MIAMI — Basking in an Orange Bowl victory, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz misspoke during the postgame news conference when he referred to the opponent as “Wake Forest.”
Ferentz knew who the Hawkeyes were playing. They had a month to prepare for Georgia Tech, and it showed.
Iowa stymied Tech's explosive triple option, allowing only nine first downs, and Ricky Stanzi threw two early touchdown passes in a 24-14 victory Tuesday night.
A temperature of 49 degrees at kickoff made it the coldest Orange Bowl ever, but the Hawkeyes kept the heat on Tech. The ninth-ranked Yellow Jackets averaged 35 points during the regular season, but their only score in the first three quarters came on Jerrard Tarrant's 40-yard interception return.
“This was Hawkeye weather,” Ferentz said. “We feel right at home right now.”
The No. 10 Hawkeyes (11-2) earned their first Bowl Championship Series bowl win, matched the school record for victories and could claim their highest final ranking since No. 3 in 1960.
Atlantic Coast Conference champion Georgia Tech (11-3) netted a season-low 155 yards.
“We were our own worst enemy,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We haven't played many games like that. We couldn't seem to get anything going. We couldn't hit a pass play, couldn't hit a big play.”
The Yellow Jackets were first in the nation in time of possession, second in rushing and 11th in scoring. But they sputtered against an Iowa defense that held four bowl-bound teams to 10 points or less during the regular season.
“If you say 'Hawkeye football,' it's defense,” Stanzi said. “That's all it is: defense.”
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn led Iowa's defensive charge, with two sacks and nine tackles, including two for a loss. He was chosen the game's most valuable player.
Last month, Clayborn said he'll return in 2010 for his senior season rather than turn pro, and after he game he confirmed he'll stick with that plan.
“He's shooting for national awards now,” Ferentz said with a smile. “That was a little prelim.”
The victory was a sweet one for the Iowa coach, who lost to Southern Cal 38-17 in the Hawkeyes' only other Orange Bowl appearance seven years ago.
“The last time we were here — not because we lost, but because of the way we played — that was tough to live with,” Ferentz said.
While the Hawkeyes had never faced the triple option in Ferentz's 11 seasons as coach, they stuffed the dive play and swarmed the flanks. The Yellow Jackets had only 14 three-and-outs during the regular season, fewest in the nation, but they failed to pick up a first down on their first four possessions.
“It's just a good thing we had a month to prepare, because it was difficult,” Clayborn said. “It was a great plan. The coaches put us in the right situation to make plays.”
Georgia Tech finally made a first down midway through the second quarter. The Yellow Jackets' first pass completion came 43 minutes into the game with Iowa leading 17-7.
Quarterback Josh Nesbitt finished 2 of 9 for 12 yards for Tech, which had a season-high seven punts and was hurt by nine penalties. Jonathan Dwyer, a 1,300-yard rusher the past two seasons, netted 49 yards on 14 carries.
“We know we can move the ball on any defense,” Nesbitt said. “It was just a matter of going out and doing it. And you can't beat a good team when you're beating yourself.”
Iowa freshman Brandon Wegher rushed for 113 yards and one score in 16 carries. Stanzi went 17 of 29 for 231 yards in his return from a sprained ankle that sidelined him in the season's 10th game.
The Hawkeyes had a 185-18 advantage in yards in the first quarter. Stanzi started 8 for 8 for 138 yards and two scores for a 14-0 lead.
“Apparently not too rusty,” Stanzi said. “I did fear that.”
“It was great having Rick back,” Ferentz said. “He did a great job leading us tonight — and what can I say about that defense?”
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