Momentum is a scary word, but NU seizes it

Matt Forman

IOWA CITY, Iowa – “Momentum is a scary, scary word.”

Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s analysis held true in the Northwestern’s 22-17 defeat of Iowa on Saturday.

Clinging to a one-point advantage and holding the ball at its own 16-yard line, Iowa began a methodical drive to open the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes provided a heavy dose of junior running back Shonn Greene as they moved the ball to the NU 36-yard line.

That’s when Brad Phillips turned the momentum the Cats’ way with a punishing hit.

“The way he came down hill kind of reminded me of the way the Iowa safeties used to play,” Fitzgerald said. “Just like when I used to be on the other side, watching (former Iowa safety) Bob Sanders come down knocking people’s lips off.”

As Greene followed the zone blocking off tackle, Phillips crept up from his safety position and delivered a devastating blow, popping the ball loose from Greene’s hands. Sophomore defensive end Corbin Bryant recovered the fumble on the Cats’ 38-yard line.

“That’s the name of the game,” Fitzgerald said. “Big plays.”

NU scored on its ensuing drive when C.J. Bachér found Eric Peterman for a three-yard touchdown pass, taking a five-point lead that the Cats would not relinquish.

Phillips’ hit, one of his career-high 11 tackles, turned out to be a game-changing play. The explosive hit knocked Greene to the sidelines for the remainder of the contest with a head injury.

“(The drives) were very different (once Greene was out),” senior linebacker Malcolm Arrington said. “Shonn Greene is a great player, you can’t replace a player like him. With him going out of the game, we viewed it as they would pass more.”

But Phillips considered it no different than an everyday tackle.

“It was just like hitting a tackling dummy in practice,” Phillips said. “I just saw it and ran my feet through.”

Losing Greene made the Hawkeyes one-dimensional. Iowa ran the ball once in its last 20 plays from scrimmage, including their final 12 calls.

As the game’s final seconds ticked off, the Hawkeyes pushed the ball to the Cats 8-yard line. In goal-to-go situations, NU’s defense knew what to expect – four straight passes.

Senior defensive tackle John Gill provided pass rush up the middle and had the wherewithal to put his hand up, blocking sophomore Ricky Stanzi’s final pass attempt with 1:08 remaining.

“It’s just ‘Which play is going to be the play that we stop them?'” Phillips said. “And it ended up being that fourth-down play.”

The fourth down stop may never have happened. After going three-and-out with 2:11 left in the first half, NU was in trouble, trailing 17-3.

“It seemed like the play of our special teams gave us the momentum today, ” Fitzgerald said.

The Cats staked a claim for a competitive second half on a Hawkeyes’ special teams blunder. Sophomore tight end Josh Rooks flew down the field and popped the ball loose from returner Andy Brodell. Freshman Jeravin Matthews recovered at the Iowa 33-yard line.

“It changed the momentum going into halftime,” senior wide receiver Rasheed Ward said. “We knew we had the ball coming back out, so we knew if we got that touchdown and got another, we would come out on top.”

Bachér found Ward, who came in motion on a flood left with 17 seconds remaining in the first half. Ward’s first touchdown reception since 2005 pushed the game to within a touchdown and gave the Cats confidence for the second half.

NU’s challenge is to keep the momentum through the bye week before meeting Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) on October 11.

“When you’ve got it, you need to sustain it,” Fitzgerald said. “And when you lose it, you’ve got to find a way to get it back.”

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