Iowa's focus on little things lead to big win over Michigan
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) A lot of programs refer to creating a culture that can lead teams through times of crisis.
Iowa's stunning 14-13 win over Michigan last week was proof that what the Hawkeyes have built in nearly two decades under coach Kirk Ferentz still works.
Just one week after one of the more crushing defeats in Ferentz's 18 seasons, a 41-14 blowout at Penn State, the Hawkeyes rallied to topple the unbeaten Wolverines as a 24-point underdog.
The remarkable response to the Penn State loss, guided by a veteran staff and players who have bought into what coaches were telling them even when the results weren't coming, has put Iowa (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) in position to finish a disappointing season on a high note. The Hawkeyes visit Illinois (3-7, 2-5) on Saturday.
''One of the points we made last week was that we probably weren't going to be Big Ten champions this year. But you're either building toward it or you're taking away from it, and there's responsibility with that,'' Ferentz said. ''It's got to be a 12 month a year thing, and you're either on board or you're not.''
If any team appeared set for a late-season collapse, it was Iowa. Unable to stop the run and unable to catch the ball, Iowa had dropped two straight and three of its last five games. Just last week, Iowa's players had talked about the need to trust their teammates and get back to the fundamentals.
Most teams that say such things in November end up staying home in December.
As it turned out, the Hawkeyes were right.
Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who has been an assistant under Ferentz for nearly two decades, took a unit that had put together one of its worst performances in a long time and shut down the Wolverines. Iowa held Michigan to just 201 yards despite losing starting cornerback Greg Mabin to an injury. Freshman Manny Rugamba stepped in and grabbed a crucial fourth-quarter interception that helped set up the game-winning drive.
''The big thing that coach (Ferentz) pushes is to stay focused, determined,'' linebacker Josey Jewell said. ''If you put your full effort out there and do your job, anything can happen.''
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis, now in his fifth season despite inconsistent results, recognized the need for Iowa to get the ball in the hands of running back Akrum Wadley as much as possible. Wadley, the only true open-field threat the Hawkeyes have left after injuries to receiver Matt VandeBerg and tight end George Kittle, had 167 combined yards and a touchdown reception to help Iowa escape from a 10-0 hole.
''We have a great culture here within this program. It goes into the entire offseason. Guys who work their tails off all year long,'' said quarterback and team captain C.J. Beathard.
Beating Michigan won't erase the fact that Iowa, once the favorite to win the Big Ten West, will fall short of its expectations. All the Hawkeyes can do is hope that what clicked over the past week leads to success in the weeks ahead.
Ferentz has ''given us certain examples in the past of Iowa history, certain things that he believes show the resilience, the determination of other teams and how that worked out for them,'' Jewell said. ''He really forces it into your head. But it's a good kind of forcing.''
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