Ricky Stanzi threw for 220 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns, and No. 10 Iowa's defense clamped down on No. 9 Georgia Tech as the Hawkeyes took a 17-7 lead over the Yellow Jackets into the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night.
Playing for the first time since Nov. 7 after surgery on a badly sprained right ankle, Stanzi completed 15 of 23 passes, with one big mistake _ an interception Jerrard Tarrant ran back 40 yards for a touchdown with 24 seconds left in the first quarter, Stanzi's only incompletion in his first 10 attempts.
Other than that, the first half was all Iowa, even with the Hawkeyes turning the ball over twice. The scoreboard didn't show the extent of how much Iowa controlled the half, outgaining Georgia Tech 257-32 by intermission.
And in the third quarter, the Yellow Jackets didn't make much of a dent.
The Yellow Jackets nearly tripled their yardage total on the opening drive of the second half. What had been a dominant Iowa showing suddenly seemed tenuous, but Scott Blair's 41-yard field goal attempt was short and right. And although Georgia Tech gained 59 yards, its eighth possession ended just like its first seven _ pointless.
At least it wasn't a punt.
By halftime, Georgia Tech had already matched a season high with six punts, a stunning development for a team that had a total of seven in its previous five games. The Yellow Jackets entered with the nation's second-ranked rushing offense, the spread option piling up more than 300 yards per game.
But in the first half of this Orange Bowl, Georgia Tech's rushing offense was colder than the air: 18 carries for 32 yards, punctuated by Josh Nesbitt getting sacked for a 14-yard loss on the final play of the half.
And the team went three-and-out only 14 times in its first 13 games, the fewest in the country, didn't get their initial first down against Iowa until 7:20 remained in the half. It was the Yellow Jackets' only first down of the half, too. Iowa led that department 11-1 at intermission, and 15-6 entering the final quarter.
After Tech's opening drive of the second half stalled, Iowa answered. Daniel Murray's 33-yard field goal with 2:17 left in the third made it 17-7.
It was the chilliest Orange Bowl ever, played before 66,131 and coming amid South Florida's worst cold snap in nearly a decade. The kickoff temperature was 49 degrees _ eight degrees colder than the previous low two years ago _ and the National Weather Service said the wind chill would be in the 30s by game's end.
Maybe Marvin McNutt's hands were cold on the first possession.
McNutt caught a third-down pass from Stanzi on the game's opening drive, good enough for a first down, but Tarrant punched the ball free and Sedric Griffin recovered for the Yellow Jackets, giving them the ball near midfield less than 90 seconds into the game.
And that set up the first matchup of Georgia Tech's spread-option offense vs. Iowa's staunch run defense.
Georgia Tech hadn't punted in its last two games, a span of 22 possessions. No matter _ Iowa forced the Yellow Jackets to punt four plays after the McNutt fumble to set the night's tone, and Stanzi quickly took advantage with an 80-yard scoring drive.
A 54-yard pass to tight end Tony Moeaki was the big blow, setting up a 4-yard toss to McNutt that made it 7-0 midway through the opening quarter.
Another quick Georgia Tech punt, another quick Iowa score. Stanzi connected with Colin Sandeman for a 22-yard touchdown with 4:04 remaining in the opening quarter, putting the Hawkeyes up 14-0 and sending their black-and-gold-clad fans _ who easily outnumbered Georgia Tech's backers by a huge margin _ into a frenzy.
But Tarrant's interception changed all that, albeit briefly.
He stepped in front of a pass and turned it into Stanzi's 15th interception of the season, cutting the margin to 14-7, and it stayed that way heading into the half.