- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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For a while, it seemed like neither team wanted to win the FedEx Orange Bowl. But after an odd sequence midway through the fourth quarter, Iowa's offense once again came up big in the clutch. The Hawkeyes held on for a huge win, improving the Big Ten's bowl record to 4-3, its first winning mark since 2002. Georgia Tech's loss drops the ACC to 3-4 in the postseason.
How the game was won: After dominating the first half everywhere but the scoreboard, Iowa had enough offense down the stretch to stymie Georgia Tech and the celebrated triple option offense, which took way too long to get going. Norm Parker's defense completely shut down Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and company for a half and Iowa's offense overpowered Georgia Tech down the stretch. Following several bizarre blunders by both teams in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes (11-2) rode freshman running back Brandon Wegher and an inspired offensive line to the clinching touchdown.
Turning point: Iowa surprised everyone by running a fake field goal from the 4-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, only to fail miserably. But Dwyer committed an even bigger mistake on the next play, nearly taking a safety and preventing Georgia Tech from getting into an offensive rhythm. Dwyer's huge loss set up a punt, and Iowa marched down the field for a touchdown with 1:56 left.
Player of the game: Ricky Stanzi deserves a ton of credit for making huge plays in his first action since Nov. 7, but I'm giving this to a defensive player. Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn once again proved to be a force throughout the game, stuffing the run and dropping Nesbitt for two sacks. Clayborn was the face of the team in its first signature win at Penn State and its last against Georgia Tech. And, he's coming back in 2010.
Stat of the game: Georgia Tech (11-3) entered the game without punting for 22 consecutive possessions. The Yellow Jackets went three-and-out on their first four possessions and punted six times in the first half. Iowa held Georgia Tech to 156 total yards, just 32 in the first half.
Unsung hero of the game: If you told Kirk Ferentz before the season that Wegher would be his leading rusher in a BCS bowl game, he would have told you to take a hike. But Wegher stepped up in a big way for the ailing Adam Robinson, gaining 113 yards and a 32-yard touchdown on 16 carries (7.1 ypr).
What it means: It's a huge win for Iowa and the Big Ten, which restores national respect after being college football's piñata ever since Ohio State's first national-title flop. Iowa completed a storybook season by winning in its own style, with suffocating defense and just enough offense from Stanzi and his weapons. Parker showed why he's one of the best defensive coaches in the game: Iowa limited Georgia Tech to just one offensive touchdown. Georgia Tech once again looked mortal on offense in a bowl game, and while the Yellow Jackets fought hard, they made too many mistakes against a more disciplined Iowa team.
20hDavid M. Hale
2dDavid M. Hale