Iowa defense has stellar second half against Pitt


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PITTSBURGH — Greg Mabin called his mother to help calm his nerves ahead of his first career start at Iowa. Arlette Mabin told her son that getting the start against Northern Iowa was a dream come true, of sorts. He flourished the next day and sealed the win with a fourth-quarter interception.

On Sept. 20, when Iowa came back to beat Pittsburgh, 24-20, Mabin again remembered what his parents previously told him. This time, though, it was his father’s words that came to mind.

“He always told me, ‘Big-time players make big plays in big situations,’ ” Mabin said. “And I was fortunate enough to make that play.”

Mabin said “play” as though it were just one. The sophomore cornerback actually broke up two crucial passes — on back-to-back plays — in the fourth quarter to help secure an Iowa victory at Heinz Field.

Those pass breakups were the exclamation points on a second half that saw Iowa’s defense stymie Pittsburgh’s offense.

It appeared as though Pitt would trample Iowa early in the game. The Panthers’ offense racked up 262 yards in the first half against the Hawkeyes and did so with a balanced attack: 132 rushing yards and another 130 passing. Pittsburgh led 17-7 at halftime.

The Panthers' star running back, James Conner, did most of his damage in the first half. He rushed for 100 yards on just 17 carries. His lone score punctuated an 18-play, 75-yard march that chewed up 9 minutes and 42 seconds of game time.

Then, as if it flipped a switch, Iowa’s defense stepped up in the second half.

“We were getting worked that first half, and our staff had to make adjustments,” Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Our players were a lot more aggressive in the second half and were just playing better fooball.”

The Panthers managed just 173 yards and a field goal in the game’s final 30 minutes. Conner rushed for only 55 more yards in the second half. Pittsburgh only reached the red zone once more after getting inside Iowa’s 20-yard line three times before recess.

Iowa, after forcing just one punt in the first half, forced Pittsburgh into two punts, one interception, and a turnover on downs in the second half. The Hawkeyes also allowed just nine first downs in the second frame after yielding 15 in the first.

Perhaps the most telling stat was Pittsburgh’s second-half rushing total: just 53 yards, after 132 in the first half. The Panthers’ 185 rushing yards is their lowest output of the season; they had averaged 344 rushing yards per game ahead of their game with Iowa.

“They got off some blocks. We’ve got to look at the film and learn from it, and everyone has to own their part of it,” Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst said. “They have a heck of a defense. I have a ton of respect for Coach Ferentz and what they do.”

Iowa’s offense played its part, too, scoring 17 points in its first three possessions of the second half. The Hawkeyes jumped ahead, 24-20, with 6:56 left to play in regulation. Pittsburgh ran just 16 plays the rest of the game.

With 25 seconds left, the Panthers ran their final three: quarterback Chad Voytik completed two-straight passes to Tyler Boyd for 16 and 15 yards. Then, free safety Anthony Gair intercepted Voytik’s 30th pass of the game, sealing Iowa’s third victory of the year.

“The team came together today,” said running back Mark Weisman, who scored both of Iowa’s second-half touchdowns. “It is just a big win for the team, and we definitely improved a lot today.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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