CHICAGO – Northern Illinois was expecting pass.
The Huskies had gotten Iowa into a 3rd-and-9 late in Saturday's game at Soldier Field. Holding a lead with the Hawkeyes at the NIU 23-yard line, it was an obvious passing situation.
Iowa caught the Huskies off guard as quarterback James Vandenberg gave the ball to running back James Bullock, who scampered to his left and went untouched into the end zone.
NIU had held a lead for the entire second half and it looked like the Huskies would get that coveted win over a team from a BCS conference. Bullock, who rushed for 150 yards, had other plans, getting his team into the end zone for the first time and the Hawkeyes would hold on for an 18-17 win. The victory snapped NIU's nine-game losing streak, which was the longest in the nation.
"A good play call by them. Obviously we could have executed better," NIU coach Dave Doeren said. "We worked in a pass defense. We knew we were in a zone defense and we just didn't hit. It was a defense that worked real well throughout the game for us."
Kirk Ferentz talked about the play that would eventually win the game for the Hawkeyes with his staff at halftime. Prior to Bullock's run, the Hawkeyes (1-0) had put together drives against NIU (0-1), but couldn't punch anything in.
"(Offensive coordinator) Greg [Davis] pulled it out of his pocket at an opportune moment, obviously," Ferentz said. "It was a huge play because clearly up until that point our biggest issue was getting into the end zone We didn't have much success doing that."
The Hawkeyes dominated time of possession all game, holding the ball for 38 minutes, 42 seconds, compared to just 21:18 for NIU. But when Iowa got scoring opportunities, NIU's defense held, getting consistent pressure on Vandenberg. The Huskies held Iowa to 268 yards of total offense.
Iowa kept having to settle for field goals from kicker Mike Meyer, who kicked four of them, including a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Doeren's team just couldn't get anything going on offense. There was Jordan Lynch's 73-yard touchdown run, but that was the only real big play from the Huskie attack.
NIU had just 68 yards of total offense in the second half. Lynch ran the ball well, but was just 6-for-16 passing for 54 yards on the day.
"They had a good game plan coming into it," Lynch said. "We had receivers open, I just tried to make throws, tried to make plays. We had a few drops that hurt us. When it comes down to it, I've just got to make the throws."
Saturday's game was yet another tough loss against a BCS team for the Huskies.
"I thought we prepared the right way. I thought we never flinched in the game," Doeren said. "It's tough. When you put that much on the table, when you invest that much, to come away with a loss like that, it hurts.
"But these guys are resilient. They're tough kids. They're well-coached and they're fun to be around. I know we'll come back tomorrow and bounce back. We'll get right back on track."