NCF Nation: 2010 Orange Bowl coverage

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It's impossible to ignore the fact last night's 24-14 loss to Iowa in the FedEx Orange Bowl marked Georgia Tech's fifth straight bowl loss. No, that's not good, but it's also not fair to put that entire burden on coach Paul Johnson, as he has only been responsible for the past two.

AP Photo/J.Pat CarterGeorgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is 0-2 in his first two bowl games with the Yellow Jackets.
What does it say that Johnson has lost his first two bowl games with Georgia Tech?

That the program isn't where he wants it to be yet -- not necessarily that LSU and Iowa and any other team the Jackets face with a month to prepare will always win. It's not accurate to compare this year's bowl loss with last year's, when Georgia Tech lost in embarrassing fashion to LSU, 38-3 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That game was more about the points Georgia Tech surrendered from poor special teams play than it was about LSU's defense shutting down the spread option. LSU turned a fumbled punt and a stop on a fake punt into quick touchdowns. LSU also pulled off a successful fake punt in the fourth quarter. The Jackets lost three turnovers in that game. This year, they had just one interception, but beat themselves with nine penalties.

"Last year I think we self-destructed on special teams early in the game," Johnson said. "This one we kind of hung in there until we had a chance at the end. We had a couple of possessions (when we were) down three. We were way backed up, but we did have the possessions. You know, we just couldn't seem to get anything going or couldn't hit a pass play to get a jump start or couldn't hit a big play."

Iowa's defense had a little something to do with that. The Hawkeyes allowed just 155 yards, the lowest total in Iowa bowl history. And Georgia Tech's 12 passing yards were a bowl record for the fewest passing yards. That's not what Georgia Tech does, though. The bottom line is simply that Iowa took away what Georgia Tech does best and executed better in the process. The Hawkeyes lined up in similar fashion to what Clemson did, but they did it better. The problem with the triple option is that once defenses figure it out, you lose if you can't pass. And that was evident on Tuesday night.

As Johnson continues to recruit the players he feels are best suited for his system -- on both sides of the ball and in the passing game -- the Jackets will improve. And so will Johnson's 0-2 record in bowl games.
MIAMI, Fla. -- No, it wasn't the finest performance by the Georgia Tech offense, but it shouldn't take away from what the Jackets accomplished in Paul Johnson's second season with a roster compiled of only six scholarship seniors.

One of the first things Johnson told his players in the locker room following their 24-14 loss to Iowa in the FedEx Orange Bowl was that he was proud of them, and he should be. They won 11 games -- the most the program has seen since 1990 -- and an ACC title. They were in their first major bowl game since 1967.

"We're still trying to lay a base or a foundation," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of areas that we need to get better at. We've got some guys hurt in certain areas, and there are still areas that gosh knows we've got to get a lot better at.

"You know, we're going to keep working and try to get there. You're disappointed when you lose -- and you should be, because if it means anything, it ought to hurt. But you can't let that game take away from the season they had."

If an ACC championship and BCS bowl appearance are a "foundation," then the Jackets are on their way to bigger and better things under Johnson.
MIAMI, Fla. –- The reactions from Iowa were identical following the Hawkeyes’ 24-14 win over Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl:

“I can’t image preparing for them in a week,” linebacker Pat Angerer said.

“Having that time was extremely big,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I can’t imagine preparing for them in a week.”

[+] EnlargeJosh Nesbitt
AP Photo/J.Pat CarterIowa kept Georgia Tech to a season-low 155 yards of total offense.
Iowa looked more than prepared. The Hawkeyes looked better than Georgia Tech.

It wasn’t so much what the Jackets did not do against Iowa on Tuesday night, it was what they could not do. The Hawkeyes smothered Paul Johnson’s spread option offense and it started up front. They were in attack mode from the start, not playing on their heels. Georgia Tech struggled to block Iowa on the inside, and struggled to run on the perimeter.

“We had to double their inside guys,” Johnson said. “We were trying to combo-block, and doing some of that in the first half. And quite honestly, we couldn’t do it. We missed some blocks. It’s like anything else, from an execution standpoint we weren’t hitting any big plays. So when you miss the block, or you miss the read, you got behind and you couldn’t survive it.”

Iowa’s coverages and responsibilities varied depending on what Georgia Tech did, but Angerer played inside-out, and had the dive or pitch covered, depending on the blocking scheme. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn concentrated on Nesbitt, and linebacker A.J. Edds was responsible for the pitch, too. The safeties got off their blocks to give help, and it wasn’t until the second half that Georgia Tech started to finally move the ball.

“I think the key was our front seven outplaying their linemen,” Angerer said. “Our D-line did such an unbelievable job.”

Georgia Tech had a season-low nine first downs, and a season-low for total offense with 155 yards. The Jackets punted a season-high seven times. And the one trend in all of Georgia Tech’s losses? Miami, Georgia and Iowa all outrushed the Jackets.

“They ran the same defense we’ve seen all year,” Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt said. “We were prepared, we just didn’t take advantage of all our opportunities. We had chances to score and move the football, but we just killed ourselves on every drive.”

So did Iowa’s defense.
[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyFerentz has led Iowa to back-to-back bowl victories.
Kirk Ferentz did something totally out of character with a three-point lead and about seven minutes left in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

He called for a fake field goal, which failed miserably and gave Georgia Tech's offense new life with 6:45 left.

Then, a few minutes later, Ferentz did something totally in character. He celebrated a huge win for his Iowa program.

As he stood on the victory podium, Ferentz probably wasn't thinking about April 2008. Back then, Iowa was coming off of three mediocre seasons. The team had more player arrests and legal issues than wins and All-Big Ten selections. Many felt Ferentz's time in Iowa City was running out. In scrambling to find a Big Ten coach on the hot seat, several media members, including yours truly, picked Ferentz.

Just look at him now.

Iowa has gone 20-6 the last two seasons with wins in the Outback Bowl and the Orange Bowl. Player conduct has improved significantly, and the team will enter next fall with Big Ten title aspirations as it competes with Ohio State and Wisconsin for the crown.

Ferentz probably had a better team at Iowa in 2002, but no Hawkeyes squad better reflected what he stood for than the 2009 version. They played hard, played together and played with no ego. They were solid in their fundamentals and rarely lost focus, even after falling behind in eight of their first nine games. They overcame numerous injuries and a schedule that did them no favors. They prepared extremely hard, never more so than for a tricky opponent in Georgia Tech.

The formula led to a BCS bowl win.

There's not a major-conference coach who gets more out of his talent than Ferentz does at Iowa. That's why he's always on the NFL radar. But he's not going anywhere. As the Big Ten's second-longest tenured coach, it's not in his character to leave a good thing.

In just a year and a half Ferentz not only stabilized the Iowa program, but took it back to the top.
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 piņata 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.


It's all but over now

January, 5, 2010
MIAMI, Fla. -- Iowa fans are turning around now looking for someone -- anyone -- to hug. A 32-yard touchdown run by Brandon Wegher seems to have sealed the deal. He now holds the school record for rushing touchdowns for a freshman with eight. With under two minutes left to play and Iowa leading 24-14, it looks hopeless for the ACC and for Georgia Tech. Iowa's defense controlled most of the game, but Georgia Tech certainly helped out. It was not a top 10 performance tonight, and it's apparent on the scoreboard right now.

Who wants it?

January, 5, 2010
MIAMI, Fla. -- Georgia Tech threw it away and Iowa couldn't catch it here late in the fourth quarter. As if Josh Nesbitt's interception wasn't bad enough, the Jackets followed it up with a roughing the passer penalty, but Iowa couldn't do anything with it. The Hawkeyes got as close as the three yard line and fumbled it away.

It's not one mistake that's changing the outcome of this game, it's mistake after mistake and costly penalties. One of these teams has to make a catch, make a stop -- something to solidify their place as the better team. Because right now, it's hard to tell who that is.

Fourth quarter lives up to hype

January, 5, 2010
MIAMI, Fla. -- This is what was expected from both of these teams -- a decisive fourth quarter. Both Georgia Tech and Iowa have had to come from behind all season long, so it's a fitting finale to both of their seasons, as Iowa leads 17-14 with 12:30 left to play.

This is the offense that earned Georgia Tech its No. 9 ranking heading into this game. Jonathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt and Anthony Allen all in sync and moving the ball. Georgia Tech's offensive line showed improvement on the Jackets' last scoring drive, and everyone started to play with a greater sense of urgency and purpose. And suddenly Georgia Tech has regained control of the clock. Had Scott Blair made that field goal, the score would be tied right now, but if the Jackets' D can force Ricky Stanzi into one of his infamous mistakes, Blair's will be forgotten. Because both teams are so good in the fourth quarter, chances are the game will be determined by a key mistake or turnover.

It's time to see Nesbitt pass

January, 5, 2010
MIAMI, Fla. -- With Iowa leading 17-7 and time running out in the third quarter, it's time to see Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt start throwing the ball. So far he's done it three times. Granted, defensive end Adrian Clayborn has had a role in that, but it was clear in the first half that Iowa figured out how to defend Paul Johnson's spread option. Now it's time for Georgia Tech to start mixing it up a bit more. Nesbitt can throw. He's proven that this season. But he's better at doing it when he's not being pressured to.

Mixed results for GT

January, 5, 2010
MIAMI, Fla. -- Whatever Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said to his team during the half, whatever adjustments he made, seemed to work. The Jackets were finally able to sustain a drive and looked like they had all season. Problem is, they couldn't do anything with it, as Scott Blair missed a 41-yard field goal attempt. Georgia Tech fans should be encouraged by the fact that the Jackets were able to move the ball, but in a game where points are at a premium, that could come back to haunt them. Especially when Iowa's offense is controlling the clock.
MIAMI, Fla. -- This game is far from over, but so far Iowa has controlled most of the game, and the Hawkeyes' defense has been the highlight. Here's a quick breakdown of the first half:

Turning point: Jerrard Tarrant's 40-yard interception return for a touchdown with 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter single-handedly changed the momentum of the game and kept the Jackets in it.

Stat of the half: Iowa's defense has held the Yellow Jackets to just 32 yards of total offense in the first half. That's the fewest the program has produced in the first half in at least 20 years.

Best player in the half: Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi. He's made an impressive comeback after missing the final two and a half regular season games with an ankle injury. Although he's thrown one interception -- and a costly one at that -- he's done the Hawkeyes more good than harm. Stanzi has completed 12 of 17 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and he's beat the Yellow Jackets deep on several occasions.

Give Iowa's D credit

January, 5, 2010
MIAMI, Fla. -- Yes, Georgia Tech's offense is struggling. Last I looked the Jackets had just one first down to Iowa's nine. But it's not so much what the Yellow Jackets aren't doing as it is what Iowa's defense is taking away -- like the pitch.

This is what I was talking about earlier in the keys to the game: Each unit on Iowa's defense -- the defensive line, the linebackers and the defensive backs -- are good enough to work independently of each other and concentrate on their responsibilities. That's what's happening here. Georgia Tech fans can take solace in the fact that Paul Johnson is one of the best coaches at making in-game adjustments, so expect him to do that in the second half.

Momentum shifts

January, 5, 2010
MIAMI, Fla. -- All it takes is one play to change a game, and Georgia Tech was able to do that with Jerrard Tarrant's interception return for a touchdown. The Jackets trail 14-7, but it's surprising it was Georgia Tech's defense that put them on the board first.

It was exactly what the Jackets needed, though, and it came at just the right time. Don't count Paul Johnson out just yet. That play made this a ball game again.
MIAMI, Fla. -- This is a one-sided game so far, and it's Iowa's side. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is making big pass plays the Georgia Tech defense can't stop. Two have led to two touchdowns, and the Hawkeyes lead 14-0 with 4:04 still left to play in the first quarter.

Repeat, first quarter.

And visions of LSU danced in their heads ...

Four plays, 83 yards later and Georgia Tech is in the same kind of trouble it was a year ago in the Chick-fil-A Bowl when LSU embarrassed them. (In that game, though, special teams was the culprit. This time, it's Iowa.)

Iowa is controlling this game, and it's not doing it by grinding it out on the ground. It's having its way with Georgia Tech's secondary, and doesn't even need to run the ball. Paul Johnson said his game plan coming into the Orange Bowl was to have Stanzi beat them with his arm.

Careful what you wish for.

Georgia Tech's offense isn't bailing its defense out today, and the further they get behind, the more pressure there will be for Josh Nesbitt to throw. It looks like Kirk Ferentz stole Johnson's game plan.

Stanzi looking sharp for Iowa

January, 5, 2010
MIAMI, Fla. -- Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi doesn't look at all rusty after missing the last few games of the regular season with an ankle injury. If he does have any rust, Georgia Tech's defense dust it off for him on the Hawkeyes' first scoring drive.

Stanzi looks sharp, and his 54-yard pass to tight end Tony Moeaki should give the Yellow Jackets reason for concern. The play led to a three-yard touchdown pass to Marvin McNutt three plays later and gave Iowa the lead, 7-0, with 8:10 left in the first quarter. Don't forget that in the two games Georgia Tech lost this year -- to Georgia and Miami -- the Jackets' defense couldn't get off the field. If Stanzi keeps this up, they could have the same problem tonight.