Wootton well worth the wait for Wildcats

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Northwestern waited patiently for Corey Wootton to get back to normal and start playing like an All-America candidate.

Weeks and months passed, and the senior defensive end still looked like a shell of his former self, as he recovered from offseason ACL surgery. After recording 10 sacks last season, Wootton had only one through the first nine games.

But this week, head coach Pat Fitzgerald sensed that Wootton's time would be coming. Fitzgerald's rationale was simple.

"This was the first week he practiced on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," the coach said.

You can bet Wootton's teammates took notice.

"At practice, we were all yelling, 'Corey's back! Corey's back!" linebacker Quentin Davie said. "He definitely came back today."

Wootton made the biggest play of Northwestern's season -- and unfortunately a play that altered Iowa's season -- when he sacked Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the end zone early in the second quarter. The senior jarred the ball loose from Stanzi and teammate Marshall Thomas recovered for a touchdown.

Northwestern went on to upset the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes 17-10 and notch its first win against a top 10 opponent since 2004.

Iowa led 10-0 at the time and had completely dominated until Wootton's play.

"It feels great to be able to contribute," Wootton said. "Last year, I had a little more production. ... I'm just starting to feel a little more comfortable out there. I'm still getting over the mental aspect [of the injury]. This is going to take time, but the more I practice and the more things I do to get ready for the games is going to help me."

Stanzi sprained his right ankle on the play, left the game and didn't return, as Northwestern held Iowa to no points and only 127 total yards the rest of the way.

"[Wootton] made a play down there," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Cost us a touchdown and a quarterback, unfortunately."

Northwestern isn't going to feel too sorry for Iowa. The Wildcats have been decimated by injuries this season, especially on the defensive line as Wootton and defensive tackles Corbin Bryant and Adam Hahn all came off of surgery.

"The expectations we have for him are the ones he sets for himself, and they're very high," Fitzgerald said of Wootton. "I couldn't be more proud of him. He has stayed the course, he's battled, he's persevered. It's not been great for anybody on our team, but he found a way to get the job done today, and it's a credit to him."