CY-HAWK CELEBRATION: Hawkeyes flip the script, rally with big second half against Michigan

IOWA CITY The Iowa football team turned the ball over four times against rival Michigan on Saturday. But it was the one turnover the Hawkeyes caused that sent them to the victory.

Leading by three with less than 2 minutes to play, Iowa senior linebacker Anthony Hitchens forced a fumble by Devin Gardner and then jumped on the loose ball before it went out of bounds and that play proved to be the difference in a 24-21 come-from-behind win at Kinnick Stadium.

“I was going for the tackle and at the last minute I saw the ball just hanging out so I stripped it,” said Hitchens, who finished with eight tackles and three tackles for the loss in the win. “I was just happy to make the play. Any one of our linebackers would have made that play though.”

The Iowa defense was phenomenal all day. The Hawkeye offense turned it over four times, gave up a pick 6 and put the team into a 21-7 deficit at halftime.

The defense though allowed zero second-half points, 45 total yards and nine rushing yards against the Wolverines attack.

“The defense kept us alive,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “It’s just not a good formula. I don’t want to try that again because we probably dodged a bullet on that one. Typically you’re not going to win when you lose that lopsidedly in the turnover battle.”

It was actually the first time Iowa has won a game this year when it lost the turnover battle. Without the miscues, the game may have gotten out of hand. The Hawkeyes outgained Michigan 407-158 in the game as Iowa recorded its third straight win over Michigan at Kinnick Stadium for the first time in program history.

The Wolverines’ defense gave the visitors a boost just a few short minutes into the game. Jake Rudock’s first pass – a bootleg that was heavily pressured – fell right into the hands of Brennen Beyer. He then rumbled seven yards for the easy score.

The Hawkeyes tied the game at 7-all when they went 45 yards in seven plays. The drive was capped off by a Rudock 5-yard pass to senior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.

Rudock and Fiedorowicz also hooked up on a key completion late in the game to seal the win.

With just more than 1 minute left in the game and Iowa up three, Rudock found the 6-foot-7 tight end from Illinois on another boot leg. The first down reception came on third-and-10 and helped the Hawkeyes run out the clock with three victory-formation snaps.

“I acted like I was blocking down, but I leaked out. Jake got me the ball, and it was my job to catch it and get the first down,” Fiedorowicz said. “We made a decision at halftime that us seniors weren’t going to go out like that. We were beating ourselves in the first half. We gave up that pick six, and another turnover inside the 30-yard line. We didn’t want to lose our final game at Kinnick.”

After Fiedorowicz’s first-quarter grab tied the game, the Wolverines scored again off another turnover. This time, Rudock’s second interception gave the Michigan (7-4, 3-4) a short field and the Wolverines went 28 yards in seven plays and finished it off with a Gardner 2-yard touchdown pass to a wide open A.J. Williams.

The lead grew to 21-7 just before halftime when Gardner found Jeremy Gallon on a 9-yard touchdown pass. That was the only time though that the Wolverine offense scored without the benefit of a turnover.

“We knew we were beating ourselves,” said Hitchens. “We knew we could still win the game. We just needed to stay the course and keep playing.”

The Hawkeyes did just that and went deep into Canada to regain momentum.

On the third play of the second half, Rudock hooked up with Toronto, Ontario, native Tevaun Smith for a 55-yard scoring strike. The sophomore wideout had trouble locating the ball at first but stayed with it, corralled it after batting it in the air with one hand and then broke two tackles and out-ran the Wolverine defense for his first career touchdown.

That was the spark the Hawkeye offense needed.

“We needed a boost, something to get us going,” said Smith, who finished with a game-high 97 receiving yards on five catches. “The ball was thrown to me and I tried to make a play. It kind of sailed on me, but I just tried to stay focused. When I caught it, I was just trying not to get caught. I was hungry for my first touchdown.”

Smith’s touchdown came with 13:35 to play in the third quarter. Thanks to another interception and a few punts, Iowa would not score again until early in the fourth quarter.

This time, the Hawkeyes drove the length of the field by mixing up several runs with some timely play-action passes. Jordan Canzeri provided a spark in the backfield and Mark Weisman delivered the boom with some pulverizing runs.

Weisman’s nine-yard touchdown burst capped a nine-play, 60-yard drive that tied the scored at 21-all. He was first contacted well before the goal line but continued to fight and took a few Wolverine tacklers into the end zone with him.

Weisman led the Hawkeyes with 88 rushing yards on 17 carries. Canzeri ended up with 50 yards on 12 carries and also had two catches for 27 yards.

“Second halves has been our problem this year, that’s no secret,” Weisman said. “We played much better offensively in that half today and the defense played great all game. The only touchdowns (Michigan) had pretty much were because of (the offense). We knew we had to play way better in that second half.”

Iowa took its first lead of the game with 6 minutes to play. Senior kicker Mike Meyer booted a 34-yard field goal to make it 24-21. Meyer missed a kick from similar distance in the first half and the final play of the first half ended in a botched hold on an attempted field goal.

“I can’t say enough about Mike Meyer,” Ferentz said. “He was not having a great day, and we didn’t get the one down on the second one.

“We’ve missed a few field goals historically from where he kicked that last one, and we’ve had some bad moments on that right hash in there tight. He nailed it when we needed it. So really I never had any doubt. Mike’s such a tremendous guy and I am really happy for him.”

The Wolverines were well on their way to at least attempting a game-tying field goal late in the game before the Gardner fumble. They had driven all the way down to inside the Iowa 30-yard line and converted some big third downs.

But when the defense needed to make a play, Hitchens was there.

He and Miller both converged to take down Gardner on a sweep to the outside and just before Gardner went out of bounds, he exposed the ball to Hitchens and the senior made perhaps the play of his career to ice the victory. The ball bounced free and nearly went out of bounds before Hitchens pounced on it.

The play was reviewed and the call on the field stood.

“I fumbled and lost us the game,” said Gardner. “That’s what happened. He made a good play, and I fumbled. There’s not much else to say. They trust me to lead us down the field and score. I didn’t do that.”