a 7-yard touchdown to wide receiver Marvin McNutt on the final play of the game to stun Michigan State 15-13 at Spartan Stadium.

Iowa moved to 8-0 for the first time in school history and remained the only unbeaten team in Big Ten play with a 4-0 record.

"After the first game of the season, when you block two field goals, you always feel like something is destined to happen," McNutt said.

The Hawkeyes certainly aren't pretty, but at least they're exciting. Well, the first 58 minutes of Saturday night's game weren't enthralling. The teams traded field goals during the first three quarters, and Iowa took a 9-6 lead on Daniel Murray's 20-yarder with 2:56 left in the game.

After the ensuing kickoff, Iowa sacked Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins on consecutive plays to set up third-and-18. After a Michigan State timeout, Cousins threw to the right side to tight end Brian Linthicum. He caught an 11-yard pass and lateraled to Blair White, who ran for 27 yards to the Iowa 30.

The Hawkeyes' defense apparently didn't watch the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

Two plays later, Cousins fired to White in the end zone for a touchdown and a 13-9 lead with 1:37 to go.

"That hook-and-ladder play, my gosh, that was a [gutsy] call, and it worked," Iowa offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "I just kind of sat there watching it over and over on the big screen. It was a great play."

It wasn't very great for the Hawkeyes, who nearly watched their Rose Bowl and BCS title game hopes end on two plays.

"It didn't feel good, but nobody lost confidence," Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds said. "We knew we had an offense that could make a play."

But the Hawkeyes hadn't made many plays on offense the entire night. They'd gained 89 yards of offense in the first half after going 1-for-7 on third down.

It got worse in the second half. Iowa had a first-and-goal at the MSU 1 early in the fourth quarter but failed to gain a single yard on the next three plays. The Hawkeyes settled for a 20-yard field goal.

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesKirk Cousins and Michigan State gave it their best shot.

Iowa had another first-and-goal at the Spartans' 8 before Murray kicked another 20-yarder for its late three-point lead.

"That was definitely the ugliest game I've ever been a part of," Stanzi said. "We didn't do a lot offensively, but we did when we had to. It's usually not that pretty when we play."

But the last 92 seconds sure were pretty for Iowa. The Hawkeyes started their final drive at their 30 with 1:32 to play. Stanzi threw a 16-yard pass to McNutt on first down. He completed passes of 21 and 16 yards to move the Hawkeyes down the field after barely completing anything the entire night.

"We were having a hard time throwing the ball down the field at all, getting anything done, and not that much was coming easy anywhere," Ferentz said. "And then for Rick to take the team like he did, down [the field] that last series, is absolutely outstanding. It's a great effort on his part, and it's a team effort, and that's how we've been playing all season long."

Iowa's big break came on first-and-10 at the MSU 15. Stanzi threw down the left sideline, and was picked off by Spartans safety Chris L. Rucker. But Rucker was penalized for defensive holding, giving the Hawkeyes a first down at the MSU 7.

Stanzi threw incomplete into double coverage on first-and-goal. He fired behind senior Trey Stross on second down and threw incomplete to Stross again on third down.

Ferentz used his team's last timeout with two seconds left to set up the final play.

"It was an all-or-nothing shot," Stanzi said.

On the sideline, McNutt told offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe that he'd be open.

"It was a great call by Ken," Ferentz said. "We had a fourth down, and it was just an excellent play called. We cleared out the left side for Marvin, and we had been trying to get the fade ball to him a couple of times earlier."

McNutt beat the Spartans cornerback off the line of scrimmage, broke to his right and ran a slant pattern into the end zone. It didn't take long for Stanzi to find him.

"To be honest, I didn't even know if I was going to catch the ball," McNutt said. "It felt like the slowest play ever. Once I got open, I didn't know if he was going to throw it. Then I saw the ball and I thought, 'OK, just catch it.'"

McNutt did, and Iowa's potential dream season lived at least another week.

"One thing is for sure," Ferentz said. "We're giving the fans their money's worth. We've taken a couple down to the wire."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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