I was extremely fortunate to play in some amazing games during my career at Iowa. We won two Big Ten championships, played in three New Year's Day bowl games, a BCS game and beat teams like Penn State and Michigan on the road. But when you can say you were on the field for arguably the greatest finish to a game in Iowa football history - that ranks at the top of the list.
The 2005 Capital One Bowl isn't just one of the best finishes in Iowa history, it ranks near the top in college football history. Not only was it a great finish, it was an extremely well played football game between two teams littered with NFL talent. Joseph Addai, Dwayne Bowe, Matt Flynn, and JaMarcus Russell to name a few for LSU. Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Jonathan Babineaux, Scott Chandler, Sean Considine, and Matt Roth played for Iowa.
Iowa's final drive in that game has been talked about at length since that day in 2005, and even more so now that the Hawkeyes and Tigers will meet again in Florida during bowl season, this time in the Outback Bowl. I thought now would be a good time to give my take on what I was seeing and hearing on the field that day.
A few years ago, the Big Ten Network ran a special on that game and the last drive. You can watch it here and read my comments along with it.
We took the field with 39 seconds remaining and had two timeouts left. Down by just one point, we just wanted to get into Kyle Schlicher's field goal range and give him a chance to win the game for us.
The first play of the drive was called "hammer" (ironically, I caught the pass on that play and it was the same exact play I broke my arm on the next year at Purdue). We were set up in a shotgun formation with running back Tom Busch next to quarterback Drew Tate. I was wide left in the formation with tight end Scott Chandler next to me in the slot. Wide receivers Clinton Solomon (wide right) and Warren Holloway (slot) were on the other side of the formation.
LSU was playing an extremely soft 4-3, Cover 2 defense. I ran a 10-yard speed-in route and was wide open in front of the soft defense that was keeping everything in front (they didn't want to get beat deep). I made sure I broke my route off past the first down markers so the clock would stop. Tate made a great pass and we gained 11 yards.
Things can get pretty hectic in a 2-minute drill setting. It might take five or six seconds for a receiver to switch sides of a formation and it's quicker to just stay to the closest side of the field you are on. This happened on the very next play.
If you watch the video, you can see Tate yelling, "Hammer" for the second play. He wanted to run the exact same play we had just run, but to the top side of the field. For that play to run correctly, Chandler and I needed to be on the same side of the field. Because of the rush of a 2-minute drill, we weren't in the right formation. Chandler was in the slot at the top of the field and Holloway was in the slot next to me. Normally, in the formation we lined up in I would have lined up on the opposite side of the field from Holloway where Soloman lined up, but in the two minute drill the outside WR's we were taught to swap positions and stay on the same side of the field to save time. Tate checked into "4-slants" and it worked out pretty well.
LSU lined up in a 4-3 and pressed the two outside linebackers up to the line of scrimmage and they both blitzed. This left Holloway wide open on the slant from the slot but the LSU defender made a nice tackle to keep him short of the first down marker and the clock kept running.
All of us on the field heard Tate yelling, "Spike it!" which meant we were going to spike the ball to stop the clock. Unfortunately, we snapped the ball before the referee had blown the whistle to signal that the ball was ready for play and got a 5-yard penalty.
The next sequence is where most of the debate on the final plays comes into play. Most of us on the field knew the clock was going to start once the referee blew his whistle. I can still remember the referee saying "I'm going to start it on the whistle." In the craziness of a 2-minute drill, not everyone hears what the referee says or remembers what exactly happens after a penalty. Tate knew the situation and I knew what was going on because I heard the referee say it. You can see on the tape that Drew rushed us to the line of scrimmage after calling the play in the huddle.
I've never asked our coaches why we didn't burn a timeout after that play and I never will. The end result of the game worked out just fine.
In retrospect, it's easy to look at the situation and say, "We knew it was the final play of the game", but that wasn't the case. The play call was "All Up" which was four vertical routes. Chandler, Holloway, Solomon, and I were supposed to get past any defensive back jams and get down the field. If you look at the clock when Holloway catches the ball, there is still 2-3 seconds left. The pass could have easily been incomplete or he could have been tackled and we would have been in field goal range. The play ended up working to perfection, but it wasn't a true "Hail Mary."
Breaking down the actual play is pretty simple. We had trips to the top of the formation, with me out wide, Holloway next to me, and Chandler at the bottom of the trips. Solomon was at the bottom of the formation. LSU was in a nickel formation, rushed four defensive linemen, and blitzed a linebacker and a safety. LSU was left with five defenders to cover four receivers; pretty good odds for the defense against a four-vert play.
Three things happened that allowed the play to work for us. First, Tate recognized the blitz and rolled slightly to his right. Normally in a blitz situation like that, quarterbacks are taught to look at the receiver on the side where the safety blitz is coming from. Solomon had man-to-man coverage on a vertical route. He had the ability to make people look pretty foolish in those situations, but Tate would have had to throw the ball across his body because he started to roll out.
Second, LSU double-teamed Chandler. That meant LSU was also covering Holloway and I in man coverage.
The first two things made the third event extremely costly for LSU. For some reason, the defender on Holloway dropped into the flat about 15 yards into his coverage. He just disappeared off Holloway and left him wide open. If Tate hadn't opened up his vision to the right side of the field, and if that defender sticks with Holloway, we might not win that game.
Personally, I think LSU was supposed to be in man coverage, based on blitzes and the jams that Solomon and I received from the defensive backs. The two outside defenders were playing press coverage on Solomon and me while the inside defenders were playing off of Holloway and Chandler. The hectic pace of a 2-minute drill led to LSU's defenders being on different pages. If we had called a timeout, LSU would have had more time to set a defense.
I remember seeing the ball dropping from the sky right into Holloway's hands and seeing my defender make a move towards him. I got a small block on him (some will argue it was a block in the back but I don't believe it was). Once I saw the defender fall down, I just remember yelling and running to the end zone. I looked up at the clock and saw all zeros.
Those moments don't come around very often. It's fun watching that game and that drive almost nine years later. After a game like that, players and coaches usually say, "It's going to take a while for this to sink in." That is such a true statement. You get so wrapped up in the emotion of winning a close game and seeing the rewards of hard work and dedication throughout the year that you don't realize what just happened.
It's been almost nine years and that game is still sinking in. I still get chills thinking about seeing that ball in the air, taking part in a massive dog-pile in the end zone, singing the fight song with the fans, and seeing all the black and gold going crazy in the stands.
You know it's a big moment when you still get those feelings years later and when you get to tell your kids "I was on that team when that happened."
You want to know the best part about being a college athlete? It's the indescribable combination of goose bumps, a lump in your throat, and the hair standing up on the back of your neck. It's that feeling. It's moments like "The Catch".