SAN ANTONIO –
On Friday before Iowa’s final Alamo Bowl walkthrough, Nate Kaeding stood outside the Alamodome in football pants, tennis shoes and with a ball under his arm. He couldn’t get in the joint. Security didn’t believe he was the kicker.
“Yeah, what a …,” said Kaeding, minus the colorful language.
Kaeding didn’t have any problems Saturday.
The sophomore kicker from Iowa City booted a 47-yard field goal with 44 seconds remaining to lift the Hawkeyes to a 19-16 Alamo Bowl victory over Texas Tech before 65,232 fans.
Kaeding’s four field goals (36, 31, 46 and 47) helped the Hawkeyes (7-5) to their first bowl victory since blanking Tech, 27-0, in the ’96 Alamo Bowl.
The game was everything the Hawkeyes wanted. They dominated time of possession (35:03 to 24:57), they made Tech scratch a Heisman campaign for touted quarterback Kliff Kingsbury and they won a close game, something that’s driven them to twitches all season.
“OK, you guys have been trying to get me to say we’ve turned the corner all season,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “OK, we’ve turned it.”
It was everything Iowa wanted and more.
Sophomore running back Aaron Greving replaced senior Ladell Betts, who was limited to three plays because of a hamstring injury, and rushed 25 times for 115 yards and Iowa’s only touchdown.
Senior quarterback Kyle McCann completed his first 12 passes, leading Iowa to a 10-0 headstart, and played a clean mistake-free game compared to three interceptions for Kingsbury. And Iowa’s defense clamped down on Tech’s much-hyped hocus-pocus offense.
All systems go, except Kaeding’s post-field goal flop and run.
First, holder David Bradley tackled Kaeding, who then found himself doing one of the worst backflips/somer saults/cartwheels in the history of mankind.
“He’s been watching too much Sebastian Janikowski,” senior receiver Kahlil Hill said.
Then, Kaeding ran toward the end zone seats, which were a sea of gold-clad Iowa fans, looking for someone to hug. It was part Jim Valvano, part Bill Grammatica. It was ugly.
“Nate is a hard worker and does everything we ask him in practice,” Iowa special teams coach Lester Erb said. “But we don’t teach him how to celebrate. He’s on his own there. He might need some work.”
“I only get out there five or six times a game. I’m going to make damn sure I enjoy it,” said Kaeding, who has a streak of 9-for-9 from 40-plus yards. “I had no idea where I was going. I was just running wherever my emotions were taking me.”
It was a game of awkward celebrations.
Defensive tackle Derrick Pickens had his first career interception.
From his backside, tight end Erik Jensen caught a pass to convert a key first down before Greving’s 2-yard TD gave the Hawkeyes a 10-0 lead with 3:19 left in the second quarter. In full-celebratory mode, Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker dissed himself while giving the defense a compliment.
Kingsbury, who finished 29 of 49 for 309 yards, one TD and three interceptions, hit Wes Welker for a 20-yard score to pull Tech (7-5) to a 10-10 tie with 11:36 left in the third quarter.
The Hawkeyes were caught in a zone blitz. With tackle Joe Uselman assigned to cover, Welker was wide open in the end zone.
“It was a bad call by Iowa’s defensive coordinator,” said Parker, who happens to be Iowa’s defensive coordinator.
It was Iowa’s only misstep on defense all afternoon. The
Hawkeyes made it a grip-and-grunt battle royale instead of the Texas shootout Alamo Bowl officials expected.
Parker drew on his days as defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt, when Tech Coach Mike Leach was offensive coordinator at Kentucky and the Wildcats were the talk of the Southeastern Conference with Leach’s spread offense.
The Hawkeyes flipped between their base 4-3 defense and a junk defense that replaced a lineman with a linebacker. The tweak put Iowa in place to make plays. And it worked because Iowa’s three down linemen, Pickens, Aaron Kampman and Colin Cole, kept Kingsbury on his toes the entire game.
They chased Kingsbury like he was wrapped in pepperoni pizza. And he might have been, perhaps explaining how Iowa’s three were able to beat Tech’s five O-linemen.
“It was just desire, man,” said Pickens, who earned the
game’s defensive MVP honor. “They came out with a
no-huddle and that had us bending over tired. But the desire took us a long way.”
Greving, who was named the game’s offensive MVP, rode
Iowa’s offensive line to a big first half, when he rolled up 82 yards on 13 carries. Often, Tech wouldn’t lay a glove on Greving until he was 6 yards down field.
“I want to take credit and say, sure, that was all me, but 95 percent of that was my O-line,” said Greving, whose 25 carries and 115 yards were career highs. His attempts were also an Alamo Bowl record.
“I wasn’t going anywhere without them today. They were
dominating,” he said.
With Betts out, the Hawkeyes called a conservative game. With Iowa’s defense stifling Tech – and knocking the living daylights out of it (see the hits by free safety Derek Pagel and strong safety Bob Sanders) – they milked a three-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Tech tied the game, 16-16, on Robert Treece’s 37-yard field goal with 2:05 left in the game.
On third-and-10 from Iowa’s 30, Kingsbury was stopped six
inches short of a first down after a 9-yard scramble. Leach decided to kick.
“I wish now that we had gone for the touchdown, but I
didn’t know how far we needed to go,” Leach said.
“We requested the officials for a measurement, but we were
Iowa’s winning drive included a 21-yard completion to Hill, who led Iowa with six catches for 49 yards, and 16-yard scramble by McCann, who completed 19 of 26 for 161 yards.
The drive also included an intentional grounding penalty, after receiver Chris Oliver missed a call.
“We had some ugly plays, that was one,” Ferentz said.
“That’s why you’re reluctant to say we’ve turned a corner.”
Tech tried to ice Kaeding, but it didn’t take.
“We work on that in practice,” Erb said. “We’ll stop him and say this is it, last play, last second, save the day
for us. He doesn’t flinch. He’s just a tough mental
Tech wasn’t done.
Kingsbury drove the Red Raiders to their 49. With 5 seconds left, he launched a Hail Mary into Iowa’s end zone.
“I heard Texas Tech’s fans cheer, and my heart just
sank,” Kampman said. “I just thought, no way, no way did
they just do that.”
They didn’t. Sanders caught a deflection and the celebration started.
Everybody had someone to hug or high-five or slap on the back. It was a perfectly orderly chaotic explosion, complete with explosions.
It was everything the Hawkeyes wanted. And more.