The Playmakers

Iowa came into the season with question marks on defense. The Hawkeyes did, however, return playmakers like Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Playmaker is one of the most overused terms in football. Plays are being made throughout a game. That's kind of the point.

Very few guys really are deserving of that term, however. Playmakers make big plays, game-changing plays.

Off the top of my head, Jovon Johnson, Bob Sanders, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Tyler Sash, Shonn Greene, Marvin McNutt, Dallas Clark and Brad Banks were/are playmakers at Iowa. I know I've missed others.

Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde are playmakers. Saturday, they made a big play together.

Prater returned an interception 89 yards for a touchdown during a 34-7, season-opening win at Kinnick Stadium. Hyde escorted him in by throwing the final block.

Prater was among a contingent of Hawkeyes who paved the way for Hyde during his Insight Bowl winning Pick-6 against Missouri in December. That play went 72 yards.

Hyde scored a touchdown on a long return last year. He took it 66 yards to the house after Sash picked off a pass and lateraled it to him.

Consistent strong play from an offensive lineman or a linebacker contribute to success. Your chances at winning are heightened by having a good punter and place kicker. It's tough to win without a efficient quarterback.

There's something about big plays that act like big home runs in baseball or a acrobatic dunk in basketball. They change momentum. You can feel the impact in the air.

Iowa led 20-0 when Prater outmuscled a Tennessee Tech receiver deep in Iowa territory. The senior from Omaha gathered himself and began his journey down the home sideline.

Last season, Prater just missed a Pick-6 against Penn State. It changed his strategy.

"I definitely learned from the past," he said. "Run straight. It helped me out today."

Prater, a track standout in high school, set up behind a Hawkeye wall and right behind Hyde.

"I was giving him some crap because he was running so slow," Prater said. "I told him the linemen were starting to catch up. I told him to keep running and make sure he blocked the quarterback for me."

Hyde laughed at Prater's comments. He had a plan.

Said Hyde: "This was my thought process - I see him catch the ball and I get out in front of him. I see some linemen and he asks me what I'm doing with the linemen. I'm trying to look and see who's coming at us at the same time and he's pushing me in my back. Yes, maybe I was running slow. But I got the block. I did my job and he did his."

Hyde buried Golden Eagles Quarterback Tre Lamb, knocking off his helmet.

"I knew he was going to go down," Hyde said of Lamb shooting for the legs. "I didn't want to trip over him and end up tripping Prater. It felt like I got him pretty good."

Hyde jumped up and raced to the end zone to meet Prater.

"He was tired down there," Hyde said. "I was still fired up, hitting upside his helmet."

Iowa came into the season with questions on defense. The Hawkeyes were replacing three defensive linemen and a safety drafted into the NFL.

Tech, which prides itself in a high-powered offense, accumulated less than 100 yards in the first half. The Eagles didn't score on the first-team defense.

"I felt like we matched their offensive tempo," said Iowa Middle Linebacker James Morris, who also produced a long interception return. "We've still got a long ways to go. We still can play faster. It's a win and a near shutout."

Morris' pick turned into a field goal after the Hawkeyes stalled on offense. The Prater interception return came on Tech's next series and sent Iowa into the locker room with a 27-0 lead. The game was in hand.

Tech was showing signs of life on the drive. The visitors were trying to cut into their deficit heading into the intermission.

Instead, a playmaker made a play. He was assisted by another playmaker. All good teams have had them.

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