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ORANGE BOWL * USC vs. IOWA | Bill Plaschke

Iowa Talks Big, but Acts Small

January 01, 2003|Bill Plaschke

MIAMI — Like bratty little boys, the Iowa defenders have come to this giant sandbox with faces pouting and fingers pointing.

It's about the Heisman Trophy.

Their guy didn't get it.

So now they want to break it.

"The most defenseless person on the field is their quarterback," said defensive tackle Colin Cole, referring to USC's Carson Palmer. "You hit him hard enough, he'll be hurt. That's going to be our trophy."

Welcome to the Orange Bowl, which has turned into the Green-With-Envy Bowl, which will hopefully not turn it into the Blood-Red Bowl.

What was supposed to be an old-fashioned showdown Thursday between two of the nation's best teams is setting up as a video game duel between the top two finishers in the Heisman Trophy race.

Because Palmer finished first, the teammates of runner-up Brad Banks want to knock the USC quarterback's head off.

"The whole Heisman thing is motivation," linebacker Fred Barr said. "We're going to hit Palmer. We're going to try to knock him out of the game. People are going to be shouting to him about the Heisman Trophy. It could all get to him."

Because Palmer has the prize, Iowa defenders have focused their lasers on it.

"A lot of people can't say that they played against the Heisman Trophy winner," Cole said. "We now have our chance. And if we hit him hard enough so he won't finish the game, that's good enough for us."

Because Palmer is now a walking piece of history, the Hawkeyes want to blow him to pieces.

"The opportunity to go after a Heisman Trophy winner, that's just awesome," said Howard Hodges, defensive end. "If I get him, it's something I'll tell my grandkids."

It's all a little creepy, isn't it? Listening to college kids talking about hurting each other?

"When the Heisman voting came down, I knew it would rally up some steam," DeShaun Hill, Trojan safety, said with a sigh.

It was enough to make another USC player, well, um, laugh.

"I sense envy and hatred there," linebacker Melvin Simmons said. "I'm honestly surprised. To be so focused on trying to hurt someone? Shouldn't this be a battle of teams, not individuals?"

Apparently not to the Iowa defense, which certainly has the nasty history to back up the histrionics.

In eight of 12 games this season, the Iowa defense knocked out a quarterback.

Before all 12 games, according to players, they have made bets about who will knock out the next one.

"It's like a contest we have for each other," Cole said. "It's like, who's going to get the hit this week?"

The only thing missing from this Buddy Ryan attitude is a bounty.

"Oh, no," said Cole, laughing. "Our only reward is to get the quarterback out of the game."

They clearly think this will not be difficult with Palmer. After all, the Hawkeyes have spent the week here soaking up the three traditional delicacies of a Big Ten-Pacific 10 bowl matchup; sun, seafood, and the notion that the West Coast is soft.

"We're going to get hats on him, pile on him, wear him down, because he's not used to being hit," said Cole, a second-team All American. "The Pac-10 is not the same as the Big Ten."

They think Banks deserved the Heisman because Palmer throws safer passes and isn't as mobile. They don't think Palmer has been tested. They're wondering if he's all that.

"Our coaches tell us, just hit Palmer," Barr said. "Go out there and let it loose. The next day there will be no film, no practices, nothing. So just go out and let it loose."

And if you hit too dangerously?

"The way we see it is, three yards and leaving with a concussion is better than three yards and a first down," Barr said.

And if you hit too late?

"If I'm going 100%, and I hit the quarterback with a late hit, I'm not mad at myself," Hodges said. "I'll do it again."

Staring down this 36-sack salute is a USC offensive line that has given up 22 sacks this season, and only two in its final two regular-season games.

Countering this machismo is a quick-strike offense that rarely allows Palmer to hold the ball long enough to be hit.

Wondering about the Hawkeye attitude is going to be every USC player who reads this.

"Lately it seems like [Iowa] has been talking a lot of nonsense," Trojan defensive end Omar Nazel said. "Talk is talk, and play is play. We don't play to knock guys out. We play to win."

Win? Funny, but none of the chest-thumping Iowa defenders mentioned that. Amid all their not-so-veiled threats upon Carson Palmer's health, there probably just wasn't time.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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