A Perfect Night At The 1996 Alamo Bowl

Much like people are predicting the 2001 Alamo Bowl, Texas Tech was favored to beat Iowa in the 1996 contest as well. The Hawkeyes were 8-3 and had finished 6-2 in a tough Big Ten conference race, but Texas Tech Head Coach Spike Dykes and his Red Raiders had some supposed advantages going into the game.

A perfect night at the 1996 Alamo Bowl

1. Home Field Advantage – Although a large amount of Hawk fans made the trip to San Antonio, the game was essentially a home game for the Red Raiders.

2. The Doak Walker Award Winner – Sedrick Shaw went into the game with several Iowa records (career TDs, career rushing yards, single season rushing yards, etc.), but the national media felt Texas Tech had a tremendous advantage at the running back position because Byron Hanspard was the Doak Walker award winner for the best student-athlete running back in the country. Hanspard did run for 2,084 yards in the regular season, but never went to class that semester and had a 0.00 GPA. What a student-athlete!

3. The Nebraska factor – Although Iowa had quality wins over Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State, the Red Raiders were given a tremendous amount of national respect because they had played Nebraska tough during the regular season. They didn't beat Nebraska, but their loss earned more respect in some circles than Iowa's win over #10 PSU in Happy Valley. So even though the Red Raiders were only 7-4 and were playing with a running back that any self-respecting coach would have benched for not going to class and pulling a 0.00, they were the definite national favorites going into the game.

Despite all of the hype surrounding the Red Raiders and Hanspard, Coach Hayden Fry and the Hawks dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in a 27-0 win that even surprised most of the Iowa spectators. Although it was by no means a blowout, the Hawkeye Defense never let Tech in the game. In his last game before leaving school early for the NFL, Hanspard managed only 64 yards on 18 carries.

Despite taking a backseat to Hanspard all week during the media events, Shaw and the Hawks had the last word. Sedrick finished out his career in style as he gained 113 yards on 20 carries. He had two sensational runs, one that went 20 yards for a TD after making several defenders miss tackles. He finished off another run by running over a defender at the goal line. In a methodical Iowa offensive performance, the Hawks gained 217 rushing yards on 52 carries.

The Iowa running game was very good, but the Iowa Defense won the contest. Defensive Coordinator Bob Elliott was worried about Hanspard going into the game, but he felt QB Zebbie Lethridge was the key for Tech's offense. Much like what Brooks Bollinger of Wisconsin did for Heisman trophy winner Ron Dayne in 1999, Elliott felt Lethridge complimented Hanspard with his running and throwing. The Iowa game plan was to take away Lethridge's ability to run by using S Damien Robinson to shadow the QB. If the scheme worked according to plan, Tech would lose their offensive balance because Lethridge would not be able to run and scramble, and the Red Raiders would become a one-dimensional passing team that was ineffective in the air all season.

The plan was executed to perfection. Besides shutting down the Doak Walker winner, the defense only allowed 206 yards to the Tech Offense. Lethridge ran 12 times for –4 yards, and Tech could not pass effectively enough to score. LB Matt Hughes led the team with 8 tackles, but DT Jared DeVries was the Alamo Bowl Defensive MVP with 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 5 tackles overall. The game was never technically out of reach until the 4th quarter, but the Iowa Defense played like they could have kept the shutout going if they had played an additional four quarters.

Special teams contributed to the win as well. Besides Zach Bromert's two field goals, the punting game helped the defense tremendously as Nick Gallery set an Alamo Bowl record with a 59-yard bomb. For many teams, the punt might have created problems as it would have out-kicked the coverage, but Coach Fry inserted WR Tim Dwight onto the punt team for just that purpose. Dwight was fantastic on two punts as he stopped two Tech punt return efforts for no gain. His speed and Gallery's leg proved to be a lethal combination.

The win was Iowa's 2nd straight impressive bowl win in Texas (they beat Pac-10 co-champion Washington, 38-18 in the Sun Bowl the previous year). It was also the 2nd time in six years that the Hawks wore their helmets with no decals. This was a tribute to LB Mark Mitchell's mom who died in a car crash on the way down to San Antonio. Players like Dwight knew the Mitchell family very well, and he dedicated his 6 catches and 105 receiving yards to her memory.

Obviously, the experts that picked Tech to win were not able to understand the emotion surrounding the death of Mrs. Mitchell, but they may have forgotten about all the Hawkeye ties to Texas going into the game. There were 17 Texans on the Iowa roster that year, and much like Derrick Pickens and other Texans on the 2001 Hawks, the Texans were getting a rare chance to play in front of many of their close friends and relatives. Coach Fry's family is one of the original American families that moved into Texas in the 1830s, and the old coach never got tired of playing well in his native state.

Despite all of the factors listed above, the biggest thing that drives players is to obtain respect. Many of the 1996 Hawk players felt the team should have been picked for a bowl in Florida, yet Michigan was taken ahead of Iowa even though the Hawks finished ahead of the Wolverines in the Big Ten standings. Many team veterans also were in the program when Iowa was destroyed by California in the inaugural Alamo Bowl in 1993.

Another strong motivation was that the seniors were playing their last game in college. Hopefully that will be a strong motivation for the 2001 seniors. After enduring three years of losing football, the seniors obtained a winning record and ended losing streaks to Indiana and Minnesota. They weren't able to beat Iowa State, but hopefully they can use that frustration to go out with a bowl win over another Big XII opponent.

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