Monday, September 23, 2013

Iowa opens Big Ten play Saturday at Minnesota

Iowa City, Iowa -- The Hawkeyes open Big Ten play Saturday at Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium. The game will be televised by ABC beginning at 2:30 p.m. (CT), with reverse mirror on ESPN2. Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham and Jeannine Edwards will call the action.

Iowa won its third-straight game, improving to 3-1 with a 59-3 rout of Western Michigan on Sept. 21 inside Kinnick Stadium. Minnesota is 4-0 with victories over UNLV (51-23), New Mexico State (44-21), Western Illinois (29-12) and San Jose State (43-24).

Iowa has won three of its last four conference openers, including a 31-13 win over Minnesota in last year's opener. The Hawkeyes are 6-8 in Big Ten openers since 1999. The Hawkeyes are opening the Big Ten season on the road for the 11th time in 15 seasons under coach Kirk Ferentz. In its previous 10 conference openers on the road, Iowa has won three times (42-35 OT at Penn State, 2002; 24-7 at Illinois, 2006; 21-10 at Penn State, 2009).

Iowa also won the first Big Ten road game last year, with a 19-16, 2 OT game at Michigan State.

Defense set the tone in final non-conference game for Iowa.

You can't win a football game if you don't score. On the flipside, you don't lose many when allowing three points.

That was true Sept. 21 for the University of Iowa, by frustrating Western Michigan in its final nonconference tune-up. It was the lowest point-total allowed by the Hawkeyes in 38 games -- dating back to Oct. 2, 2010, and not so coincidently, a 20-3 win against Penn State. The last time Iowa lost a football game when allowing three points was 76 years ago when Irl Tubbs was coach and FDR was President of the United States.

The tone was set on the opening kickoff Saturday when Western Michigan's Dareyon Chance was clobbered by Iowa linebacker Marcus Collins after a 15-yard return.

"That's big momentum for us," said UI senior cornerback B.J. Lowery, who finished the day with four tackles and two Pick-6 interceptions. "Even on the kickoff when Marcus Collins had the big hit, that got us going right there."

"Coach (Kirk) Ferentz asks in practice, `Who is going to be that guy who is going to get that spark?'" said UI senior defensive lineman Dominic Alvis. "As soon as Marcus clocked his guy, it sent electricity through the defense. We're getting out there and we're getting excited and it adds a spark to the entire team. It fueled our fire."

The fire kept burning for three hours and two minutes. Twenty minutes into the game, UI junior receiver/punt returner Kevonte Martin-Manley had more touchdowns (two) than the Broncos had first downs (zero) or rushing yards (one). On six straight possessions, the Hawkeye defense held Western Michigan to three downs-and-punt. The Broncos were 1-of-14 converting on third down.

"We have a good defensive unit," Alvis said. "We're not there yet, but every week we're taking strides and you can see that in the way we play. We showed up from the get-go and getting off the field on third down is our goal, that's our money down, and it is great when we give the offense a chance to score points."

For three straight games Iowa's defense has held opponents to less than 75 yards on the ground. Western Michigan gained 74 yards on 20 carries, Iowa State had 59 yards on 24 attempts, and Missouri State was held to 70 yards on 23 rushes. The Hawkeyes have not allowed a first-half touchdown since the season opener. The defense has yet to give up a rushing touchdown in 2013.

Senior defensive captain, middle linebacker James Morris is waiting for an opponent to "pin their ears back and run at us."

"It is one game and we're trying to build something," said Morris, who had a team-high seven tackles and moved to No. 15 on the all-time career tackle chart with 316. "We don't want to be a one-hit wonder. We want to be competitive down the stretch in October and November. We feel good about what we did, but we're still building."

After four games, the Hawkeyes are ranked 19th in the country in total defense (290.8 yards per game) and Iowa is one of four Football Bowl Subdivision teams yet to surrender a rushing touchdown. That is 128 straight rushing attempts without the opponent reaching the end zone.

"We showed up, were ready to play and didn't let off the gas," Alvis said. "We played like veterans and we played like we should. I'm fortunate to be part of a group guys who take pride in this unit -- there are a lot of playmakers out there."

One playmaker is Lowery. Just when you thought he could do nothing to top his high-flying interception at Iowa State on Sept. 14, he comes back seven days later and returns two interceptions for touchdowns. To put an exclamation point on the second one (from 13 yards), Lowery dove and stretched the ball inside the pylon.

"I learned it from Micah Hyde," Lowery said with a laugh.

Hyde's return for a score following an interception by Tyler Sash highlighted a 37-6 win against No. 5 Michigan State in 2010.

Lowery's two interception touchdown returns is an Iowa record and ties for second-most in NCAA history.

The 2010 season came up twice in reference to Saturday's victory. In that year, Iowa was also 3-1 in nonconference play, and went on to defeat three nationally rated teams and win the Insight Bowl.

The fate of the 2013 team is undecided, but there is no denying it has energy and oomph heading into the conference opener Sept. 28 in Minneapolis.

"This supplies momentum going into the next game and it is an exciting feeling as a player," Alvis said.

"This win is big for us knowing we have to go into Big Ten play next week," Lowery added. "That gives us momentum going to Minnesota."

After a 4-8 season in 2012, the 3-1 start is beginning to raise some eyebrows in the Big Ten media and that Iowa may be one of the biggest surprises this year in the conference. For Big Ten Legends Division teams, the Western Michigan win by Iowa was the most well rounded displays in victory this season.

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