Iowa surprises Georgia Tech in Orange Bowl
MIAMI – Stymied by the Iowa Hawkeyes’ swarming defense, Georgia Tech found itself out of options.
No. 10 Iowa solved Tech’s explosive triple option and Ricky Stanzi threw two early touchdown passes for a 24-14 victory Tuesday night in the coldest Orange Bowl ever.
Temperature at kickoff was 49 degrees, and Tech’s offense was slow to warm up. The ninth-ranked Yellow Jackets averaged 35 points during the regular season, but their only score in the first three quarters came on Jerrard Tarrant’s 40-yard interception return.
“This was Hawkeye weather,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We feel right at home right now.”
The Hawkeyes (11-2) earned their first Bowl Championship Series bowl win, matched the school record for victories and could claim their highest final ranking since finishing No. 3 in 1960.
Atlantic Coast Conference champion Georgia Tech (11-3) totaled nine first downs and a season-low 155 yards.
“We haven’t played many games like that,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We couldn’t seem to get anything going. We couldn’t hit a pass play, couldn’t hit a big play.”
The Yellow Jackets were first in the nation in time of possession, second in rushing and 11th in scoring at 35 points per game. But they sputtered against an Iowa defense that held four bowl-bound teams to 10 points or less during the regular season.
End Adrian Clayborn led Iowa’s defensive charge. He had two sacks and nine tackles, including two for a loss, and was chosen the game’s most valuable player.
The victory was especially sweet for Ferentz, whose Hawkeyes lost to Southern Cal 38-17 in their only other Orange Bowl appearance seven years ago.
“It was great to get this win for coach Ferentz,” Stanzi said.
The Hawkeyes had never faced the triple option in Ferentz’s 11 seasons as coach, but his staff had a month to prepare for Tech, and it showed. The Yellow Jackets had only 14 three-and-outs during the regular season, fewest in the nation, but they failed to pick up a first down on their first four possessions.
“It’s just a good thing we had a month to prepare, because it was difficult,” Clayborn said.
Georgia Tech finally made a first down midway through the second quarter. The Yellow Jackets’ first pass completion came 43 minutes into the game with Iowa leading 17-7.
Quarterback Josh Nesbitt went only 2 for 9 for 12 yards for Tech, which had a season-high seven punts.
Iowa true freshman Brandon Wegher rushed for 113 yards and one score in 16 carries. Stanzi went 17 for 29 for 231 yards in his return from a sprained ankle that sidelined him in the season’s 10th game.
“It was great having Rick back. It was tough when he got injured,” Ferentz said. “He did a great job leading us tonight – and what can I say about that defense?”
Tech’s first scoring drive covered 71 yards, with Anthony Allen’s 1-yard touchdown run making it 17-14 with 12:30 left.
Iowa drove 63 yards for the clincher. Wegher ran for 23 yards on one carry, followed by a 32-yard touchdown run with 1:56 to go.
The Hawkeyes had a 185-18 advantage in yards in the first quarter. Stanzi, playing his first game in two months, started 8 for 8 for 138 yards and two scores for a 14-0 lead.
“Apparently not too rusty,” Stanzi said. “I did fear that.”
Iowa lost a fumble at midfield on the game’s opening possession, but Tech was quickly forced to punt for the first time in three games. Stanzi hit Tony Moeaki for a 54-yard gain, then threw to Marvin McNutt for a 4-yard score.
Tech again went three and out, and Iowa moved 83 yards to score in four plays. Stanzi threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Colin Sandeman.
The Yellow Jackets finally got their offense going to start the second half and drove 43 yards before missing a 41-yard field goal. Iowa then moved 59 yards, and Daniel Murray kicked a 33-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead.