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B1G Historical Perspective: Another Field Goal (Actually Four of Them)

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Back in 1985 the #1 Iowa Hawkeyes literally kicked their way past the #2 Michigan Wolverines in Iowa City

Iowa kicker Rob Houghtlin after kicking the game winner versus Michigan
Des Moines Register File Photo

This week’ tour through yesteryear recalls an epic 1985 battle between the #1 and #2 teams in the country. This game featured an epic contrast in styles between Hayden Fry and Bo Schembechler; and was decided in the most Big Ten way possible: the winning team connecting on field goal number four to pull off an epic 12-10 victory.

The 1985 Iowa Hawyekes seemed to be the team to beat in the Big Ten. Coming off an 8-4-1 season (that included a rare twelfth regular season game at Hawaii), Iowa led by Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Chuck Long began the season ranked #5 in the Associated Press poll. The Hawkeyes moved to #1 in the AP poll after a 57-3 win at Iowa State; aided by #1 Auburn losing 38-20 at Tennessee, and #2 Oklahoma getting a scare versus Lou Holtz’s Minnesota Golden Gophers in a 13-7 victory at the Metrodome. The Hawkeyes stood at 5-0 overall and 2-0 in conference play when #2 Michigan traveled to Iowa City on October 19.

The Wolverines moved up the rankings by winning their first 3 games versus ranked teams: #13 Notre Dame in the opener, at #15 South Carolina, and shutting out #17 Maryland. Two conference wins versus Wisconsin and at Michigan State also got Michigan to 5-0 and ranked #2 in the AP Poll for their trip to Iowa City.

The October 19, 1985 Michigan game turned out to be the only #1 versus #2 match-up in Iowa Hawkeyes football history. (Back in 1960 Iowa was ranked #1 when they traveled to Minneapolis and lost to the eventual National Champion Golden Gophers 27-10, as discussed in this Historical Perspective.) The Michigan at Iowa game was on national television on CBS, with Brent Musburger doing play-by-play and Ara Parseghian handling color commentary (and this 19 year old ‘writer’ watching the game).

As the game got underway, it looked like Iowa jumped out to a quick touchdown lead. However, Iowa receiver Scott Helverson was ruled out of the back of the end zone when hauling in an apparent Chuck Long touchdown pass. Iowa kicked a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Michigan’s Jamie Morris then returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards into Iowa territory. The Wolverines got down close to the goal line, where Jim Harbaugh ‘tossed’ a touchdown shovel pass to Gerald White putting Michigan up 7-3. (As an interesting side-note, when Michigan was about to score their touchdown Jim Harbaugh kept backing away from the center claiming excessive crowd noise.) Iowa got another field goal before halftime cutting Michigan’s lead to 7-6.

Iowa holder Mark Vlasic embracing kicker Rob Houghtlin after making the game-winner versus Michigan
University of Iowa

Following a scoreless third quarter, Iowa took a 9-7 lead early in the fourth quarter on another Rob Houghtlin field goal. Michigan followed this with another good kickoff return. Several Wolverines runs and another Jim Harbaugh shovel-pass ‘completion’ that lost yards set up a Mike Gillette 40-yard field goal to put Michigan up 10-9. Iowa seemed to have a chance to take the lead; however, Houghtlin missed a 44 yard field goal keeping Michigan in front 10-9.

Iowa was moving the ball versus Michigan; however, the Wolverines defense kept holding the Hawkeyes to field goals. Iowa’s Chuck Long finished the game 26-for-39 for 297 yards, but no touchdowns. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh went 8-for-13 for 55 yards; however, Harbaugh connected with Gerald White for the game’s only touchdown in the second quarter. Iowa had 422 yards offense (cudos to Iowa offensive coordinator Bill Snyder - yes, THAT Bill Snyder) to Michigan’s 182. Iowa held the ball for 38:05, to Michigan’s 21:55. Yet, Michigan held a 10-9 lead heading into the final drive.

Said final drive began with just under a minute-and-a-half remaining. Chuck Long’s passing and tailback Ronnie Harmon’s quick hitters (Harmon finished with 120 yards on 32 carries) got the ball to the Michigan 12 yard line with just seconds remaining. Hayden Fry let the clock run down to 2 seconds left; then called timeout. Hawkeyes kicker spotted the field goal tee (field goals in college football were allowed to be teed up by the holders back then) at the Michigan 19 yard line. Bo Schembechler then called the good-old ‘freeze the kicker’ timeout. The video clip below shows Houghtlin’ fifth field goal attempt of the game, which earned the Hawkeyes the 12-10 victory over the Wolverines.

Following this game, Iowa blew out Northwestern at Dyche Stadium, and then suffered their only loss of the regular season versus Earle Bruce’s #8 Ohio State Buckeyes at The Shoe. That game, also nationally televised on CBS, was another classic 1980s Big Ten slug-fest, played in a monsoon on Ohio Stadium’s old-school Astroturf. The Hawkeyes won their remaining conference games to finish 10-1 overall, 7-1 in Big Ten play. However, Iowa lost the 1986 Rose Bowl to UCLA 45-28 (another story for another day, say close to New Years Day).

That said, on that October Saturday in Iowa City a national television audience watched the Hawkeyes maintain their #1 ranking by defeating Michigan. A #1 ranking for the first time since the Iowa Hawkeyes had a young graduate student assistant on Forest Evashevsky’s staff named Lou Holtz (in 1960).

Historical Perspectives

Northwestern - The Upset

Purdue - The Forward Pass Comes to the Midwest

Indiana - The Real Game of the Century

Nebraska - Surrender Whites

Michigan State - Earning a Rematch

Rutgers - A Program-Changing Season

Illinois - Running the Table

Maryland - Frank Reich’s First Comeback

Minnesota - The Field Goal