IOWA CITY, Iowa — Not only does Iowa's Rob Houghtlin not practice with the other Hawkeyes, or with anyone else, for that matter, his teammates don't miss him.
"He doesn't practice with us?" Iowa running back Ronnie Harmon said when informed of that fact Saturday afternoon. "I didn't know that. I thought everyone practiced."
Yet, when No. 1 Iowa met No. 2 Michigan Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, it was Houghtlin's game to win or lose. He won it with four field goals, including a 29-yarder as time ran out that gave the Hawkeyes a 12-10 victory.
When the winning points flashed onto the scoreboard, thousands of fans from among the largest crowd ever to see a sporting event in Iowa--66,350--rushed onto the field to tear down the goal post at the north end of the stadium and mob Houghtlin, who later said, "I almost got killed in the pileup, really."
He was rescued by grateful teammates, who carried Houghtlin off the field and into the dressing room, where he and the other Hawkeyes were congratulated by Iowa's governor, Terry Branstad, and where the triumphant coach, Hayden Fry, was too exhausted to say anything other than, "Thank you."
Although it doesn't happen often enough, this game actually was as good as anticipated. It matched Iowa's unstoppable offense and Michigan's impenetrable defense. Both units left with their reputations intact.
For Iowa, quarterback Chuck Long completed 26 of 39 passes for 297 yards, with 1 interception. Harmon carried 32 times for 134 yards and caught 6 passes for 72 yards.
They were the catalysts for an offense that had 26 first downs, 422 yards in total offense and controlled the ball for 84 of the game's 125 plays from scrimmage. The Hawkeyes had the ball almost 17 minutes more than Michigan.
But even on an afternoon as productive as this, the offense that entered the game leading the nation in scoring, averaging 44.2 points, could not score a touchdown against Michigan's defense, which has allowed only one in six games.
The Hawkeyes are still arguing about one they thought should have been a touchdown. With the game scoreless early in the second quarter, Long threw a pass from the Michigan 18 to wingback Scott Helverson in the end zone.
Helverson came down with the ball, but he was ruled out of the end zone. The instant replay made it appear that Helverson dragged his left foot in the end zone after he had possession of the ball, which would have made it a legal catch.
"I definitely had it," Helverson said.
His teammate, split end Bill Happel, said, "I was standing on the line (at the back of the end zone), and there was no question he had it."
Nevertheless, Houghtlin was called upon for his first field goal, a 35-yarder, to give Iowa a 3-0 lead.
Trailing, 7-3, the Hawkeyes drove again late in the second quarter. On second-and-goal from the Michigan 10, even though he has one of the best college passers of all time, Fry's call was for Harmon to throw the ball on a halfback pass. Harmon couldn't find a receiver open, tried to run and fumbled. Fortunately for Iowa, he recovered.
"I call all the silly plays," Fry said, taking blame for the questionable strategy.
Two plays later, Houghtlin kicked his second field goal, a 27-yarder as time ran out in the first half.
Iowa reached the Michigan 24 on its first possession of the second half, but that drive ended when Long threw into double coverage on third down and had his pass intercepted by linebacker Dieter Heren. That was the game's only turnover, remarkable considering that the field was still soaked from early-morning rain.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Iowa again was threatening at the Michigan 18. But Long fumbled the snap on third-and-three, bringing on Houghtlin for a 36-yard field goal that gave the Hawkeyes a 9-7 lead.
Meantime, the Iowa defense played as if it had something to prove. Considering all of the attention given last week to Michigan's defense, maybe the Hawkeyes did.
Michigan's first-half touchdown was preceded by Jamie Morris' 60-yard kickoff return to the Iowa 31. It took the Wolverines eight plays to score from there, quarterback Jim Harbaugh doing his Doug Flutie imitation with a six-yard shovel pass to Gerald White for the touchdown.
The Wolverines' only other sustained drive came early in the fourth quarter, after the Hawkeyes had taken a 9-7 lead. With runs of 17 yards by fullback Bob Perryman and 24 yards by Morris, Michigan reached the Iowa 22 before having to settle for Mike Gillette's 40-yard field goal and a 10-9 lead with 10:55 remaining.
Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler credited Iowa's defense but then said the Wolverines' difficulties on offense were compounded by the crowd noise.
Schembechler has talked in recent weeks about his mellow attitude this season, attributing it to the Wolverines' 5-0 record before Saturday and the fact he has quit eating red meat. But he must have had a 12-ounce tenderloin Friday night because he was his old irascible self during the game.