Hawkeyes surprise Gator D
Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 11:51 p.m.
The strength of Iowa's offense isn't its running game and it's not its passing game.
It is the Hawkeyes' ability to be proficient in both.
In Iowa's best performances and biggest victories of the season, the Hawkeyes have had a near-perfect balance between the pass and the run.
For the Florida Gators to enhance their chances of victory Monday, they came into the game knowing they had to shut down one phase of the Iowa offense and make it one-dimensional.
UF's first defensive goal, of course, is to stop the run, something the Gators have been good at throughout the season (seventh in nation in total defense, 289.8 ypg).
The gameplan was the one UF has tried to follow all season: shut down the run, force Iowa into obvious passing situations, then get after the quarterback and make some big plays, sacking the quarterback or forcing some turnovers.
That meant making Iowa tailback Albert Young the defense's No. 1 target. And he is not an easy one to get a handle on. Young has been steady and strong all season, rushing for 1,300 yards in the regular season.
The Hawkeyes wanted to establish Young early, which they figured would create some opportunities in the passing game.
But the Gators stuffed Young in the first half and pretty much eliminated the running phase of Iowa's offense.
UF executed that phase of the plan to perfection.
With Young a non-factor, the game went almost exclusively into the hands of junior quarterback Drew Tate and the Iowa passing game.
With Tate throwing more than handing off, the Gators were in a position to make plays.
With 1:57 to go in the first quarter, the first big play was turned in by senior cornerback Vernell Brown, who intercepted an overthrown Tate pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Gators a 17-0 lead.
When UF built its advantage to 31-7 late in the third quarter, the Gators seemed to have Iowa on the brink of collapse.
Young had all but disappeared and Tate was dropping back in the pocket almost every play.
The opportunities were going to be there for the UF defense to produce big plays over the final 15 minutes and put this game way out of reach.
But the plays didn't come.
The Gators could not get any pressure on Tate and instead of scrambling around, desperately searching for his receivers, he had all the time he needed to pick apart a UF secondary that had seemed so sound in the first half.
UF got away from its usually aggressive style in these sort of situations. Instead of bringing the heat, the Gators dropped back into coverage with their linebackers, thinking the front four would be able to get to Tate.
But Iowa's powerful offensive line protected Tate and the playmaker started making plays. And this game got a lot closer than anyone imagined it would heading into the fourth quarter.
Tate (who completed 32 of 55 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns) threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and the Hawkeyes managed to make it a 31-24 game with 1:24 to play.
The best thing that happened to UF's suddenly porous defense was the Iowa kicking team being called for offsides on the ensuing onside kick that had been recovered by the Hawkeyes just inside the UF 40. The re-kick was caught by UF wide receiver Chad Jackson, clinching the victory and preventing the defense from having to go out and make one last stand.
A last stand that probably would have been far too exciting as far as the Gators were concerned.
You can reach Robbie Andreu by calling 374-5022 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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