IOWA CITY — Maybe it was complacency. Maybe it was the specter of Michigan. Or maybe, just maybe, it really was Arkansas State.
Probably all of the above.
The No. 13 Iowa Hawkeyes couldn’t shake complacency or that big Michigan thingie next week, but in the end, they did shake Arkansas State, 24-21, before 67,989 fans Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi threw three TD passes, including 43- and 41-yarders to wide receiver Marvin McNutt, and the Hawkeyes moved to 5-0 for the first time under Coach Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes ran their winning streak to nine games, Iowa’s third nine-game winning streak under Ferentz (2002 and 2003-04).
If this were “American Idol” or figure skating, Iowa loses. Football doesn’t come with sequins or judges, so the Hawkeyes held up their end of next Saturday’s mega-matchup with No. 22 Michigan (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten), a prime time ABC showdown. The Wolverines fell, 26-20, in overtime at Michigan State.
So Iowa, which needed to recover an onside kick with 1:59 left against Arkansas State, is the headliner. It probably doesn’t feel like it after Saturday’s sluggish, constipated, herky-jerky effort, but hey, no sequins, no judges. Win and be thankful the style points didn’t matter.
“It’s a good week in the bank,” Ferentz said. “It wasn’t pretty or smooth, but it was a good week in the bank.”
Ferentz didn’t see any “look ahead” in his team this week, calling it Iowa’s best week of practice this season.
“Nobody said a word about it in our building, unless guys are having these little secret meetings wherever they go,” Ferentz joked.
Let’s take a look at that complacency theory.
On their first two drives, the Hawkeyes resembled the well-oiled “Terminator” they’re going to have to be to butt up against Michigan. In 12 plays and about six minutes, Stanzi found wide receiver Trey Stross for a 33-yard score and then hit McNutt for a 41-yarder and a 14-0 lead with 6:55 left in the first quarter.
Then, it was dial tone.
“Honestly, we got a little big complacent,” Stanzi said. “We’ve got to execute and not play complacent and not think that everything is going to come easy.”
After the 14-0 lead, Iowa went punt, punt, punt and half. During that stretch, Iowa failed to convert third-and-3, third-and-1 and third-and-8. Meanwhile, Arkansas State quarterback Corey Leonard played like the experienced senior he is, connecting with receiver Brandon Thompkins to pull the Red Wolves (1-3) within 14-7 with 44 seconds left before halftime. The TD pass capped a nine-play, 89-yard drive against a defense that put a lid on Penn State last weekend.
Penn State last week. Michigan next week. Phoning it in this week.
“Next time, we need to not think that we have the game in the bag,” said McNutt, whose career day included four catches for 121 yards and the two TDs.
Stanzi-to-McNutt gave Iowa a 21-7 lead with 13:16 left in the third quarter. Then Stanzi gave it right back, throwing a late pass into the flat that ASU linebacker Demario Davis intercepted and returned 75 yards to pull the Wolves within 21-14.
“They made some plays,” said sophomore safety Tyler Sash, whose third-quarter interception — his fifth this year and 10th career — led to McNutt’s 43-yarder. “They’re a good team. This wasn’t a letdown on our end. Their backs were to the wall and they made some plays.”
Davis did a front flip into the end zone and was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct. The Wolves were penalized on the kick off, and the Hawkeyes took advantage of the field position, with Daniel Murray booting a 20-yard field goal with 14:35 left in the fourth for a 24-14 lead.
On to Michigan … or not.
Leonard wasn’t finished. He directed a 17-play, 68-yard drive that drained 7:59 off the clock and ended with Leonard making a Tim Tebow-esque jump pass to tight end Trevor Gillott, making it 24-21 with 2:01 left.
“We said all week, they were a good team, it was going to be 60 minutes,” said linebacker Pat Angerer, whose right thumb was in a brace for a torn ligament after the game. “That quarterback can play for any school in the country. He was really, really good.”
With 1:59 left, McNutt made a perfect play on the onside kick.
OK, let’s talk Michigan. But wait.
The Hawkeyes couldn’t convert a third-and-4. Running back Adam Robinson ran to the left for no gain, kind of the story. With left tackle Bryan Bulaga on the field for the first time in three weeks, Arkansas State held the Hawkeyes 3.8 yards on 33 carries. After combining for 161 at Penn State last week, Robinson and Brandon Wegher were held to 87 yards on 25 carries.
This wasn’t over until it was over, when the clock struck zeros on a Leonard desperation heave near the Iowa 30 and the Wolves were on the charter back to Jonesboro.
Yes on complacency. They said it was there. Definite yes on Arkansas State, representing the Sun Belt with oomph.
Now, on to Michigan.