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November 23, 2013

Iowa rallies to chill Michigan, 24-21

Iowans braced themselves against a near zero wind chill in Kinnick Stadium. In the end, it felt a whole lot colder for the visitors, stripped bare by a 17-point rally.

The Hawkeyes rumbled back from a 21-7 halftime deficit, beating Michigan 24-21 on Mike Meyer's 34-yard field goal with 6:02 remaining in the game.

The Wolverines - who managed just 45 second-half yards, and 158 on the day - saw one last chance to win it. Even that turned to a final frostbite, quarterback Devin Gardner fumbling at the Iowa 31, the victim of linebacker Anthony Hitchins' strip and recovery.

An obviously distraught Gardner pinned the loss on himself afterwards, noting: "I was trusted to have the ball. I gave it back to the other team while we were going down to score, so…"

So there would be no final-quarter thrills like a week earlier, although his teammates and coaches would certainly wave off the blame game. There's no question they shared the emotion of the teary-eyed quarterback, though.

The Wolverines, who took advantage of Iowa turnovers and a stiff northerly breeze in building the lead, simply couldn't hold off the second half onslaught when they couldn't move the football. U-M wound up with just 10 first downs, three in the second half.

Gardner (13-for-28, 98 yards, two touchdowns) saw half a dozen passes dropped, while counterpart Jake Rudock (19-for-30, 239 yards, two TDs, three interceptions) got a boost from some sticky-fingered Hawkeyes.

Meanwhile, Iowa's Mark Weisman (17 carries, 88 yards, one touchdown) out-rushed Michigan's entire roster, which combined for 60 yards on 29 tries.

Iowa's game-winning field goal march began with a 21-yard toss from Rudock to Tavaun Smith (five catches, 97 yards, one TD). Then the Hawkeyes began pounding away on the ground at a reeling Michigan defense that spent 18:23 of the game's final 30 minutes on the field.

When Meyer connected for Iowa (7-4, 4-3), the Wolverines (7-4, 3-4) faced one more shot at pulling the game out. They were shot down by their first turnover of the afternoon, a final gut punch in a lost second half.

"I can't really pinpoint anything," Gardner said of Michigan's second-half offensive woes. "We just didn't finish well."
They began brilliantly, in 18 degrees and sunshine.

Michigan's defense cracked the ice first, after a punt backed Iowa deep into its own territory. Linebacker Jake Ryan blasted Rudock, forcing a wobbling floater of a pass that tumbled straight down into the hands of defensive end Brennen Beyer.

Beyer gathered in the gift at Iowa's 7 and rumbled in untouched for the touchdown to put the Wolverines up 7-0. U-M's defense grabbed the lead, but spent the rest of the quarter put to the test.

"Coach [Greg] Mattison had the perfect play called against a play-action pass," Beyer said. "He sent Jake Ryan right off the edge and he made a great play, hit the quarterback when he was throwing. The ball just landed right in my hands."

Michigan dodged a bullet when Meyer missed a 36-yard field goal attempt, but a three-and-out followed by a 19-yard Matt Wile punt put the Hawkeyes back in business at the U-M 45. After a clipping penalty pushed Iowa back immediately, the Hawkeyes roared downfield 58 yards in six plays for the game-tying touchdown.

Rudock's five-yard toss to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz knotted the score at 7-7, with 3:39 left in the first quarter. With Michigan playing into a stiff wind and given the Wolverines' wobbly offense (19 first-quarter yards), the Hawkeyes quickly saw another opportunity.

A second short punt (22 yards) set them up at Michigan's 42, but this time the Wolverines held, tipping two straight Rudock passes at the line of scrimmage on third and fourth downs.

Once the quarter (and the wind) flipped, so did field position. Wile's 50-yard punt backed Iowa to its own 3, and five plays later, cornerback Blake Countess picked off a Rudock pass, racing back 13 yards to the Iowa 28.

Set up by the defense, a Michigan offense - that had yet to move the chains without a penalty - didn't freeze up this time. Gardner executed a key third-down scramble for eight yards down to the Iowa 2, and found tight end A.J. Williams for his first career catch, a two-yard toss on a rollout to put U-M up again, 14-7.

The Hawkeyes stayed on ice heading into the chilling breeze, and Michigan got one more shot before the half. Set up on Iowa's 42 by a 27-yard punt, Gardner directed the Wolverines to the end zone in 10 plays.

He connected with Jeremy Gallon on throws of 14 and 12 yards, tossed in a seven-yard scramble then, on third-and-goal at the Iowa 9, went back to his favorite target, gunning a TD toss to Gallon in the middle of the Hawkeyes defense.

That put the Wolverines on top, 21-7, with 41 seconds left in the half. The Hawkeyes actually had enough time to score, Jordan Cotton breaking out on a 60-yard kickoff return.

But the home team melted down again on this frigid day, settling for an ill-fated field goal attempt. A fumbled snap on the 37-yard field try thwarted the effort, keeping Michigan in control.

A shift in the wind produced a quick shift in fortunes to start the second half. The Hawkeyes covered 70 yards in just three plays, Rudock gunning a high through that Smith somehow snagged before he set sail on a 55-yard touchdown sprint.

Iowa took all of 1:25 to pull back within a touchdown, firing off a quick reminder that nothing would come easy.

"They got a little momentum off the first play," Hoke said of Iowa's second-half surge. "I don't think they did a whole lot differently. The play action game was the same, same run plays. Maybe they played a little better."

The teams played to a stalemate the rest of the quarter, but as the third rolled into the fourth, Iowa drove 60 yards in nine plays for the tying touchdown, Weisman blasting in from nine yards out to tie it. At 21-all with 12:11 to play, Michigan's advantage was gone with the wind.
This time, the scramble at the end produced only tears.

"It hurts," Hoke assured. "It takes a little nick out of you, but the good thing is the sun's going to come up tomorrow, we're going to regroup and we've got one more opportunity for our seniors, in that stadium."

Hoke added the opponent gives even more incentive to be ready. His reeling team, having dropped three of four, needs all it can summon.


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