SAN ANTONIO –
Last time the Hawkeyes were here, Coach Kirk Ferentz proclaimed his team turned the corner and was up for bigger, better things.
There was nothing quite as grand after Saturday’s 26-24 loss to No.-18 Texas in the 2006 Alamo Bowl.
The 2006 season was beyond repair going into the game. Ferentz needed to see a sign of life out of a team that broke apart into a 1-5 mess the second half of the season.
At 6-7, the Hawkeyes will endure their first losing season since 2000, but Ferentz saw some life.
The Hawkeyes went out fighting like the team we all thought they’d be in 2006, so not the year of the Hawkeyes.
“If we keep our focus where it needs to be, I’m real confident we’ll be back playing the way we want to play on a consistent basis,” Ferentz said.”We’ll be back.”
That will have to do.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy completed 26 of 40 passes for 308 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions to carry the Longhorns (10-3) before an Alamodome-record crowd of 65,875.
Iowa’s 2006 officially burned out on a desperate catch-and-pitch play as time ran out.
Iowa’s 2006 took a big hit when, on first down at Texas’ 48 with 3:35 left in the fourth quarter, wideout Dominique Douglas was tackled for an 11-yard loss on a wide receiver reverse pass that never got off the ground.
The drive ended in a three-and-out. The Hawkeyes didn’t get the ball back until two seconds were left.
The play was Ferentz’s call, and he took the blame.
“Totally my fault, I’m sick over it,” Ferentz said. “It was a case of me being greedy.”
Not too many teams, especially a double-digit underdog, can survive the dreaded 14-point turnaround.
Two plays late in the second quarter gashed what was otherwise a perfect first half for the Hawkeyes, when they took a 14-10 lead.
One second, tight end Scott Chandler is catching a 9-yard TD pass on a perfectly executed and patiently played drag pass, dancing into the one section of the Alamodome dominated by Iowa’s fans.
The next second, line judge Blake Lozo’s flag is on the field, calling Chandler an ineligible receiver and nullifying what would’ve been a 21-3 Iowa lead with five minutes left in the second quarter.
On the next play, Iowa quarterback Drew Tate was picked off in the end zone by cornerback Aaron Ross.
And in what seemed like a second, the Longhorns shifted into a no-huddle attack and McCoy converted four third-down passes before hitting wideout Limas Sweed for a 20-yard TD to bring Texas within 14-10 with 45 seconds left in the first half.
“We go 80 yards and score right before half, that turned the game around for us,” said McCoy, who looked completely recovered from a neck stinger that affected his arm late in theyear. “Nobody gave up and everybody believed and kept playing.”
At first, Ferentz hated the call. After an Iowa coach in the press box said it looked “callable,” he saw it the officials’ way.
“We didn’t agree with the interpretation,” Ferentz said. “It was there, a valid call, a mistake we made on an alignment.”
That doesn’t mean they have to like it.
“You give us that touchdown and we win,” said running back Albert Young, who led the Hawkeyes with 64 yards and a TD on 13 carries. “I can’t sit here and say the best team won.”
In a game where every point counted, the other hanging curveball the Hawkeyes whiffed on was Ross’ fumbled punt that gave Iowa a first down at Texas’ 35 with 9:25 left in the third quarter.
The drive fizzled when linebacker Drew Kelson grabbed Tate by the towel around his waist and nearly slung him to the turf on third-and-8. From there, kicker Kyle Schlicher pulled a 45-yard field goal wide left.
First down on Texas’ 35 and no points.
“We haven’t had a ton of opportunities like that this year,” Ferentz said. “Yeah, to not come away with points, it hurts.”
The Longhorns took their first lead on a 72-yard TD pass from McCoy to running back Jamaal Charles. Charles ran away from linebacker Mike Humpal, but more than that, it was McCoy’s wonderful touch pass that made the play with 7:17 left in the third.
“That pass,” Iowa strong safety Miguel Merrick said, “that kid’s not a freshman. He made them go today.”
Texas came out blitzing and the Hawkeyes burned it.
On third-and-9 from the Hawkeyes’ 24, Tate beat a cornerback blitz with a 14-yard pass to Douglas. Linebacker Rashad Bobino blitzed and whiffed while Tate wheeled a pass to tight end Tony Moeaki for an 8-yard gain on third-and-2.
Texas hit the blitz button again on the next play, sending a cornerback, but Tate found fullback Tom Busch for a 19-yard gain to Texas’ 27.
Young delivered his longest run of the season, sprinting 26 yards to within inches of the goal line. After a Texas timeout, Young cashed in and for the first time this season the Hawkeyes had a score on their opening drive, a stat that baffled Ferentz as much as any this year.
After forcing Texas to a three-and-out, and on first down, Tate hit wide receiver Andy Brodell on a quick out pattern. Free safety Marcus Griffin was a step late, Ross slipped and Brodell blasted 63 yards down the Texas sideline for a 14-0 Iowa lead.
The Hawkeyes, a 6-6 team that finished 2-6 in the Big Ten, traded punches with the defending national champions in front of a crowd that was decidedly Texas, with Austin sitting just 75 miles north of Austin.
Tate completed 15 of 25 passes for 274 yards and two TDs. The defense held Texas to 70 yards rushing. Brodell finished with six catches for 159 yards and two TDs, announcing himself as a go-to receiver next year.
They didn’t win. Who knows about the corner they face going into 2007. But they didn’t look 6-6.
“We looked like an Iowa football team today,” Ferentz said. “If we do that, we’ll be OK down the road.”