The Iowa football team (7-4, 4-3 in Big Ten) seemed doomed for its fourth Big Ten loss of the season against Michigan (7-4, 3-4) when its defense began playing a level it was unable to reach for a majority of the season.
Iowa’s 24-21 victory over the Wolverines included an elite defensive performance that was absent during its previous five games — in which the Hawkeyes went 2-3 with a blowout win over lowly Purdue.
The Hawkeye defense isn’t a hard hitting group and has had trouble all season creating a viable pass rush. Against Michigan however, Iowa simply halted any offense the Wolverines tried to produce during the second half.
Defensive coordinator Greg Davis’s unit gave up 21 points before halftime but rebounded with an outstanding performance..
In the second half, Davis called arguably his best game of the season.
Michigan only managed 45 yards — and just three first-downs — against the Hawkeyes second half defense.
As usual, Iowa linebackers Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey, and James Morris played a pivotal role in preventing Michigan from increasing its lead.
The trio combined for 22 tackles — five of those were for a loss.
The defense’s greatest contribution however, came on a forced fumble late in the fourth quarter to seal the Hawkeyes comeback win.
Michigan’s Devin Gardner decided to break free from the pocket and move the chains with his feet. As he was heading towards the sideline, Hitchens caught up with him and tackled him from behind. In doing so, Hitchens stripped the ball — which luckily stayed in bounds — and recovered it.
On a day when their graduating seniors were honored by the Hawkeye faithful, Hitchens and the rest of his class shined bright.
Davis helped Iowa overcome 4 turnovers — including three interceptions by Jake Rudock — to aid the Hawkeyes in redeeming themselves from last season’s 4-8 debacle.
The Hawkeyes will now be fighting for their eight win of the season against Big Ten foe Nebraska on Saturday in Lincoln, but also for a more respectable bowl bid.
Iowa’s 12th bowl berth in 13 years is problematic but for now it doesn’t matter and the Hawkeyes don’t have anymore doubt about the kind of team they’re capable of being.
For more on the Hawkeyes, check out their team page on isportsweb.