On a cold winter afternoon at Ohio Stadium, the Iowa Hawkeyes knew what they had to do to get to the Rose Bowl this time.
They had to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday and pray that Michigan would lose its last two later this month.
The first was the easy part. Before a record crowd of 95,357, the Hawkeyes, looking four touchdowns the better team, upset the Buckeyes, 16-9, by playing livelier, smarter football most of the way.
But if they have to rely on Ohio State to upset Michigan, as they must, forget it. Even if Illinois outscores the Wolverines Nov. 16, it seems clear now that Ohio State (6-2, 3-2) isn't team enough to worry Michigan on Nov. 23.
So Iowa (7-1, 4-1) was probably playing for the Big Ten's new consolation prize, the Holiday Bowl--and perhaps made it--with Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota coming up in its last three.
Iowa was also playing "for the people back home," Coach Hayden Fry said afterward.
Referring to the tragedy that claimed the lives of six persons in a shooting rampage on campus Friday, Fry said: "I think our guys gave that 20% extra effort--just to try to bring a little happiness to (Iowans), the people that are so down right now. That's why this victory is very, very special."
It was also costly. Matt Rodgers, the quarterback who won it for Iowa with three scoring drives, went down in the third quarter with a knee injury and could miss a game or two, the doctors said.
On a day when the Buckeyes scored a two-point conversion the hard way--with an 85-yard sprint by sophomore linebacker Jason Simmons after nose guard Greg Smith blocked an Iowa field-goal attempt--Rodgers made every decisive play.
His passes and runs led the Hawkeyes 84 yards to their first touchdown, which he scored on a one-yard run. On a 61-yard play, his long pass to tight end Alan Cross got the next touchdown and a 13-9 halftime lead. And in the third quarter, his throw to wingback Danan Hughes gained 50 yards to set up a field goal.
And it could have been worse. The Hawkeyes, wearing all-black helmets in mourning for the slain in Iowa City, outgained the Buckeyes, 443 yards to 221, but couldn't put them away.
The fourth quarter was played without the game's two stars, Rodgers and Ohio State tailback Carlos Snow, who had produced his team's only touchdown in the second quarter on eight consecutive runs for 50 yards.
And as the temperature dropped to 33 degrees in those final 15 minutes, the Hawkeyes had to save the day against an Ohio State air attack undertaken by a surprisingly efficient passer, Kent Graham.
Had he enrolled at a school with a modern pass offense--instead of, first, Notre Dame, and then Ohio State--Graham by now probably would be a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Graham threw fluidly and accurately short, medium and long, and had them dropped short, medium and long. Altogether, Graham was a victim of six sure drops.
"You can blame the weather for that," Ohio State Coach John Cooper said, but he added that he doesn't.
The Hawkeyes finally beat Graham a most unusual way. Forsaking the prevent defense, they blitzed the Ohio State quarterback repeatedly in the fourth quarter, nailing him four times in the last 12 minutes.
Only last week, a pro team, the New Orleans Saints, had gone into a prevent-type defense to let the Chicago Bears off the hook in the last two minutes.
Apparently, Fry knows better.
Fry also coaches pass offense better than most rivals. His quarterback, Rodgers, is game and effective and fun to watch, but he isn't the talent that Graham is.
Iowa's most talented player is running back Lew Montgomery, a junior who once burst away for 43 yards on a scoring bid that the Hawkeyes wasted.
Ohio State's defense, with Smith, Simmons, and defensive end Alonzo Spellman, seemed stronger than Iowa's. But in another close Buckeye-Hawkeye game resembling those that Iowa has been losing lately, this was a matchup of overachievers, Rodgers and Snow, and Iowa's overachiever won.