Clayborn's hustle pays off for Iowa in special win
September, 27, 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- You're not supposed to get a block in punt safe.
The very nature of the coverage scheme calls for the receiving team to set up its blocking and ensure a quality return. The punter doesn't get all day back there, and a handful of players are sent blitzing toward him, but no one ever expects a block.
Fortunately for the Iowa Hawkeyes, Adrian Clayborn doesn't think this way.
|Don McPeak/US Presswire|
|Iowa's Adrian Clayborn blocked a punt and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.|
"They teach us to go hard every play because you never know what's going to happen," the Iowa junior defensive end said. "If I didn't go hard that play, who knows the outcome?"
If Clayborn doesn't go hard, Iowa might not secure a 21-10 win against Penn State. If Clayborn doesn't go hard, the Hawkeyes might not be a legit Big Ten title contender.
If Clayborn doesn't go hard, Iowa might not notch a defining road win against a top-5 team, the program's first since 1990 against Illinois.
"For some reason, I was confused," Hawkeyes wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos said. "I'm like, 'Is this happening?' It didn't seem like it was supposed to happen."
It wasn't, but it did, and Clayborn's punt block early in the fourth quarter totally changed the complexion of the game. For the second time in this young season, special teams helped secure a victory.
But unlike the season opener, in which Iowa needed two blocked field goals to survive a scare from FCS Northern Iowa, Clayborn's block made a national statement that these Hawkeyes are for real.
"It was just a great play," running back Adam Robinson said. "From that point, our team was a different team."
Iowa's coaches teach their players to go "six seconds of Hell on every snap." As Clayborn lined up for the Penn State punt, he decided to make things hellish for Nittany Lions safety Nick Sukay.
Darrell Wilson, Iowa's linebackers and co-special teams coach, told Clayborn that Sukay lined up deep, giving the rushers a chance to penetrate. Clayborn capitalized and bulldozed Sukay, leaving punter Jeremy Boone like an unprotected king on the chessboard.
The only thing better than the block was the bounce, which went right to Clayborn.
"I honestly don't remember catching it," he said. "I remember being in the end zone with people trying to tackle me."
Clayborn's 53-yard path to the end zone felt like a blur. Looked like one, too.
"I've never seen a play like that by a big guy," head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
"He's a monster," linebacker Jeremiha Hunter said.
Clayborn blocked a field goal as a redshirt freshman in 2007, but he hadn't scored a touchdown since his high school days in St. Louis, when he played both linebacker and tight end.
"That was 40 pounds ago," Clayborn joked.
The extra bulk has served the 282-pound Clayborn well, especially in big games. He set the tone for last year's win against Penn State by sacking quarterback Daryll Clark near the goal line and forcing a fumble on the third play of the game. Clayborn had six tackles, two for loss, in the win.
After a slow start against Northern Iowa, he picked things up last week with a forced fumble, a sack and three quarterback hurries in a win over Arizona.
"He's our undisputed leader right now," defensive tackle Christian Ballard said. "We all rally around him. He's the general for the D-line. We look for him to get us going when we're down."
Clayborn provided the lift Iowa needed, though the magnitude of the moment didn't hit him after the game ended.
"Me, I'm still soaking it in," he said. "It's a huge win for our team, the state of Iowa, everybody. We're enjoying it. We're just a little shocked, and glad we pulled it out."