This week, the pain in your gut isn’t gas. It’s that big purple burrito of a loss you were forced to swallow in one gulp Saturday afternoon.
Northwestern defensive tackle John Gill knocked down Ricky Stanzi’s fourth-and-8 pass with 1:08 left and that froze the entirety of Kinnick Stadium in standing and stunned silence.
Seriously, 70,585 were planted in stone cold and blinking disbelief. OK, not all 70,585. The purple clump in the southeast corner cheered and celebrated the Wildcats’ 22-17 grand theft auto. Other than that, it was suspended animation all around Kinnick.
We’re talking instantaneous cryogenics.
(Originally published 9/28/2008)
Forget the Maalox. You’re going to need a plunger to clear the big purple burrito that wrapped up five Iowa turnovers, two of which helped Northwestern (5-0, 1-0) flip a 17-3 deficit late in the second quarter into two TDs and an absolute pilfering.
“Anytime you turn the ball over and you’re doing it repeatedly, it’s difficult,” said wide receiver Andy Brodell, whose fumbled punt return opened the gates. “You can’t have that happen.”
The Hawkeyes were off to the races with 2:11 left in the first half.
Stanzi claimed the starting quarterback job with an exclamation point, delivering a 45-yard TD pass to Brodell for a 17-3 lead. Northwestern’s next drive was a bottle rocket, flaming out with a three-and-out. Iowa even called timeout with the idea to do some more damage before halftime.
Then Brodell fumbled. NU’s Jeravin Matthews recovered and the Wildcats had first down at Iowa’s 33. Five plays later, it was 17-10 after quarterback C.J. Bacher hit Rasheed Ward for a 1-yard TD.
“It was a big play,” NU Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Obviously, it gives us an opportunity with a short field to go down and score. It was big, it was real big.”
All was well, kind of. It was 17-10. The offense was clicking, kind of. Running back Shonn Greene was already at 107 yards on just 13 carries.
But the Wildcats took the opening kickoff of the second half and burned through the Hawkeyes, pulling to 17-16 after Bacher’s 15-yard TD pass to Eric Peterman and the PAT that floated right. Bacher finished 28 of 45 for 284 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
So Iowa still led. It was getting the ball back. Offense clicking. All was well, sort of, kind of.
It might have been, but then defensive back Amari Spievey fumbled the ensuing kick. Matthews recovered again. But hey, NU kicker Amado Villarreal missed a 34-yard field goal. All was well, but not really, unbelievably.
Iowa’s luck ran out when safety Brad Phillips knocked out Greene and caused a fumble that tackle Corbin Bryant recovered at NU’s 38. This time, Iowa paid, with Northwestern going 64 yards in 12 plays and taking a 22-17 lead on Bacher-to-Peterman with 7:54 left.
All was not well. All wasn’t over, but it wasn’t well.
“You can almost argue the first one (a Stanzi fumble on the game’s opening drive at NU’s 22) was equally as damaging,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We came out and we were moving the ball right down the field, like you’d hope. Then …”
Then, fumble. And then, an interception that gave NU first down at Iowa’s 29 that ended in a blocked field goal. Then, two special teams fumbles. And then, Greene’s fumble and the hit that took out Iowa’s hands-down best offensive weapon, who finished with 159 yards on just 21 carries, for the game’s final 12 minutes.
Stomachs were churned on the Iowa sideline. Frustration took hold.
“It was a game we were up and we should’ve won,” free safety Brett Greenwood said. “We gave them way too many opportunities and it cost us the game.”
Look beyond the 14 points scored off turnovers. Here’s how the turnovers killed Iowa: NU’s average starting field position was Iowa’s 35. That put a tremendous tax on Iowa’s defense on a sunny, warm 72-degree day.
“We’re lucky the score turned out the way it did, because we gave them plenty of opportunities,” said Brodell, who finished with eight catches for 126 yards. The Hawkeyes, who gained 407 yards but were just 3 of 9 on third downs, had two cracks at NU’s 22-17 lead.
With about six minutes left, Stanzi hit wideout Trey Stross for an 8-yard gain and what looked to be a first down at NU’s 39. But tight end Allen Reisner was called for offensive pass interference, a 15-yard penalty.
Instead of first down at NU’s 39. Iowa had second-and-17 at its 38. Two sacks later and the Hawkeyes were punting from their 20.
“I don’t know about that one,” said Stanzi, who completed 21 of 30 for 238 yards, a TD and an interception. “We were all confused. We ran up and was ready to go, but there was a flag. I had no idea.”
Stanzi had an idea on Iowa’s last gasp, do-or-die fourth-and-8. He thought there would be a blitz coming. He called an audible. He tried to find wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
“It was a quick play,” tight end Brandon Myers said. “I have no idea what happened behind me. I know he (Gill) tipped it.”
Gill got his hand up. And that was that. Quick but certainly not painless.