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Hlas Column: Hawkeyes Pack Prideful Punches in Home Finale

Jake served Penn State Saturday

Jake served Penn State Saturday


IOWA CITY — Forget the won-lost records. Do wins really get much better than the kind the Iowa men’s basketball team earned Saturday?

The Hawkeyes’ 75-67 double-overtime triumph over 21-win Penn State meant the difference between going 5-13 in the Big Ten for the second-straight year or dipping to 4-14. So from a numbers standpoint, it wasn’t exactly significant.

From a pride perspective, though, it was huge. It was the kind of win that made every fan in the gym leave smiling in appreciation and admiration. Those who paid 10 bucks to get in got a genuine bargain.

An injury-plagued, ragtag squad comes to the end of the line in the regular-season and somehow guts out a win over a team that had won at Michigan State and Illinois in February.

Senior forward Cyrus Tate, whose Big Ten season basically was wrecked by an ankle injury, had his best game in two months. His frontline partner, sophomore Jarryd Cole, had his best game of the season.

Guard Matt Gatens, a freshman who is among the Big Ten’s leaders in minutes played, went all 50 this day in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He had enough left to stick all four of his free-throws in the overtimes.

Fellow guard Devan Bawinkel also played the full 50, splitting the nets with a 3-pointer midway through the second OT to retie the game. Iowa never trailed again.

Then there was Jake Kelly, who threw up, then threw punch after punch into Penn State’s midsection until the Lions were finally toppled.

“He is something else,” said his father, Bob Kelly. “He is one tough kid. He’s played with a lot of injuries this year that people don’t know about.”

The issue of whether Kelly would even play in his fluish state was in doubt all the way until pre-game warm-ups. Or was it, really?

“I usually do play pretty good sick,” Jake said. “My dad always says that. He came to the game today, said ‘Oh, you’ve got to play, you always play your best game when you’re sick.

“I was like ‘All right.’ I really didn’t want to, though.”

But Kelly declared himself fit to go in warm-ups. “He had the option,” said Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter. “He did not have to play. But he’s highly competitive and chose to play.”

Play, Kelly did. His teammates fed on that and played awfully hard, too. They got ahead, they fell behind. They let a 9-point lead slip away in the final 2 1/2 minutes of regulation. They sent the game into overtime on a Kelly-to-Cole feed with 10 seconds left.

Kelly banked in a 3-pointer in the first OT for an Iowa lead. Penn State rallied to tie it again.

They went to a second overtime. With 54 seconds left and Iowa up 68-67, Kelly banked another 3-pointer. This one rolled around the rim before dropping down. It was the kill shot.

Penn State didn’t score again, and the Hawkeyes closed their home schedule with a game that should provide lingering warm feelings for their fans.

Several hours after having a 101-degree temperature and an hour after leaving the game in the first minute of the second-half to vomit into a trash can in the arena’s tunnelway (“I drank too much blue POWERade,” he said), Kelly and his comrades were winners.

“When he first started the second-half, I could see it coming,” Bob Kelly said. “He got real white — even whiter than he is.”

But Bob’s boy is quickly becoming a bit of a mythic figure in these parts. He is the point guard Iowa didn’t know it had. He is the leader — through actions, not words — Iowa may not have known it had.

In his last seven games, Kelly is averaging 20.4 points in an offense that isn’t exactly free-flow. He had a career-high 11 assists Saturday. He blocked two shots.

The only thing he didn’t do was call “Bank!” on his two bombs off the backboard.

Joked Lickliter: “I said ‘Bank it!’ Jake’s really good at listening.”

In a more serious moment, the coach said “He’s going to be a terrific player because he’s skilled, talented, and likes coaching.”

And something else, something that was on display more than ever Saturday. The guy’s got heart.

The Hawkeyes are 5-13 in the Big Ten. Again. But this isn’t a 5-13 team. It isn’t an NCAA tourney team, but when Tate is healthy enough to contribute, it’s a different entity.

And when Kelly is unhealthy enough to contribute, all the better.


Hlas Column: Big Ten Basketball is Defense and, uh, Defense

The Michigan men’s basketball team plays Iowa today, giving us hope.

Maybe one or both of the teams will crack 50, 55, or — dare I say it? — 60 points in the game.

The Wolverines did tally 74 in their 12-point home win over Minnesota Thursday. Perhaps the momentum of that effort will send Carver-Hawkeye Arena back in time, when teams sometimes traded scores on consecutive possessions.

Living here, we think offense appearing to be played in quicksand is a Hawkeye thing. Yes, Iowa does rank 304th of the 330 Division I teams in scoring with 60.6 points per game. That’s 31 less than North Carolina averages.

But the Hawkeyes reside in a conference that plays different ball than most other American leagues.

“The Big Ten puts a huge emphasis on defense,” said Big Ten Network studio analyst Tim Doyle. “The ACC and the Big East, they’re more willing to give up a hoop thinking they’ll get a hoop on the next possession.”

OK, Doyle’s a Big Ten Network guy and a former Big Ten player. He played very well for three seasons at Northwestern after transferring from St. John’s, near his hometown on Long Island.

But he doesn’t sound like a Big Ten puppet on the air, or off it.

“I don’t know if it’s in the water,” he said, “but it does seem like guys on the East Coast and maybe the SEC are more athletic. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s what the farmers are feeding us here.”

Through Thursday’s games, these were the points per team in conference games of the six BCS leagues: 1. ACC 73.1, 2. SEC 72.0, 3. (tie) Big 12 and Big East 71.0, 5. Pac-10 67.1, 6. Big Ten 63.4.

“But look at the defensive production,” Doyle said. “Look at points-per-game allowed, field goal percentage defense. Look at the assist-to-turnover ratio. They aren’t gaudy or sexy categories, but the Big Ten dominates them.”

If you like that kind of ball, it’s great. But take the names off the uniforms and which do you think would get more of a following, the Big 12 or Big East with seven teams apiece averaging over 76 points per game, or the Big Ten, with only Michigan State (79th at 73.8 ppg) among the nation’s top 145 teams in scoring?

Seven Big Ten teams are among the country’s top 45 in scoring defense. Iowa is 12th at 58.9 points allowed per game. Even as short-handed as they’ve been lately, the Hawkeyes play good defense.

But the only time defense-dominated ball captures the public’s fancy is when it leads to lots of wins.

Nothing makes Penn State’s 38-33 win at Illinois last Wednesday satisfying. Had that score been posted in a Big East or ACC gym, America would have howled in disgust. But since it occurred in Big Ten play, it’s more amusing than shocking.

Ultimately, though, can Big Ten teams cut through the NCAA tournament? Doyle says yes, and he has history on his side.

Since Michigan State was the last Big Ten team to win it all, in 2000, five more conference teams have been to the Final Four. Illinois and MSU went in the same year, 2005.

In those same eight seasons only the ACC (seven) and Big 12 (six) had as many Final Four representatives.

“I know this is hard to believe,” Doyle said, “but I think the Big Ten is poised to have a nice NCAA tourney.

“Look at the non-conference season. Purdue lost to Oklahoma in overtime, Oklahoma is No. 2 in the country, and Purdue gave that game away. I think Oklahoma shot 50 free throws (46, actually) and Purdue had five.

“Illinois beat the crap out of Missouri (75-59), for lack of a better word, in St. Louis.

“Nationally, the league doesn’t have the sexy rankings or five teams in the Top 25. But it has the strengths-of-schedules, the RPIs that the tournament committee looks at.”

None of which changes the facts the ACC and Big 12 and Big East tournaments will be more enjoyable to watch than the Big Ten tourney.

Nor does it change the fact Michigan-Iowa isn’t likely to be as entertaining as today’s Syracuse-Villanova or Wake Forest-Duke games.

But Doyle says better days are coming for the Hawkeyes. He calls himself a big fan of Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter, and likes Lickliter’s nucleus of young players.

“Jeff Peterson’s improved his game,” said Doyle. “If he and (Cyrus) Tate are healthy, and if (Anthony) Tucker was there, they’d have seven or eight wins in the conference.

“Jake Kelly and (Matt) Gatens, I really like them. Gatens is going to be one of those guys who are rock-solid, and Peterson will be a rock-solid point guard.”

But we live in the present, and Doyle doesn’t pretend the Hawkeyes will wow their Big Ten Network audience with offensive artistry today.

“They would put a glass eye to sleep,” he said.

Iowa Football Team Just Gained on Penn State for ’09

Iowa is losing two wonderful defensive tackles, Matt Kroul and Mitch King. They are seniors. But Penn State is apparently suffering from attrition of its own.

Joe Paterno’s program appears to be losing two defensive ends. Penn State defensive ends Aaron Maybin (pictured above) and Maurice Evans intend to declare for the 2009 NFL draft.

Maybin was a first-team All-America as a redshirt sophomore this season. He had 12 quarterback sacks.

Evans was a preseason All-America after finishing second in the nation with sacks last season with 12.5. He was suspended early in the season just ended, his junior season, after police searched his  State College apartment and found a small amount of marijuana.

Nationalfootballpost.com says junior Evans intends to declare for the draft. The deadline for underclassmen to do so is Thursday.

Iowa plays at Penn State next season. The Nittany Lions will surely have two capable starting defensive ends in place. But Maybin, especially, is a tough one to lose.

Hawkeyes Coldcock Gamecocks


Well, well, well. That was quite a display of efficiency the Iowa football squad displayed against a South Carolina team that showed all the poise and precision of a home video during an earthquake.

I said it at the end of my column that should be posted Thursday night on http://www.hawkeyebowlgame.com,  and I’ll elaborate here. I think Iowa is one of the 10 best teams in the nation.

Where will the Hawkeyes be ranked in the Associated Press poll late next Thursday night after the BCS title game? Probably 21st or 22nd, maybe 23rd.

But if you went on how teams were playing in November into December and January, can you honestly name 10 teams that are better?

The obvious ones on their bodies of work: Florida, Oklahoma, Alabama, USC, Penn State, Texas, Texas Tech. That’s seven. Although, you take Penn State with a grimace the way it fell so far behind in the first half of the Rose Bowl against USC.

Add Utah if it plays Alabama close in the Sugar Bowl. If Ohio State isn’t routed by Texas, you probably have to include the Buckeyes. I’d certainly include 11-2 TCU, as well.

OK, that’s 10 if Utah and Ohio State hold up their ends. And 11 if Cincinnati wins over Virginia Tech in Thursday night’s Orange Bowl, though I’d take the Hawkeyes over the Bearcats on a neutral field 10 times out of 10. But a BCS league-champ with a 12-2 record has earned its place.

But that’s it. A 10-3 Georgia? Not sold. A 10-3 Oregon? Very good, but I think the Ducks-Hawks game would be a coin-flip. If Ole Miss upsets Texas Tech Friday in the Cotton Bowl, I rank the Rebels on an even keel with Iowa.

You know how this works, though. Those four losses hang over Iowa’s heads, and not being ranked all year makes it hard for the Hawks to ascend very far once they do get into next week’s rankings.

No matter. They had the bowl scene all to themselves for the first two hours Thursday and wasted little time showing America (and poll voters) what they had.

They’ll get a nice spot in August’s preseason Top 25 for the 2009 season. What they do with that is up to them instead of the pollsters.

How Did Iowa Beat Penn State? By Refusing to Lose

(AP photo)

(AP photo)

This is my column for Sunday’s Gazette:

IOWA CITY — You do not quit.

Iowa’s football team got bullied by big, bad, third-ranked Penn State for most of three quarters Saturday in Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes’ offense was on the field in the first half less than the school’s marching band spent on it before the game.

That worm eventually turned. The only 10 points scored in the fourth period were Iowa points.

You do not quit.

Hawkeye quarterback Ricky — let’s call him Rick from here on out; he grew up Saturday — Stanzi handed the ball to the Nittany Lions inside the Iowa 30-yard line twice in the third quarter, leading to 10 easy Penn State points. That put his team in a 23-14 hole and would have drained the spirit out of many squads that were already fighting an uphill battle.

The Hawkeye defense allowed nothing that mattered from that point forward.

You do not quit.

Iowa had four losses this season, all by less than a touchdown, each with its own form of tantalizing torture. It didn’t know how to win tight games, didn’t know how to perform on offense in the red zone when it was time to close a deal.

That same team went 57 yards in 15 plays on its final drive Saturday, couldn’t have managed the clock much better, and gave itself an opportunity to win instead of making a fatal misstep along the way.

You do not quit.

A walk-on place-kicker from Iowa City named Daniel Murray missed a 35-yard field goal at Pittsburgh in September. His Iowa team lost that game by one point and he lost his half of the job of kicking field goals. He hadn’t been granted another opportunity until six seconds remained Saturday with his team behind, 23-21.

Murray faced a 31-yard try after a PSU timeout that couldn’t possibly freeze a kicker who was already frozen from the wicked wind that blew through Kinnick all day. He was straighter than a laser and every bit as piercing to the formerly unbeaten guests.

Iowa 24, Penn State 23.

“The only way to get over the hump,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said, “is to push over the hump.”

This is why sports matter. It’s not so much the won-lost records, the bowl implications, and all the BCS hoo-hah. It’s the chilling, thrilling, transcendent moments like this one. It’s the days that make you feel something. These were moments and this was a day that each of the 70,000 fans in attendance will cling to as long as they have memories.

“They kept fighting,” superb Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul said, and he was talking about those fans. Then he added, “We kept fighting.

“I’ll remember this game the rest of my life.”

Oh, my. My oh my oh my. Maybe America looked at this and only saw Penn State squandering a lead, a perfect record, and all hope of squeezing into the national-title game. Look a little harder.

See an Iowa squad that got its motor warmer as a raw day grew colder. See an unranked, unheralded, undistinguished club show why it lifts weights early March mornings, why its quarterbacks and receivers work on their timing in the heat of July, why they put up with all those consecutive autumn Sundays waking up with aches and bruises and things that sometimes are much worse.

Why were the Hawks down only 13-7 at halftime when they had basically been getting obliterated? Why didn’t they let what was left of their season blow away in that nasty north wind when Stanzi fumbled away a center snap and set up the Penn State touchdown that made it 23-14?

Why didn’t the smallish kicker not vanish altogether after coming home from Pittsburgh, not knowing if he’d ever get another shot at kicking for three points with freshman Trent Mossbrucker doing a capable job in that role?

“(Iowa’s coaches) just told me to always stay ready,” Murray said, “so I took it seriously and stayed ready every game. Trent will come out next game and he’ll probably do well with field goals again.”

All the money spent on recruiting, all the money that hangs on the results of these games for the universities and their coaches. And one of those coaches, Ferentz, made up his mind with 30 seconds left in the game to go with a kid who not only walked on to his team, but passed up a scholarship from Kentucky. To play soccer.

This is how a national-title contender is eliminated. This is how the crowning moment to Iowa’s season is made, how a few years of mediocrity yielded to a lightning bolt of a kick that capped an electric final drive.

Murray went all Brandi Chastain after the boot. He left his shirt on, but sprinted in the opposite direction of the goal post and did a two-knees soccer slide. He netted 118 goals for Regina High. But now he’s a full-time football player, one who went directly into Hawkeye lore under a dark sky.

A few thousand students danced on the field after Murray’s last-second squib kick was recovered by a Hawkeye. They were dressed in green to honor ever-sensational running back Shonn Greene. From high up in the press box, the students looked like merry leprechauns.

It was fitting. A wee Irish lad had kicked the three points that defeated a national football giant after his teammates had done the heavy lifting to set up his moment. All of them could have folded at various points Saturday and earlier in the season.

“We’ve all had our hardships,” Ferentz said. “We had some bumps on the road, that type of thing, had some unwanted results.

“But in sports it’s a different life. You just keep pressing forward.”

You do not quit. See what you could miss out on if you do.

Penn State is No. 5, Iowa is No. 31

You can have your AP, USA Today and Harris college footbal rankings. The only one you can trust is the Las Vegas Sports Consultants poll.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants Inc., has no agendas. It simply looks at things honestly and objectively and tells you what’s what. It says Penn State isn’t as good as the other pollsters tell you it is, and it gives Iowa a little credit for being a competitive ballclub. The Hawkeyes got zero votes in any of the aforementioned polls, nor should they with a 5-4 record.

LVSC, however, goes strictly by a team’s strength, not its record. That’s why it says USC is No. 1, and didn’t leap Texas Tech ahead of Texas despite the Red Raiders’ great escape over the Longhorns Saturday in Lubbock.

Penn State is No. 5 in the LVSC rankings, which seems about right. Texas Tech is sixth, Alabama seventh. They are Nos. 3, 2 and 1, respectively, in the AP poll because they’re undefeated. But they aren’t the three best teams in America.

I agree with LVSC’s top three, though not with the order in which they’re listed. They say it’s USC, Florida, Texas. I say it’s Florida, Texas, USC. Penn State could not beat any of those three teams. If the Nittany Lions get past Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State to finish 12-0 and go to the national-title game, bet on Penn State’s opponent there to win it.

Iowa is 31st in the LVSC list. Illinois, 5-4 just like Iowa, is 27th. Minnesota and Northwestern, both 7-2 overall, aren’t in the LVSC Top 40. Here is the entire list with the power ranking and last week’s rank after the name of the teams:


Southern Cal
















Penn State




Texas Tech












Oklahoma State








Ohio State








Texas Christian








West Virginia
















Boise State








Brigham Young




South Carolina




Florida State




Oregon State




North Carolina












Michigan State




Georgia Tech







The next 10: Iowa, Mississippi, Tulsa, Boston College, Nebraska

Maryland, South Florida, Clemson, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

The Hlist: America’s Favorite Weekly College Football Roundup

(AP photo)

Opening kickoff

“You’re aware of Rich Rodriguez, the high-priced football coach at Michigan who has been having a rough time adapting to the rigors of the Big Ten?

“Well, don’t feel too sorry for him. Just remember that ‘Fraud-Riguez,’ as the T-shirts proclaimed him last winter, bolted West Virginia, where he had six years remaining on his contract, a mere 17 days before his team faced Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

“Rodriguez, who watched the bowl game on TV while an assistant coached the Mountaineers to victory, isn’t even a fellow to face up to his deviousness. He sent a graduate assistant to deliver his resignation letter to West Virginia’s athletic director.” — Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times

First downs

1. Penthouse State: Alone atop the Big Ten stands Penn State after its 13-6 win at Ohio State. Finally, the Nittany Lions played someone of repute.

“I thought it was a good football game,” Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said after his 381st win. “I’ve been around a lot of football games.”

Still, there are always critics. Not everyone is convinced Paterno’s squad is worthy of a national title game.

“I don’t know if they’re a better team than Texas, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, USC or Alabama,” former Auburn coach Pat Dye told Sportingnews.com.

He neglected to include Texas Tech.

2. One in a Row: Wisconsin, which used to win games with frequency, snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Illinois, 27-17.

“It feels like we just won the national championship,” said Wisconsin’s David Gilreath, who had a 49-yard touchdown reception.

“It’s a game on the schedule that we needed to win,” Badgers Coach Bret Bielema said. “I don’t know if there is any more importance to win at any time.”

“That’s a lie,” UW strong safety Jay Valai said, grinning. “Let’s keep it real. This game was more important than any of the ones we played because we finally (won), thank God.”

3. Spartans Have Hart: Michigan State fans congregated in a corner of Michigan Stadium Saturday, chanting “Lit-tle Sis-ter! Lit-tle Sis-ter!”

Last year, Michigan running back Mike Hart referred to Michigan State as “little brother.” The Wolverines beat MSU last year for their sixth straight triumph over their state rival.

A banner was hung outside Michigan’s stadium after the game. It read: “Little Brother Just Kicked Big Brother’s (Backside)”

What would MSU people do if their team ever won two in a row over the Wolverines?

4. Gophers Golden: Minnesota was 1-11 last year with the defense that was ranked last in the nation.

This year’s Gophers are 7-1 after a 17-6 win at Purdue.

“We just fly around,” said Minnesota safety Kyle Theret, who had nine solo tackles and an interception.

The Gophers fly with an attitude. They had four personal foul penalties at Purdue.

“We were running our mouths and did a little extra activity that we shouldn’t have,” senior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg said. “But we won.”


1. Joe the Bummer: It’s been a fine 12-year run for Joe Tiller as Purdue’s coach. The first 11 seasons were good, anyway, with 10 bowl trips.

The 2-6 Boilermakers are alone in the Big Ten basement at 0-4 in this, Tiller’s final season. Some way to go out.

“This isn’t how I envisioned it,” Tiller said.

His team managed a paltry 226 yards in its 17-6 loss to Minnesota. The 109 passing yards were the fewest in Tiller’s Purdue tenure.

When asked about a slight shoulder separation that kept Boilermakers quarterback Curtis Painter on the sideline the entire second half, Tiller told a radio reporter “Most guys would play with that. I don’t know why he didn’t. But he didn’t . . .”

Tiller’s frustration carried over from midweek when he reacted to comments made by running back Kory Sheets that questioned Sheets’ confidence in Painter.

“Well, as I said to our own coaches,” Tiller said, “(Sheets) has grown physiologically but not intellectually the last four years. So, if you know him, it’s not a surprise. It’s a disappointment.

“So, if any person thinks that they’re going to carry the team, then perhaps we should just hand him the ball and stand on the sidelines and cheer. I don’t know what type of game plan that would be, but perhaps we could try it.

“One thing about it, I don’t really ever sugarcoat stuff.”

2. Northern Exposure: The Big 12 North is 2-10 against the South. The North’s best team would be the South’s fifth-best. A team from the North will play a team from the South in December for the league title.

The Hlist’s question: Why?

From the Kansas City Star’s Blair Kerkhoff:

“An incredible football game was waged on Kansas soil Saturday.

“Texas Tech took the early lead on Oklahoma, but the Sooners roared back to edge ahead.

“From there, the teams exchanged leads, and late in the proceedings the Red Raiders grabbed a 56-55 lead.

“Finally, Tech prevailed 63-58.

“Sadly for Kansas and Kansas State, the Sooners and Red Raiders played around the same time but not against each other. Instead, they toyed with the Sunflower State institutions of higher learning and lower football prowess.

“Texas Tech blew the doors off Kansas 63-21, and Oklahoma ran away from Kansas State 58-35.”

3. Boo Hoo, LSU: It’s not easy being mortal.

LSU defensive end Rahim Alem pointed the finger at his team’s offense after Georgia ripped the defending national champion Tigers, 52-38.

“There were two touchdowns we couldn’t do anything about,” Alem said, referring to LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee’s two interceptions that Georgia linebacker Darryl Gamble returned for touchdowns.

“Everybody has turnovers, but when you throw two interceptions for touchdowns, those are game-changers,” Alem said.

At least he shouldered half of the blame.

“On defense, we messed up big. On offense, we messed up big.”

Coach Les Miles got a big raise and a contract extension from LSU last December when Michigan wooed him. So someone with the program didn’t mess up big.

4. Ground Yuck: Navy beat SMU 34-7 without attempting a single pass. Using a triple option, the Midshipmen rushed 77 times for 404 yards.

It’s khaki-ugly football, though, and it’s a military thing. Army and Air Force also have won games this year without completing a pass.

Final gun

“If you can do this to LSU in frothing Tiger Stadium, you need have no fear of Florida or anything reptilian.” Mark Bradley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Georgia plays the Florida Gators Saturday.