Iowa CITY, Iowa - Senior Broderick Binns delivered a pointed message to his mates on the Iowa defense this week. He told them that the unit could not be responsible for falling apart a second week in a row.
"It was all about us responding," the defensive end said."The defense let it go last week."
The mood in Hawkeye Country was somber and angry this week after Iowa fell 22-21 at then one-win Minnesota last week. Michigan came to Iowa City on Saturday as a four-point favorite at Kinnick Stadium, where the Hawkeyes were undefeated.
Minnesota played with more urgency last week. The Golden Gophers were jumping up and down on the sideline and wanted it more than Iowa did.
The roles reversed on Saturday. Iowa looked like the motivated team and outlasted the No. 13 Wolverines, 24-16.
All week the Hawkeye defense heard about Michigan's mighty offense led by quarterback Denard Robinson. Few thought Iowa had an answer for the dynamic signal caller.
"We had to defend our name; the Iowa defensive name," Iowa Cornerback Micah Hyde said. "In past years, Iowa's defense has been tough. We had to go out there and play with effort and toughness."
On an inexperienced team, Iowa needed its seniors to rise up if it was going to upset Michigan. They answered the call.
Michigan came into the game averaging 34.8 points per game. Iowa held the Wolverines to more than 100 yards below their season average of 441.2. The Hawkeyes made Robinson Look mortal and uncomfortable.
"The seniors came out and said they were going to lead this game," Hyde said. "That's exactly what they did. They put us on their back. We road them to victory."
Tyler Nielsen has been hampered by injuries all season. He underwent surgery on his hand a few weeks ago after being hobbled with a leg issue earlier in the year.
The senior from Humbolt played his best game of the season with 13 tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He started at middle linebacker for just the second time in his career and dominated.
"We were tired of heaing, "the defense can't stop them. Look at what they did against Indiana and Minnesota. The defense can't do this, can't do that,""Nielsen said. "We wanted to step up today and makes some things happen and give our offense a chance to win the game."
Iowa held a 14-6 lead with about three minutes left in the first half. The Hawkeyes offense had just scored a touchdown on its previous possession. The Wolverines began moving the ball well, though, and pushed out to midfield with a first and 10.
Robinson dropped back to pass on third down and Nielsen came on a middle blitz. The elusive Michigan quarterback was wrapped up around the legs by the Hawkeye senior and fumbled. Nielsen recovered the ball and the home team ended up with a 42-yard field goal from Mike Meyer.
It seemed that whenever Michigan had a chance to swipe momentum, the senior trio of Nielsen, Binns or Jordan Bernstine delivered a big play. Binns batted down three passes around the line of scrimmage, recorded two tackles for loss and a sack. Bernstine racked up a career-high 15 tackles, including seven solos.
We need the seniors leading us," true sophomore linebacker James Morris said. "They're guys that have been there before. The younger guys, myself, (Christian) Kirksey, Tanner Miller, they're pointing us in the right direction. We're just trying to follow their lead. Hopefully we're going to end up pretty happy at the end of the season."
Iowa's defense appeared to come unhinged throughout the first eight weeks. The Hawkeyes couldn't contain mobile quarterbacks, wilted against the rush and suffered through communication issues weekly.
Saturday, Miller and Shaun Parter appeared to be on the same page. There always seemed to be someone on the edge containing Robinson, and the Hawkeyes limited big plays.
"We contained a little better," Bernstine said. "We had to get our energy up. As a defense, I feel like we've been a little flat. Today, we were a little more fired up and we took advantage of it."
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz has been like a broken record through the years talking about how his players should perform their best as seniors. It's been a mark of a successful developmental program.
"We just needed to bring everybody along," Nielsen said. "The seniors had to play their best today, and for the most part, we did."
Had Iowa lost on Saturday, a collapse could have occured. It would have been two setbacks in a row with two of the final three games on the road and Legends Division leader Michigan State coming to Kinnick next week.
To the seniors credit, especially on defense, they refused to let this team fold. The underclassmen interviewed in Saturday's postgame lit up when asked to talk about their elders. You got the sense that this week's practice was spirited.
"For myself and the other seniors on the team, we know our time is coming up short here,' Binns said. "We have one more game in Kinnick. We knew we had to step up and make the plays that we did. It seemed like everybody did today."
In the past, Iowa improved as the season progressed. November was its month. That hasn't happened recently, including 2010 when the Hawkeyes dropped three of four to end the regular season.
It looked like the old Hawkeyes on Saturday. The defense flew to the ball. The offense smashed Michigan with a bruising fullback named Brad Rogers. They resembled the Bullies of the Big Ten of last decade.
Nobody knows what the rest of the month holds for Iowa or this wacky Big Ten as a whole.It sets up as a fight to the finish.
The Hawkeyes showed pride and desire on Saturday. They pushed back. They picked up confidence and re-instilled hope in the fan base.
What a difference a week makes.