Do you want to know how sick I am? I told my wife the night of Iowa's win against Florida that the two things I most looked forward to once we go home was seeing our baby daughter and watching the replay of the Outback Bowl.
With the baby girl put to bed, I nearly tripped over myself getting down to the DVR and pulling up the game.
For the final time this year, here are some post game thoughts from the couch turned film room.
Florida has played in 11 straight January bowl games? That is an amazing stat that ESPN led off with. It's even more amazing when you figure that they have been invited to two straight January bowl games with a regular season record of 8-4. I guess a reputation does linger for a few years after reality has changed its address.
Thanks to West Virginia, Florida was not the lone team to finish the season 8-5 having played in a New Year's Day Bowl game.
Ratliff and Scott sat out much of the first quarter, as we all know by now. However, if that affected the Gators at all, I think that Scott being out might have been the bigger factor. One great aspect of Iowa's offense is that if you have great cornerbacks, that advantage is not as great against Iowa as it is against other teams, because Iowa seldom challenges corners on the edge with their play action passing game. A safety is much more involved against Iowa.
Mark Jones said on a couple of occasions that Nathan Chandler is a concert pianist that writes his own music? Where the heck have I been all season? Had I known that, I would have had much more fun creating headlines like ‘Chandler's Masterpiece Upsets Michigan'
On Fred Russell's first run, the first play from scrimmage, that was one big hole. Mo Brown was in motion and set up behind the line and blocked…something he did several times early in the game which set up a nice play later in the game.
On the second play of the game, it was a true naked waggle and FL #27 went right at Nathan…he did not bite on the ball fake at all…just went right at Nathan, and Nathan threw it away. I was worried a bit in the press box at that point, because I expected Florida to focus on the waggle for five weeks and come up with a way to slow it down. I guess the way to slow it down is to stop the run, or try to blitz off the edges. Chandler did a great job of making decisions all day long.
On 3rd and 12 on their first possession, Iowa went with four WR's and Cervantes in the backfield. Iowa threw to Cervantes on the swing and he looked to be the primary (and conservative) option. Be picked up 10 yards. Punt and touchback.
Chris Leak is listed at 6-1. I was on the field after the game and during the 4th quarter. He is much closer in size to Drew Tate than he is to 6-1. But it doesn't matter. He throws the prettiest passes that I have ever seen in my life in person.
On their first play, Florid ran the bubble screen. Grant Steen had been studying film for the past three weeks and got in there and blew it up, just as he did later in the game. Iowa kids were just so well coached and prepared in this game it was inspiring. Grant Steen was an unsung hero all game and all season, as far as that is concerned.
When Iowa forced Florida to punt on their first series, some of the Florida media thought that the Iowa fans were mocking Florida's Gator Chop. We had to explain to them that Iowa does this at home playing the Imperial March from Star Wars. Though they did not understand why Iowa fans did that, they were no longer offended.
Another interesting tidbit that I knew but its worth repeating, is that Florida's entire front seven on defense were new starters from one year ago.
On Iowa's second drive, Mo Brown dropped a pass on 2nd and 9 that would have made it 3rd and 1 at worst. Iowa then went four wide again with Cervantes in the backfield and Chandler was sacked as Mike Jones got beat on a twist stunt. Chandler was wise to eat that one.
David Bradley's 2nd punt of the day was for 49 yards.
On Florida's first play of their 2nd possession, they ran a play action fake that Bob Sanders bit on. Sanders has never been what I would consider a great cover man. I think he has above average cover skills at the college level, but that is about it. He makes up for the rest with his speed and killer instinct. But he has always, always been a player that is looking for the run first and has been susceptible to play action. Leak and the Gators got him looking into the backfield on this play, and 70-yards later, Florida was on top.
With the ball back, Fred Russell went to work and ripped off a 28-yard run on the right side courtesy of Pete McMahon who had the best day of any Iowa lineman.
ESPN commentator Mark Jones said ‘Fred Russell strikes back for the Hawkeye Nation'. That is one of the reasons why I purchased the url Hawkeyenation.com, as ‘Raider Nation' and other references to ‘nation' were becoming popular. Jones is always good for a nice reference. I think I will send he and Bob Davie our pre-season football special next year.
Jermelle Lewis had a nice run on this drive and again, it was McMahon that sprung him.
Remember Chandler's incomplete pass to Tony Jackson in the end zone? I think this was the same play that Brad Banks completed to Dallas Clark for the winning touchdown against Purdue last year, only Iowa went to the left this time.
Jackson was lined up at right end, whereas Clark was on left end. Iowa had receivers on the right side against Florida and sent them into the right flat and did the reverse against Purdue. Chandler was looking right against Florida, selling the fake, whereas Banks was looking left against Purdue.
Banks had just enough time to set and throw the completion to Clark on the right side last year, but Florida guessed right and brought the corner blitz from the left.
Chandler turned and saw it and had to throw off of his back foot. It was almost a great pass and catch, but it was just out of Jackson's reach. If you have the game on tape, watch the play. I guarantee it was the same. And it would have worked great if not for Florida's guess on the corner blitz on 2nd and goal at the 4.
But no matter, Mo would score on a standard motion under play where the receivers run hard slants and clear out the flat for the motion man under the coverage. Florida had to make a mistake here though, as their LB #46 followed him all the way across the field from right to left. I think someone missed on a change there, as #46 was doing some hollerin' at his teammates after Mo caught the ball. Even an 80% Mo Brown will kill a linebacker every time.
Iowa's defensive ends were hammering Florida TE Ben Troupe ever time he left the LOS. That was the plan in order to slow him down a step to help Chad Greenway get over on him. Mission accomplished. One time, Roth came out three or four yards with him and just stayed on him, then went back to rush the passer. When I saw that, I was impressed, because Roth gets too aggressive at times in his backfield pursuit. It really underscored to me how determined and prepared this football team was.
3rd Florida possession, 3rd and 9, Roth slipped or he would have had a sack. Leak escaped right to left and appeared to have the edge on Abdul Hodge to get the first down. But Hodge closed very fast and pulled Leak down two yards short of the first down. Last year, Fred Barr would not have made that tackle.
Abdul Hodge finished with 141 tackles, good enough for 2nd best ever in one season at Iowa. Andre Jackson had 171 in 1972. Jackson's total is impressive on the surface, but Hodge's might be more impressive. The 1972 Iowa defense was not what you would call great. Iowa allowed 247 yards rushing per game in 1972. This year, Iowa allowed 92.7 yards on the ground per game, third best in team history. Though I was born in 1971, I think it's safe to assume that Iowa's front four in 2003 were better than what the 1972 squad threw out there. Add to that Chad Greenway's 132 tackles, good for 11th best in a season at Iowa, and you have a couple of players with amazing instincts and fantastic speed.
I like to refer to Abdul as ‘The Predator'. You remember that movie with Arnold and some creature from outer space. That creature had long dreadlock-like hair, similar to Abdul. And that creature was a killer, much like Hodge is in the figurative football sense. And we get to see both of them for two more years? Talk about your great eras of Iowa football. This defense is on a three-year roll with no end in sight.
And Iowa's speed at linebacker negated a lot of Florida's speed out of the backfield and when they tried to spread plays from sideline to sideline. I said at the beginning of the year: "With all apologies to Fred Barr, Abdul Hodge will make us forget good old #51 rather quickly." I mean that with no disrespect to the #4 all-time tackler in Iowa history. I just felt that Hodge was going to be that good. He was.
Florida had to punt and Iowa faced another 3rd and long on its next possession. Again, Iowa went four wide with Cervantes as the lone back. This time, Chandler found Ed Hinkel underneath on a crossing pattern and that kept the drive alive.
It was on this drive that Iowa used Mo Brown on a waggle play that they had been setting up. It was a new wrinkle. Mo was in motion from left to right, and he parked behind McMahon. Iowa ran the fake stretch play to the left and Brown blocked down and left for a two count, and the linebacker went down the line hard after the ball fake. Mo then released in the right flat and picked up 15 yards.
This was a brilliant offensive game plan and it was executed quite well by the Hawkeyes.
Nate Kaeding would end up hitting a 47-yard field goal on this drive that would have been good from 60. I know we will all miss not having him next year. I don't think I have ever seen a college kicker that was more automatic than Nate was.
As I have said before, he missed eight kicks in his true freshman season and only missed eight kicks during his final three years: four as a soph, three last year and one this year.
After forcing Florida to another punt, and holding the Gators to just one yard of offense in the second quarter, Iowa was faced with a 3rd and 4. They were in a four wide shotgun set once again, but this time, the call was for Chandler to roll out right and run. He saw that he was not going to make it, and his safety valve Ramon Ochoa was camping one yard beyond the first down marker right on the sideline. Chandler flipped it to him. It was a simple play, yet a thing of beauty. When you are that prepared in your game plan, you are going to win football games.
On that same drive, Iowa was in a 2nd and 9 and once again went with the shot gun formation. (Remember when that formation scared the heck out of us about the middle of the season?) Chandler rolled to his right and found Hinkel underneath for a gain of eight. Russell ran over the right side (read: McMahon) and picked up the first down.
That drive ended with a play action fake to the right and Chandler rolling back to his left at the 15 yard line, closer to the right hash than he was to midfield. Chandler saw a lot of green and sprinted to the corner and scored. Florida's Ratliff gave a cheap shot shove to Hinkel in the back as Chandler crossed the goal line for the score, his 6th rushing TD of the year, one more than Brad Banks had last year.
Florida had to punt once again and Iowa had a 3rd and 1 on the Florida 43 with 5:00 remaining in the first half. There was a fumble on a center/QB exchange that killed the drive. Bradley punted and Chris Smith made a great play, downing the punt on one hard hop at the Florida six.
After forcing the Gators to punt once more, Jermire Roberts was able to draw a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the return. That took the ball from the Florida 42 to the Iowa 27. Kaeding would end up kicking a field goal, making the halftime score 20-7 in favor of Iowa.
ESPN's halftime segments were basically a PR spot for Kirk Ferentz with Trev Alberts and Mark May waxing on about how great a coach Ferentz is. Alberts made a half-joking plea for Nebraska to try and get Ferentz. May then reminded Trev that he let him listen to Kirk's voice mail message on May's machine where Kirk basically laughed about being a candidate for the Husker job and had told May that he was happy at Iowa. Rece Davis then got on Trev, saying that he might not be welcome back in his home state of Iowa for making such a plea. It's worth getting a tape from a friend and watching it for yourself.
The best line was Rece Davis saying ‘In fairness to Ron Zook, you guys think Kirk Ferentz would out coach about anyone in the country," to which Alberts and May agreed wholeheartedly.
In the third quarter, Matt Melloy's punt block and recovery was a thing of beauty. Jermire Roberts deserves an assist on that TD, as he pushed the punter out of the back of the endzone when he was trying to kick it out of bounds for a safety.
ESPN play by play man Mark Jones then said ‘The Hawkeye Nation has detonated in the face of the Gators."
The next graphic was interesting, as it said that Iowa has scored the 6th most non-offensive TD's in the nation over the last two years with 15 of them. NC State was #1 with 19.
At this point, the rout was on, the Gators were not talking anymore and the Gator fans were headed back home disappointed.
I wish that all of you could have experienced the euphoria that took place on the field after the game. It was a memory that I will cherish forever.
I harkened back to the Alamo Bowl celebration and Kirk Ferentz on the victor's podium saying something that struck me as being uncharacteristic of the normally stoic and low-keyed coach: ‘The Hawks are back! Here we go!'
With a record of 21-5 over the next two years and just eight teams in all of college football with more wins over a two year time frame and just seven teams with a better winning percentage during that time, the man knew what he was saying.