Weird Moments in Big Ten History #5: Iowa and Penn State Mean No Offense, 2004
FanHouse is counting down the ten best, ten worst, and ten weirdest moments in Big Ten football history.
There's probably no more unlikely final point total for a football team than four. There's only one way to achieve that score, and that's with two safeties. The only less likely total is one, the winner's score in any forfeited game.
In October 2004 two teams with killer defenses and iffy offenses met in Happy Valley. The Iowa Hawkeyes were having a pretty good season; the Nittany Lions weren't. A botched snap on the first possession of the game led to a PSU safety, giving them their first lead in a Big Ten game all season. Iowa, behind QB Drew Tate, couldn't find the end zone all day; if not for two Kyle Schlicher field goals, they'd have gone scoreless. But Penn State couldn't even accomplish that much on offense. Quarterbacks Zack Mills and Michael Robinson combined for 96 yards and four interceptions, including a game-icing pick late in the fourth quarter. Nit rushers contributed an additional 66 yards, for a game total of 162 yards of offense. Iowa's numbers weren't much better.
For fans like me who love to watch great defense the game was a treat. But late in the game came one of the harshest on-the-field disses one coach has ever laid on another.
It happened late in the fourth quarter, when Penn State again had Iowa pinned so deep in its own territory that the Hawks were forced to punt out of the end zone. Kirk Ferentz elected to take a safety instead, making the score 6-4.
It's not unusual for a team to take an intentional safety if (a) they have a large lead, or (b) there isn't enough time for the other team to take the lead. You'll note that the intentional safety put Penn State a field goal away from winning the game. In effect, Ferentz was daring Joe Paterno to get within field goal range.
Penn State had twice been within the Iowa 10, but both times they gacked. First Robbie Gould missed a chip-shot field goal, then Antwan Allen picked off Michael Robinson at the 1. It seemed likely that a Penn State offense which hadn't done anything all day wouldn't do anything now, but the risk was huge.
Ferentz's gamble paid off. On Penn State's first play of the next series, Jovon Johnson intercepted Robinson and the game was over. The talk all over college football was about the unusual score ("Who was pitching?") but the real story of the game was found in the last few minutes. This game only looked boring from the outside.