Close game finally goes Hawks’ way
IOWA CITY – Senior linebacker James Morris thought his quarterback Jake Rudock was throwing the ball away. And Rudock himself didn’t see much of the pass after getting hit on a Northwestern blitz.
But the ball ended up in the hands of 6-foot-7 tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and the 8-yard touchdown reception proved to be the difference in a 17-10 overtime win at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Finally, a close game went the Hawkeyes’ way.
“I about had a heart attack when our defense was out there in overtime,” Fiedorowicz said. “My heart was pounding the whole time, but it feels great to get that second Big Ten win. I think this will give us confidence the rest of the way.”
The Hawkeye defense forced two turnovers and recorded a season-high six sacks in the win but came up with its biggest performance in the extra session when they didn’t allow the Wildcats to pick up a first down in four plays.
The Hawkeyes remained unbeaten this year when winning the turnover battle. Iowa had just one miscue in the game, committed just two penalties and kept the Wildcats on their mid-season slide. It was the fourth straight loss for Northwestern, which began the season 4-0 and nationally ranked.
“They made plays that winners make down the stretch and we didn’t,” said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. “We got ourselves back in the game in the second half and adjusted well, but the two plays at the end of the game were inexcusable.”
Those two plays were a penalty and turnover late in regulation on a drive that was deep in Iowa territory. The Wildcats were in range of a potential game-winning field goal but the fumble allowed Iowa to send the game to overtime.
In the extra session, Rudock found Tevaun Smith for a first down on the initial play of the drive and then a pair of running plays and a false start put the Hawks in third and long.
Northwestern (4-4, 0-4) sent the blitz and got to Rudock, but the sophomore lofted the ball high in the air to the corner of the end zone, allowing his big tight end to run under it.
“He did a great job of waiting until the last second and then had faith that CJ would be in the right spot,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of the Rudock pass. “Looked like he put the ball out there and C.J. went and got it.
“C.J. is tough to defend down there. He’s been doing a great job for us down in that tight area, and those are the kind of plays you’ve got to be able to make at some point if you’re going to be able to win conference games. We needed one of those, and it came at a great time certainly.”
The defense then responded by holding Northwestern and quarterback Kain Colter scoreless in its only possession in overtime. Three of the plays were Colter runs and Colter threw an incomplete pass as well. Iowa pressured the Wildcat signal caller on all four plays and the six sacks in the game were the most by an Iowa defense since recording that same number against Florida International on Sept. 6, 2008.
Senior linebacker James Morris had two of the sacks, recovered a fumble and had eight tackles in the win.
“I almost thought it looked like he was throwing it away,” Morris said of the Rudock game-winner. “I am not sure if we missed a blitz pick up inside or what. Jake was about to get hit really hard. C.J. came out of nowhere and made the play. That was great.
“And then when we made that last stop in overtime, guys were running onto the field to celebrate like they had just won the lottery.”
The win allowed Ferentz to beat Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa State in the same season for the first time during his tenure in Iowa City. It also moved the Hawkeyes to within a half-game of Nebraska and idle Michigan for second place in the Big Ten Legends Division.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been in the victory locker room, and this one came hard,” Ferentz said. “It’s part of winning in conference play. There’s nothing easy about it. That was evident today.”
Iowa about gave away another game that it led at halftime.
The Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2) went 74 yards in 14 plays on their opening drive and Damon Bullock’s 3-yard run put the home team up 7-0. Mike Meyer’s 38-yard field goal early in the second half made it 10-0 and that was the difference at halftime.
Northwestern got within three when it drove 81 yards in eight plays in the third quarter. Colter’s touchdown pass covered 10 yards to Dan Vitale and then Jeff Budzien’s short field goal tied it with 9:09 to play in the fourth.
Meyer missed a potential game-winning 42-yard kick with around 5 minutes to go in the game, and Northwestern nearly drove down the field to win on its next possession. The fumble though halted the drive and allowed Iowa one last crack at the win.
Instead of electing to try a 52-yard field goal, Ferentz decided to go for it on fourth and 11 with 15 seconds to play. Rudock tried to make a play but instead threw an interception.
“We wanted to get at least inside the 25,” Ferentz said. “The 20 would have been better, but the situation we ended up in, we just figured let the clock go down, try to convert, and if we did we had two time outs and get the field goal then.”
Fitzgerald was visually upset in the press conference after the loss. The four losses to start Big Ten play essentially eliminates the Wildcats from the conference championship game conversation.
And Fitzgerald puts a lot of the loss on the turnovers and the penalties.
“I thought our defense played well enough to win the game,” said Fitzgerald. “We got to get things fixed on offense. We are beating ourselves. We are not good enough – no one is good enough to beat two teams. It was a very disappointing loss.”
Neither team gained 350 yards of offense.
Rudock ended up 19-of-27 for 169 yards but made the play late in the game when his team needed it.
“That whole thing was in slow motion,” said Fiedorowicz of the game-winning touchdown. “That was just a great ball there though. He knew where to go with it, and it’s my job as the receiver to make that play.
“We watched it on film and thought that play would work. If you get man-to-man coverage like that, you have to do your job and win that play. Jake gave me an opportunity with guys in his face. As an offense, that was a huge play for us.”
Mark Weisman rushed for 56 yards on 13 carries, while Bullock added 52 yards on 17 carries. Kevonte Martin-Manley led the receivers with 45 yards on five catches. The Iowa defense was led by Morris, but Christian Kirksey added 12 tackles and Anthony Hitchens, Tanner Miller and Drew Ott all had nine. Chi Chi Ariguzo had 14 tackles and a sack to lead the Wildcat defense. Northwestern lost the game despite out-gaining Iowa, 329-305. The Wildcats also rushed for 225 yards in the game. Meyer moved into second place on Iowa’s all-time scoring list after the game. He trails only former All-American Nate Kaeding. The Hawkeyes are back in action at 11 a.m. Saturday at home against Wisconsin.