IOWA CITY, Iowa — As Daniel Murray stepped onto the field before facing No. 3 Penn State, he wondered if this would be the day.
His last field goal came six games earlier against Pittsburgh, but he spent the last few weeks as the long-distance kicker. He just never got the chance to boot a field goal.
There wouldn’t be a bigger stage the rest of the season for the 5-4 Iowa Hawkeyes. The 9-0 Nittany Lions, inching closer to a national championship berth, were coming to Kinnick Stadium for a nationally televised night game, on Nov. 8, 2008.
The pieces were all in place for something special to happen and everything that did — the Shonn Greene touchdowns, the Tyler Sash interception, the fourth-quarter comeback and a game-winning field goal in Iowa’s 24-23 win — was still in front of Murray.
As Iowa prepares to face Penn State again on Saturday night in State College, Pa., this is a look back at of one of the biggest victories in the Kirk Ferentz era. Landof10.com interviewed participants from that night. All quotes that did not come from original interviews are noted.
Murray, a walk-on former soccer player at Iowa City Regina High School, would handle kickoffs. That much he knew on the 38-degree night with wind gusts up to 25 mph. He headed to the sidelines waiting to see if he’d get a chance at a field goal. He wasn’t thinking about an opportunity at history.
Murray: “The big thing for me is I lost the kicking job at the beginning of the season. Then I just kept kind of working in practice and as the year went on I was kicking a lot better than Trent (Mossbrucker) was. They were inching me back into it, and then (special teams coach Lester Erb) was saying we might have to put you in no matter what depending on what happened. I always had it in my mind that day.”
Rob Bruggeman, Iowa center: “We started off that season like 3-3 and we kind of turned it on toward the end of the year. I think we lost four games by a combined total of 12 points that season.”
Pat Angerer, Iowa linebacker: “It was a year for us, at that moment we were starting to become our own, reach our best football, and I guess they came to town at the right time. We knew it would be a battle.”
Bruggeman: “That whole season our mantra was this is going to come together. We are going to click. It’s going to happen. You look around at the guys in the meetings and it was never the sky is falling like it is with the media.”
Saturday night lights
Night games were not common in the 2000s. Permanent lights weren’t installed at Kinnick Stadium until 2015. The start time, combined with a Greene Out for Greene in the student section and a Black Out in the rest of the venue, created a unique environment.
Matt Kroul, Iowa defensive end: “You know the crowd is going to be in it. The anticipation as a player. You sit in the hotel all day knowing you are going to get to play football at night in front of the best fans you could imagine.”
Bruggeman: “Was it a different atmosphere? Sure. Kinnick was always a different atmosphere at night and it was a Greene Out and there was a lot of hype around this game.”
Murray: “It was something to take in. I am pretty much watching the entire time and staying focused on where we are at and what could happen and waves of noise would always wash over you.”
Getting on the board
The Hawkeyes scored first. Penn State kicked into the wind on its first punt, setting up Iowa with great field position. Two plays later, Greene scored on a 14-yard touchdown run to give Iowa a 7-0 first-quarter lead. Before that punt, the Hawkeyes nearly recorded a safety. Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark recovered a strip sack by Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn at the 1-yard line.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa coach: “Second play (I remember) would be what the call was on the safety, not safety. They ended up with the ball on the 1-inch line and had to punt it into the wind. That was kind of an interesting play. I’m still not sure what happened. I just know we ended up getting it back in good field position.”
Bruggeman: “One of the first run plays of the game, basically, I looked out and remember seeing like a defensive formation that we knew they had run the same blitz out of every single time. We had practiced it and had seen it in practice like 10 times. It’s one of those click moments where, wow, they are actually doing this. We had a check for it, a blocking check, and that was Shonn’s first rushing touchdown. We checked the blocking and Shonn scored and the place lit up.”
Getting off the field
Penn State quickly recovered and built a 13-7 lead on three consecutive methodical drives of 19 plays, 11 plays and 16 plays. Running back Evan Royster scored a 2-yard touchdown run sandwiched between two field goals by kicker Kevin Kelly.
Kroul: “Me, as a defensive lineman, I never enjoyed playing Penn State because they weren’t huge offensive lineman. They were more 6-2, 6-3, built kind of like us, quicker, shifty and strong guys. I know A.Q. Shipley the center is still playing in the NFL. He is the starting center, I think, for the Cardinals.”
Angerer: “Pretty much everyone on that defense was in the NFL at one point. You got a guy like Brett Greenwood, who was kind of the brains of that whole operation and made sure we were lined up. Then you had (defensive tackles) Mitch King and Matt Kroul that brought that enthusiasm, and then you had Clayborn and (linebacker A.J.) Edds and all those guys. Clayborn had a great game off the edge and our corners did an excellent job shutting them down.”
Kroul: “You never like a 15- or 17-play drive.”
Angerer: “They were pretty well balanced. They could take shots down field. They had pretty good receivers. The O-line was tough. They could run the ball. The routes were good. The running back, not only was he good up the middle, but he was good out of the backfield too catching the ball.”
Kroul: “You better buck up or they are going to score. They scored a couple of times, but I think that was the beauty of (defensive coordinator) Parker, Norm, we didn’t blitz any. We didn’t change too many things, but it’s those subtle adjustments that coach Parker made either the first quarter or at halftime, chipping outside backers or running a specific play against certain packages could really help.”
Kroul: “We had a couple of stops there inside the 5 and inside the 10. Those were big. It seemed like Mitch was always in the backfield causing havoc. The defense played well, as well as we needed to to have a chance at the end.”
Flexing the defensive muscle
The Iowa defense would get fixed before halftime. This became a defensive struggle. Neither team gained 300 total yards and the score remained 13-7 going into halftime.
Angerer: “It was definitely, we were throwing punches, figuratively. It was a fight and we knew it would come down to the last little bit and keep it close and not give up big plays.”
Kroul: “I think if I remember right we had three or four series where we had some three-and-outs. We had a turnover. We just kept it up with chance after chance after chance, and if you do it enough as a defense by the end of the fourth quarter it’s going to happen.”
Angerer: “Just from thinking back I think our drops were quite a bit better. We were matching up guys better as linebackers. We were playing the run better. We were getting off blocks better. We trusted our D-line because I knew those guys were going to fight and they were going to be tough and they were going to make plays. We just got a better idea of how they were playing and how to match up.”
It wasn’t the best third quarter for quarterback Ricky Stanzi as an interception and fumble led to 10 Penn State points. He did connect with wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos on a 27-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 16-14. Penn State extended its lead to nine points after Stanzi’s interception led to a 9-yard touchdown run by wide receiver Derrick Williams.
Bruggeman: “As a quarterback in the Big Ten, playing for Iowa at that time you better be able to stay confident in yourself and be confident in what you are doing whether you are having a bad game or a good game. You need to be able to lead that team, have confidence and command a huddle if things are going good or going bad. You are the guy everyone is looking at. People are going to look to you to be a leader and try not be overly emotional one way or another.”
Kroul: “Ricky, the QB he was and the competitor he was, if you give him enough chances to throw to someone like (tight end) Brandon Myers, he’ll make the play.”
Ferentz: “Ricky represents our football team in some ways because we had those two turnovers there, and one thing you don’t do against Penn State is turn the football over. To overcome those, I wasn’t feeling great at that point, I’ve got to be honest with you, but just like last week (in a loss at Illinois), Rick just keeps playing and moves on to to the next play and moves on to the next series and very resilient, and our team has been that way.” *
The Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions traded punts on the next two possessions before Greene got Iowa back into the game. His 6-yard touchdown capped a 44-yard drive. Iowa trailed 23-21 with 9:20 to go as Greene would rush for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Bruggeman: “Shonn’s impact on the team and what he did for the team went beyond yardage. Like he would spark us on a huge play. Shonn might have got stuffed, but we always knew Shonn was right there and bust another huge run. The Purdue game (the next week), that was very similar. We ran a counter and Shonn busted off for (75) yards and it’s we are back in the game. He was that force. We always knew he had it. It was never a question of whether Shonn was going to come out and have a good game. Shonn was the best player on our team. It wasn’t really a question.”
Angerer: “He was a bruiser who played the game the way it should be played. You had faith in a guy like that.”
Kroul: “I had a blast watching that guy run. Any time we had a break on the sideline from game planning we were watching Shonn and what he did. He had about a highlight run in every game. It makes the game more fun when you have a running back that can truck people or do what he did to the outside linebackers or the safeties.”
Bruggeman: “The thing about Shonn was he didn’t go down on the first hit ever. He was a certain type of runner where the safety was unaccounted for on this play. OK, we’ll just give him to Shonn. Shonn would block him and run the ball kind of thing. He was so good and we had so much confidence in him that if heaven forbid we missed a block his best part was making up for our mistakes.”
Looking for a big play
Any hope of a Hawkeyes victory required a big play from the defense. Penn State marched into Iowa territory. A field goal would make it a five-point contest and a touchdown would end the game. The play Iowa needed came from Tyler Sash, who picked off a Clark pass on a third-and-24 from the 37-yard line.
Ferentz: “The first play I think of is Mitch King drawing a holding penalty, which may sound strange to you, but that put them off rhythm. They threw a ball that ended up getting picked off by us, which they would not have had had that holding penalty not taken place. We forced them into a turnover situation.”
Kroul: “It’s crazy to know what some of those guys have done, Sash and Greenwood, such huge players for us. We always knew those defensive backs were going to be in position where they needed to be play in and play out.”
Angerer: “It was one of many times where I think the offense was picking on me and Tyler always did a really good job of playing over the top and backing me up. I don’t even think I was in the greatest position. The ball was overthrown and Tyler made a great play just like he did his whole career.”
Clark: “Complete that pass, it’s going to be a first down, and we have more chances to score to put the game out of reach. The ball just got out of my hands. It didn’t leave my hand the way I wanted it to. I missed a wide-open receiver. It goes back to that one play.”^
Cementing a reputation
Iowa, down two, took over at its 24-yard line with 3:46 left. Stanzi dropped back to pass 10 times. Four times, including three times on third down, it worked out. On a third-and-15, a toss to Trey Stross drew a pass interference penalty. He hooked up with Myers for 11 yards on a third-and-10 and twice he found Johnson-Koulianos for 10 yards, the second which set up the field goal.
Stanzi: “Our mindset was not to let anything hold us back. You really talk about how during (a) 2-minute drive there’s going to probably be a couple things that are going to set you back and you’re going to have to fight through those and just push the ball down the field.”*
Greene: “I’m just thinking, let’s take care of the ball and get it close so we can get a field goal. My main focus was just to take care of the ball.”*
Bruggeman: “There you know exactly where you need to get to. You get past a certain yard marker and you go we might be able to hit a field goal.”
Angerer: “Rick was a great leader, a great quarterback. Him getting that comeback going for us was pretty amazing. It was one of many games that he stepped up and played great football.”
Stanzi: “I tried to put it up there to let Trey make a play. Hopefully, they’ve got enough guys there where one of them will bang him. Fortunately, they did, and that kind of gave us a break.”^
Kroul: “Myers made a big catch. There is a senior making a big play.”
Bruggeman: “Then we get the ball down to the 25, and then that last one, I think it was Johnson-Koulianos caught a ball on the far sideline. I remember that play because I went that gives us about a 50 percent better chance of winning this game. You know when you get into field-goal range, but you go if we can just get one more play.”
Greene: “I think the whole season has been a growing process for Rick. Today, he sped it up. He never got down on himself, he never does.”^
Stanzi: “We had to put a full game together. We never got down. We did make mistakes, but the offensive line did a great job, Shonn (Greene) did a great job. The receivers played a great game today, catching the ball, getting up field and just making great catches on some plays that the ball was a little errant.”*
Angerer: “That was kind of, over the years, that was Ricky’s story, kind of the Rocky story, the comeback kid, American hero. He was a great leader. Even my senior year we knew he was going to win it once he threw for six because we knew he was going to come back and start throwing bombs.”
Kroul: “A guy like Ricky, that was probably game (10). He had probably only played like four or five games prior because he was kind of sharing responsibilities with (quarterback) Jake (Christensen) that year and then this game kind of cemented Ricky into what we would do for us and then everything that happened in 2009. It springs him into another year and a half of success. That game really did it for him.”
Finding a kicker
Iowa would kick a field goal, but the question was which kicker. Both Mossbrucker and Murray were warming up.
Murray: “The way it all happened was they all had me kicking anything that was longer than the 25-yard line, so a 42-yard field goal for that whole game and doing kickoffs. As we started driving, maybe with a minute and a half, two minutes left, one of the assistant coaches came down and told me I would take it no matter what. That was when I first learned that I would be taking it.”
Ferentz: “It just gets down to what you see in practice. It really is. I think all of us as coaches tend to believe in our players, and at that point, it just seemed like he was the right guy to go to.”
Murray: “Pittsburgh was my last kick of that year. If I remember right. It had been a solid (six) weeks since I had kicked in a game.”
Angerer: “That’s some brass balls there to make that decision.”
Murray trotted onto the field for a 42-yard field-goal attempt with 6 seconds left.
Murray: “Kind of initially it’s OK, this will be good. Then the nerves come as you get things lined up. It was funny. Coach Ferentz asked me a little bit before I went out where I wanted to kick it from. The left hash was where I wanted to be. I think they ran a running play and Shonn Greene ran to the right hash.”
Kroul: “I didn’t realize he hadn’t kicked a field goal in so long.”
Bruggeman: “I knew Danny was out there and I didn’t know he hadn’t kicked a field goal. He is a calm and collected guy. I still hang out with Dan Murray. It was never like a he’s not going to hit it. He was pretty accurate, especially from shorter yardages, and knowing we were that close I wasn’t shocked by any stretch of the imagination.”
Angerer: “I knew once Daniel got ready to kick that field goal I almost wanted to just head to the locker room. I knew we had that one.”
Ryan Donahue, Iowa punter and holder: “Once I got in my stance I said, ‘I’m going to remember this one for the rest of my life,’ and I looked up at Murray and from there, it was all business. It was all a blur.”^
Kroul: “That’s the beauty of sports. You know with the next 30 seconds it’s going to be the highest of highs or you are going to want to run off that field as fast as you can. That is kind of the mixed emotions watching him kick. Obviously, as an athlete you are always positive and you are always competitive, but 99.9 percent of you is positive, but that little doubt creeps in. What if he misses it? What does that mean? What is our record? Oh, man, a loss. We have to win this many games and where are our goals going? Tons of emotions in that split second. All those things kind of creep in.”
Bruggeman: “You can’t do anything. Trust me, I would have been as mad as anybody if that didn’t go through and I was as happy as anyone else when it did, but you can’t do anything. You have to separate yourself at that point because you can’t impact the game anymore … You have to step back and say this is it. We are going to find out in about 10 seconds whether we won or lost.”
Murray: “I expected them to call timeout and they did. I don’t even think I looked at the kick. I might have glanced up and saw that it was going right down the middle. The way it felt when it was coming off was 100 percent going in. So I kind of took off, ran for a little while and figured I had to stop so I guess I slid.”
Kroul: “We were all standing there as close to the sideline as they will let you. It was euphoria after. He did the old soccer slide and he was the guy of the day.”
Murray: “We had to do the kickoff yet because there was still a second left in the game. I did a line drive. I might have hit the guy or came really close. I do remember it was a little chaotic trying to get everyone off the field the first time and after the game was over it was pandemonium out there. I found out if you run the sideline most people don’t recognize you. They run straight toward the middle.”
Bruggeman: “I ran into guys from high school during it all. They weren’t playing. They were just fans and ran on the field. Out of 70,000 people you still see people that you know randomly. It’s the greatest celebration. It’s complete mayhem and it’s awesome.”
Kroul: “It’s funny. People always ask. Capital One Bowl, what did you do? Penn State, what did you do? Honestly, you are just finding the closest dude to celebrate with. You are finding coaches. You hug a coach. It’s just a blast. It’s not a better feeling. A close game victory, no matter what level, you are always going to remember it.”
Bruggeman: “It was the biggest win of my career, biggest win in a while at that point. They would have gone to the national championship if they would have won that game.”
Kroul: “To win that as a senior class, after the stumbling start we kind of had, that game was huge. That kind of propelled us into the rest of the season and the Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina. It was special.”
Murray: “There are parts that I do remember and don’t remember. I would say, yeah, the kick is probably the biggest part. I remember that and how cold it was. It was snowing when the game started. I do remember how cold it was. The kick is definitely the highlight of the whole thing.”
* Quote from the transcribed postgame press conference on the Iowa athletics website.
^ Quote from the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nov, 9, 2008 edition.