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Pat Harty: Last year’s loss to Michigan haunts Hawks

[ 0 ] November 19, 2013 |

For the defensive players on the Iowa football team, Saturday’s game against Michigan will be a chance to heal a wound that has festered for more than a year now.

Losing to the Wolverines 42-17 in the Big House was bad enough. But it was how the loss unfolded on Nov. 17, 2012 that made it worse, if not humiliating.

It was hard not to feel sorry for the Iowa defenders as Michigan dual-threat quarterback Devin Gardner toyed with them throughout the game. Gardner at times seemed like a man competing against boys as he easily avoided one tackle after another. There were two plays in which Gardner scrambled from one side of the field to the other while being chased by helpless defenders for what seemed like an eternity.

The Iowa defenders spent most of the game grabbing for air and being shredded by the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Gardner, who accounted for all six of Michigan’s touchdowns — throwing for three and rushing for three — while passing for 314 yards.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was reminded of Gardner’s dominance while watching tape of last year’s game Monday.

“I only bring it up because we play them (Saturday),” Ferentz said at his weekly news conference Tuesday. “Today is press day and you just get done looking at last year’s film yesterday, and it was hard to watch. The good news is I think we’re a totally different team than we were a year ago. We put that behind us at the end of November a year ago and we’ve just been looking forward.

“But all that being said, the one thing that doesn’t change when you play Michigan is they have a lot of talented players. They’re very well coached and it’s going to be a tough, tough matchup for us.”

Ferentz is correct in saying that Iowa is a different team than it was last season, but so is Michigan.

Iowa, at 6-4, already has surpassed last season’s win total by two in large part because of a much improved defense. Michigan hasn’t performed as well as its 7-3 record would indicate, especially on offense where Gardner and his cohorts have struggled mightily.

Ferentz is wrong, though, in saying that his players have put the Michigan loss behind them. They’re more likely using it as silent motivation.

Senior linebacker James Morris has been haunted by dual-threat quarterbacks throughout his career, but last year’s game against Michigan stands out because the Iowa defense offered little resistance.

“I’ve been in more of those situations than I care to be,” Morris said of chasing down dual-threat quarterbacks. “But that’s the nature of college football. It seems like everybody has a fast quarterback. We’re doing everything within our power to sort of stay out of that situation.

“But when you do get in that situation, you’ve just got to bear down and find the guy you have in coverage and just lock on to them and hope that the guys responsible for tackling the quarterback tackle him.”

The problem is it’s much easier said than done. You can scheme and strategise and have the best possible game plan, and yet sometimes it still doesn’t work against an incredible athlete.

“He’s a really imposing, physical guy,” Ferentz said of Gardner, who switched from receiver shortly before last year’s game against Iowa.

Gardner’s success against Iowa last season wasn’t a case of the Hawkeyes being unprepared or unmotivated, but of Iowa being overmatched from a physical standpoint.

The gap has narrowed since last season, although Michigan still has an advantage over Iowa in terms of overall talent.

What the Wolverines don’t have, though, is the same pain and embarrassment that is fueling the Iowa players, especially on defense.

Saturday’s game is obviously huge for both teams in terms of postseason positioning. Iowa also would clinch a winning record for the 10th time in 15 seasons under Ferentz. And, of course, it’ll be Senior Day at Kinnick Stadium with Morris among 15 Iowa seniors who will be honored.

But Saturday’s game is more than that. It’ll be a chance for redemption, a chance to show that what Gardner did to Iowa last season was an aberration caused by the season unraveling in a six-game losing streak.

Michigan was Iowa’s next-to-last Big Ten opponent a year ago, as it is this season. The Hawkeyes were battered, bruised and emotionally deflated when they faced Michigan last season.

Gardner took advantage of that and turned the game into his own highlight reel.

With Iowa coming off a bye week, the circumstances are different heading into Saturday’s game. The players have had two weeks to prepare for Gardner, but also a year of remembering the shame and embarrassment from last season’s loss to Michigan.

That could be the extra push Iowa needs to get over the hump.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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