IOWA CITY –
It is a whole-new deal here, this 2002 Hawkeyes season, a trip into a new world with fresh experiences, games on ESPN and, yes, a slight scent of roses in the air.
The team isn’t supposed to use that word, that “Rose” word. Not yet, anyway. The deal Coach Kirk Ferentz cut with his players was that it’d be OK for some long-range thinking after the fourth game of the Big Ten season.
Hey, that’s the team. After Saturday’s 44-16 flat-out ear-tweaking of Michigan State, it’s OK for you to take a peek, play games in your head and project the Hawkeyes into whatever bowl game you want.
The No. 17 Hawkeyes (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) are one game from official coach-sanctioned Rose Bowl talk. Make no mistake, though, they’re now officially sanctioned players in the Big Ten and off to their best start since 1991.
“I think it’s seeping into Iowa City already,” offensive tackle David Porter said. “After the game, everyone was chanting ‘Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl.’ But for us, every game is a bowl game. And Indiana is our next bowl game.”
OK, before you hit the Wal-Mart looking for Rose decals for your cheek, look up the travel agent and give the Bowl RV its 10,000-mile tuneup, soak in this beauty.
The game tape is this morning being Fed Exed to various Big Ten locations to coaches who want to know how to stop Michigan State’s all-American wideout Charles Rogers.
Rogers entered with an NCAA record streak of 13 straight games with a touchdown catch. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder seemed a shoo-in to add to that record, with the Hawkeyes’ secondary ranked No.116, next-to-dead last in the country.
Rogers had bruised ribs coming into Saturday’s game. Going out of Saturday’s game before 69,021 at Kinnick Stadium, he had bruised ego.
“Give credit to both of their safeties,” Rogers said in a statement MSU sports information read to the media. “They did a great job not on the run and also in pass support.”
Rogers had five catches for 78 yards. He came close to one TD, nearly breaking a broken play, a tipped pass, for a TD in the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t know anything about that streak until you guys brought it up just now,” senior free safety Derek Pagel said. “You guys have a new one every week.”
So, how’d they do it?
The Hawkeyes didn’t do anything elaborate. They didn’t double-team, bracket or put a Tazer zap on Rogers. They hung out in a sagging man-to-man and cover two. There was no mad scientist stuff out of defensive coordinator Norm Parker.
What they did was hammer the living daylights out of MSU quarterbacks, Jeff Smoker and Damon Dowdell.
Quarterback hurries is not a stat that’s kept on gameday. It shows up sometime later during the week. It might take a couple weeks to tally Saturday’s haul.
They do keep sacks, however, on gameday. Sophomore end Matt Roth had three, including one on Dowdell that caused a fumble, and sophomore end Jon Babineaux had one.
Iowa had 11 tackles for loss.
So, how’d they do it?
“We’re a physical group, we’ve been physical from day one,” defensive tackle Colin Cole said. “That’s our game, that’s the way we play.
“We’re not going to try to finesse you. We’re not going to try to hide stuff. We’re going to beat you right over the head and ram it down your throat all game.”
This brings us to Smoker, who was pulled in favor of Dowdell but later returned. He came into Saturday’s game perfectly healthy. Going out of Saturday’s game, he had just about every jointed body part encased in ice.
Which would explain another statement on behalf of a player issued by Michigan State sports information.
It was a record day for player statements read to the media by sports information.
“I threw some bad balls, and we had some fumbles,” said Smoker, who completed 17 of 33 for 169 yards, two interceptions and one TD. “You can’t beat a top-20 team on the road with five turnovers.”
The Hawkeyes turned those five Michigan State (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) turnovers into 20 points.
Pagel returned an interception 62 yards for a score. Strong safety Bob Sanders’ interception turned into the first of three Nate Kaeding field goals.
Babineaux’s strip of Smoker and linebacker Fred Barr’s recovery set up running back Fred Russell’s 11-yard run.
Roth’s sack on Dowdell and Cole’s recovery set up a Kaeding field goal that gave Iowa a 37-7 lead with 8 minutes, 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
“The story of the game was our defense,” Ferentz said. “They just played tremendous football. It looked like Iowa football out there again on defense.”
The Spartans took the opening drive 54 yards on 12 plays and took a 7-0 lead on tailback Dawan Moss’ 2-yard plunge.
After that, it wasn’t so much what the Spartans didn’t do, but what Iowa did.
Sophomore running back Jermelle Lewis returned the ensuing kick 94 yards for a 7-7 tie. The Spartans’ next score didn’t come until 7:59 of the fourth quarter with the Hawkeyes holding a 44-7 lead.
Quarterback Brad Banks hit wide receiver C.J. Jones for 62- and 25-yard TDs.
But other than that, there were few offensive fireworks. Banks completed 8 of 19 for 154 yards, two TDs and an interception. Iowa also had its streak of 10 games with a 100-yard rusher snapped.
Russell gained 75 yards on 18 carries. The Hawkeyes did outrush MSU, 127-55. And, who knows, maybe the Hawkeyes would’ve had more if their average starting field position wasn’t their 43-yard line.
“I didn’t know that one about us and the 100-yard runner,” Banks said. “Ya’ all pop up with new stuff every week.”
And so do you all.