January 5, 2010

Post Orange Bowl notebook

In what was billed to be a classic prize fight of flashy offense versus impenetrable defense, the Iowa Hawkeye defense would land the knock out punch as they won the Orange Bowl for the first time in their 120 year history. Their defense would dominate, holding the 11th ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket offense to only 156 total yards for the game, 287 yards below their average.

"You know we got off to a really slow start offensively in the first half. We hurt ourselves right out of the chute with penalties," Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. "We just never had any consistency offensively. We had a hard time, you know, blocking them inside, and it made it tough to run on the perimeter. We could never hit a big play with our passing game."

The Hawkeye defense landed the damaging blows in the opening half, allowing up only 31 yards to the Jackets. They forced Tech to four three and outs and the Jackets punted the ball six times in the first half. That was more work than punter Chandler Anderson had seen in any game this season and the Jackets had only punted the ball four times in the previous four games combined.

Iowa's offense had their way with the Jackets in the first half by racking up 256 total yards. Despite the disparity in yardage totals, Tech was able to force mistakes and step up at key moments. The Jackets forced two first half turnovers, including Stanzi's only mistake which only momentarily stunned the Hawkeyes as an interception was returned for a touchdown by Jarrard Tarrant. The Hawkeyes were also only three for eight on third down conversions. The first half was dominated by the Hawkeyes on the score sheets, but nevertheless the Jackets still went into the locker room only down by one score.

Things would heat up quickly in the second half as the Jackets drove their first possession straight down the field, but were crippled by one of their nine penalties on the evening. The 12 play, seven minute drive was stopped short at the 24 yard line and Blair swung and missed on what would turn out to be an important 41 yard field goal.

Tech was able to hold Iowa to a field goal after they drove all the way down to the 15 yard line, which gave them a two score cushion. The Jackets then moved the ball again with ease on the Hawkeyes and appeared to be in business by getting the ball to the ACC offensive player of the year, Jonathan Dwyer, who accounted for 31 yards on their second possession. Allen would stamp the 11 play, 71 yard drive with a tough one yard upper cut to pull the Jackets within a field goal.

Tech would have their opportunities, but this turned out to be the closest that they would get to the Hawkeyes. The Jacket defense, which was staggered on all year long, forced the fourth Iowa punt of the game and gave their offense a chance to win it. It was not to be, however, as Josh Nesbitt was picked off on his own 28 yard line and saw it returned to within 15 yards of the end zone.

The Ramblin Wreck defense stiffened their jaw once again and forced a field goal attempt from the three yard line. In a bizarre sequence of events Iowa would then lose nine yards on a fake field goal run that didn't fool anybody followed by a loss of 11 yards by Dwyer on a play where he was nearly tackled three times in the end zone before finally falling forward to the one inch line to avoid the safety. Nesbitt then had a receiver open on third down and 18, but his pass was high and outside to Embry Peeples. One of the main offensive weapons on the season, Nesbitt had one of his worst games as a Yellow Jacket by completing only two of nine with an interception and gaining only 2.3 yards per carry on 21 rushes.

Stopping the Iowa offense for a third consecutive time proved to be too tall of an order for the Jacket defense and Brandon Wegher would punctuate the Orange Bowl victory with his two best rushes of the evening. He ran for 23 yards nearly untouched followed by a 32 yard touchdown run where Iowa was able to block all 11 Tech defenders that were swinging in vain to stop the run. Wegher ended up with 113 rushing yards on only 16 carries. Ricky Stanzi was also impressive in his return. Stanzi was very controlled after being knocked down early and finished 17-29 for 231 yards and two passing touchdowns as he efficiently guided the Hawkeyes to 403 total yards and a 24-14 knock out win in the 12th round.

Offense

False start call sets Tech back, but they start with great field position in their own territory. Dwyer looked like he had a huge hole on the play but it was not meant to be. Tech cannot convert on their first third down attempt as Nesbitt slings it deep, but out of bounds towards Thomas. First punt in their last 22 offensive possessions.

"I think we had a little jitters at the beginning, I think that's what was happening after the first play. Who knows if I had scored on that first play what the game would have been like," Dwyer said.

Nesbitt stuffed again on another mid-line option read. Tech fakes going for it on fourth and one and then calls timeout. Anderson gets off a good punt to pin Iowa inside the 20.

Tech again set back on a ticky-tack chop block penalty. Let them play ref. Tech cannot get any yards on the ground and they are being owned up front which is allowing the Iowa linebackers to clean up the play for very little yardage. Nesbitt sacked on third and long and Tech forced to punt for the third straight time.

Tech still not moving the ball with much authority and faces another third down try with five yards to gain. Nesbitt cannot get the pass off after good coverage by Iowa and he is sacked for the second time. Tech is forced three and out for the fourth consecutive time. They have yet to pick up a first down, but they are still only down by a touchdown.

The Yellow Jackets finally pick up some momentum and execute the triple option to perfection with a pitch to Allen for the 16 yard gain and finally a first down conversion. Tech runs a dive play on 3rd and six, but only picks up four yards and is forced to punt for the fifth time in the first half.

Yellow Jackets air it out first down but the pass is high to Allen. Nesbitt then stuffed again. He now has 12 of the team's 17 first half carries for only 24 yards rushing. Nesbitt appears to complete his first pass of the game but Peeples stepped out before he made the catch. The play would have been a yard shy of the first down anyways from their own 40 yard line. Another punt.

Tech gets another chance from the 43 yard line to pick up 20 yards and move into field goal range, but Nesbitt is sacked for the third time in the half.

Dwyer with three straight runs to open up the second half, twice up the middle and once on a pitch, to get a first down. Tech starts marching with a gain of 14 yards off of the pitch by Peeples off of a nice block by Jones. Nesbitt gains a tough three yards on a play where he could have been stopped for no gain. Tech continues to shoot themselves in the foot with their sixth penalty, a hold by Melton that sets Tech back to 2nd - 18. Dwyer gains it all back, however, with a 15 yard run off of a pitch and then Nesbitt follows it up with another first down run. Another crucial false start penalty sets Tech back to 3rd - nine and they are stopped short to force fourth down. The Yellow Jackets settle for a 41 yard field goal attempt, but Blair pushes the kick wide right. Tech goes empty on what looked to be a promising 12 play, seven minute drive to open the second half.

The first completion of the game surprisingly enough goes to Dwyer who gets 11 yards for the first down. Nesbitt then gains six tough yards followed by a nine yard gain by Peeples on the toss sweep inside Iowa territory. The third quarter comes to a close and Tech faces a 3rd-3 from the 38 yard line. Tech starts the second half by giving up an 11 yard gain on a play action pass. Good coverage forces Stanzi to run out of bounds for only a one yard gain on the next play. Tech still getting decent penetration on running plays and Egbuniwe draws a holding penalty. Stanzi then completes a 23 yard gain after he has all day to throw. Burnett was a split second late and could not knock it out of Moeaki's grasp. Iowa then blocks well for a 12 yard run and another first down to the GT 38. Stanzi decides not to force it deep this time and settles for a nice six yard gain. He would have time to stop and tie his shoes if he wanted to and still get a pass off. Tech gets pushed around up front again and Iowa rushes it for nine yards down to the 23. Iowa gets another seven yards on the ground before Tech stuffs up the line to force a third down. Stanzi then buys time in the pocket to find an open receiver, but he drops the pass. The Hawkeyes settle for a 33 yard field goal to put them up by 10 with 2:17 left in the third quarter. Tech starts the fourth quarter with an eight yard run for a first down by Dwyer right up the gut. Dywer is starting to take the game over with another first down run, this time an 11 yard gain off of the pitch. The Ramblin Wreck starting to make some noise with some huge holes along the line. Nesbitt goes for 13 yard line down to the six yard line. The Jackets finally get on the board offensively after Allen bulls his way into the end zone for the one yard touchdown on the toss sweep.

Nesbitt drops back to pass on first down and makes a critical mistake by throwing an interception from his own 10 yard line. He did not appear to see the linebacker and Iowa gets great field position only 15 yards away from the end zone.

After Tech appears to gain the momentum, Dwyer makes a huge mistake by trying to reverse the field and loses 11 yards. On the play, he was nearly tackled three times in the end zone before finally falling forward to the one foot line. Tech then faced a 3rd-18 and Peeples was wide open for a first down. The pass is a little too hard and outside for the running back to handle and Tech is forced to punt for the first time of the second half.

Defense

Jason Peters chases the play down from behind for a loss of yards on first down. Tech sets up first third down situation and Tarrant makes a great play to punch the ball out on a completed pass for the early turnover.

Tech forces another third down on Iowa's second possession, but Stanzi finds a wide open receiver who had beaten Tarrant. The Hawkeyes then get 54 yards on a slip screen over Morgan's shoulder to the tight end. Defense steps up to force a third and goal, but Stanzi throws a perfect fade to the corner of the end zone over Tarrant's defense.

Morgan called for defensive holding? Bad call by the refs. Iowa's running gallops 15 yards untouched on great blocking after he is finally brought down. Stanzi then finds a wide, wide open receiver who burned Burnett with a double move for 31 yards. Stanzi is in the zone with a perfect pass to the pylon that beats Tarrant's defense again for the touchdown. Tarrant is being picked on right now.

Tarrant makes up for his previous defensive lapses with a huge momentum swinging pick six. On the play, he beat the receiver to the spot and then had a huge lane for the easy 40 yard touchdown run.

Stanzi is getting way too much time in the pocket and picks on Tarrant again for a 16 yard gain. Iowa outgains Tech 185-18 in total yardage for the first quarter. Delay of game penalty sets Iowa back and Stanzi again has all day but completes the pass out of bounds. Tech forces the Hawkeyes to punt for the first time.

Iowa starts with great field position on the GT side of the 50. GT manhandled up front for a 12 yard gain on the ground stopped by Burnett. Iowa moves the ball to the GT 30 before the defense steps up. Sylvester comes through untouched on a greatly disguised linebacker blitz for the loss of five yards. Iowa then takes a delay of game penalty to put them out of field goal range and faces a 3rd and 20. Morgan drives his blocker back and is held on the play but still flushes Stanzi out of the pocket who cannot make the completion on the run. Great defensive stand by Tech as they force a punt after the good starting position.

GT defense really starting to step up and stacks up the line of scrimmage for a minimal gain. Tech then allows only a short gain and forces an incompletion after great defense by Butler on third down. Iowa punts for the third straight time.

GT allows a 10 yard gain on the ground, but then stops Iowa to force a 3rd and five. Tech calls timeout to stop the clock at 1:19 in hopes of getting the ball back. The strategy backfires, however, after Stanzi buys time and completes it for 11 yards. The Hawkeyes pick up another first down before facing a 3rd-5 from the 43 yard line. The GT defense steps up again and Tarrant makes a spectacular play to tip the deep pass away from the intended receiver. Iowa goes for it on 4th-5, but Griffin tips away the pass. Stanzi still has plenty of time to pass, but he is a little off target now.

Tech's defense steps up to stifle the Hawkeyes for only three yards on two straight runs. Stanzi can't find anybody downfield on 3rd-seven and takes off. He beats Morgan in a foot race to the sticks and picks up an important first down. Iowa then gets 16 yards on a first down run and attempts a deep play action pass on the next play. Butler makes a game saving diving deflection, however, and then Sylevester and Reese combine for a huge sack to set up 3rd-17. The defense gets the necessary stop and forces a punt.

Tech then stops Iowa on a first down run, but Jefferson gets a stupid stupid roughing the passer penalty after Stanzi was under intense pressure and wouldn't have completed the pass anyways. Iowa has first and goal from the seven yard, but Tech's defense steps up to the challenge and forces an incompletion on first down followed by a three yard run on second down. Then on third and goal Stanzi is forced to scramble out of the pocket and potential has an open receiver, but his intended target slips and falls. The Hawkeyes then try a fake field goal attempt on fourth and goal, but Tech is not fooled and Burnett tracks the kicker down for a huge loss of yards.

Tech denies the Hawkeyes on two straight rushing plays to force a 3rd-8 play. Stanzi stands tall and delivers a strike to the wide open receiver sitting down in the zone at the first down marker. Tech now forced to call timeouts and on second down the Hawkeyes get their biggest play of the day on the ground, a gain of 23 yards. Wegher then went for 32 yards and the touchdown to seal the win after Tech sold out on defense.


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