Iowa’s defense shuts down Georgia Tech option 24-14
MIAMI — In the coldest Orange Bowl ever, the Iowa Hawkeyes’ swarming defense kept the heat on Georgia Tech.
No. 10 Iowa solved Tech’s explosive triple option and Ricky Stanzi threw two early touchdown passes for a 24-14 victory Tuesday night.
Despite a temperature of 49 degrees at kickoff, the Hawkeyes had Tech sweating from the start. The ninth-ranked Yellow Jackets averaged 35 points during the regular season, but their only score in the first three quarters came on Jerrard Tarrant’s 40-yard interception return.
“This was Hawkeye weather,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We feel right at home right now.”
The Hawkeyes (11-2) earned their first Bowl Championship Series bowl win, matched the school record for victories and could claim their highest final ranking since finishing No. 3 in 1960.
Atlantic Coast Conference champion Georgia Tech (11-3) totaled nine first downs and 155 yards, both season lows.
“We haven’t played many games like that,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We couldn’t seem to get anything going. We couldn’t hit a pass play, couldn’t hit a big play.”
The Yellow Jackets were first in the nation in time of possession, second in rushing and 11th in scoring. But they sputtered against an Iowa defense that held four bowl-bound teams to 10 points or less during the regular season.
“If you say ’Hawkeye football,’ it’s defense,” Stanzi said. “That’s all it is: defense.”
End Adrian Clayborn led Iowa’s defensive charge. He had two sacks and nine tackles, including two for a loss, and was chosen the game’s most valuable player.
Clayborn said last month he would return for his senior season rather than turn pro, and reiterated his plans after the game.
“He’s shooting for national awards now,” Ferentz said with a smile.
The victory was a sweet one for the Iowa coach, who lost to Southern Cal 38-17 in the Hawkeyes’ only other Orange Bowl appearance seven years ago.
“The last time we were here — not because we lost, but because of the way we played — that was tough to live with,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz misspoke in the postgame news conference when he referred to Tech as “Wake Forest,” but he knew who the Hawkeyes were playing. While they had never faced the triple option in Ferentz’s 11 seasons as coach, his staff had a month to prepare for Tech, and it showed.
The Yellow Jackets had only 14 three-and-outs during the regular season, fewest in the nation, but they failed to pick up a first down on their first four possessions.
“It’s just a good thing we had a month to prepare, because it was difficult,” Clayborn said. “It was a great plan. The coaches put us in the right situation to make plays.”
Georgia Tech finally made a first down midway through the second quarter. The Yellow Jackets’ first pass completion came 43 minutes into the game with Iowa leading 17-7.
Quarterback Josh Nesbitt went only 2 for 9 for 12 yards for Tech, which had a season-high seven punts. Jonathan Dwyer, a 1,300-yard rusher the past two seasons, netted only 49 yards on 14 carries against the Hawkeyes.
“They were good and they had some good players,” Dwyer said. “But I really think that we just shot ourselves in the foot, man. We were just nervous.”
Iowa true freshman Brandon Wegher rushed for 113 yards and one score on 16 carries. Stanzi went 17 for 29 for 231 yards in his return from a sprained ankle that sidelined him in the season’s 10th game.
“It was great having Rick back. It was tough when he got injured,” Ferentz said. “He did a great job leading us tonight — and what can I say about that defense?”
Tech’s first scoring drive covered 71 yards, with Anthony Allen’s 1-yard touchdown run making it 17-14 with 12:30 left.
Iowa drove 63 yards for the clincher. Wegher ran for 23 yards on one carry, followed by a 32-yard touchdown run with 1:56 to go.
The Hawkeyes had a 185-18 advantage in yards in the first quarter. Stanzi, playing his first game in two months, started 8 for 8 for 138 yards and two scores for a 14-0 lead.
“Apparently not too rusty,” Stanzi said. “I did fear that.”
Iowa lost a fumble at midfield on the game’s opening possession, but Tech was quickly forced to punt for the first time in three games. Stanzi hit Tony Moeaki for a 54-yard gain, then threw to Marvin McNutt for a 4-yard score.
Tech again went three and out, and Iowa moved 83 yards to score in four plays. Stanzi threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Colin Sandeman.
The Yellow Jackets finally got their offense going to start the second half and drove 43 yards before missing a 41-yard field goal. Iowa then moved 59 yards, and Daniel Murray kicked a 33-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead.