December 31, 2008

Outback: Greene emerges to power Iowa

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

The greatest comeback of the season began in an Iowa furniture store.

That's where Iowa tailback Shonn Greene spent much of last year, working for $8 an hour while attending community college and trying to regain his academic eligibility.


Iowa (8-4)
vs. South Carolina (7-5)

WHEN: 11 a.m. Jan. 1
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
TV: ESPN (Sean McDonough will do play-by-play, with Chris Spielman as the analyst).
THE LINE: Iowa by 3.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Iowa 3-3, South Carolina 3-5.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Iowa 44th, South Carolina T-36th.
BCS RANKINGS: N/A for either team.
COACHES: Iowa − Kirk Ferentz (3-3 in bowls); South Carolina − Steve Spurrier (7-7 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This may be your last chance to see Iowa RB Shonn Greene, the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's best running back, in a college game. Greene hasn't indicated whether he will turn pro or return for his senior season, but it's hard to imagine him having much more to prove at the college level.
KEY STATS: South Carolina ranks 91st in the nation in passing efficiency, while Iowa is eighth in pass efficiency defense. The Gamecocks won't have an easy time throwing the ball in this game. They don't run it that well, either.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Greene obviously is the most notable performer in this game, but since we've already mentioned him, you also might want to take a look at South Carolina LB Eric Norwood. He leads the SEC with nine sacks and recorded six of those sacks in the Gamecocks' last four regular-season games.
"I hadn't played a whole lot [up to then], but a couple of people would recognize me," Greene said. "They'd just say, 'Keep it going,' or, 'I'm sure you'll be back.'

The guy who spent an entire year out of football seemingly came out of nowhere this season to win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. Greene has run for at least 100 yards in every game during the regular season and enters Thursday's Outback Bowl against South Carolina with a school-record 1,729 rushing yards.

"He's an animal," Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. "He's been doing it [every game], and I shouldn't be surprised but he keeps surprising me every time."

Greene has surprised the entire nation including himself.

After beginning his post-high school career at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., Greene rushed for 116 yards three years ago against Ball State in his Hawkeyes debut. But he never reached the 100-yard mark again the next two seasons and eventually found himself running into academic trouble instead of the end zone.

He was forced to leave school in 2007, and spent the year attending Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, about 30 miles from the Iowa campus. Greene also worked at McGregors Furniture in Coralville, Iowa.

"I was a warehouse worker," Greene said. "I was putting furniture together, or when people would come pick their furniture up, I'd help them move it."

He spent that year away from the team rooming with Albert Young, the Hawkeyes' starting tailback at the time. Both had grown up in New Jersey before choosing to attend Iowa. Greene now credits Young for helping him persevere and never lose sight of his ultimate goal.

"I made sure he kept his eye on the prize," said Young, now a member of the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad. "I reminded him he put himself in that position. He had nobody else to blame. He knew that. He wasn't pointing fingers at anybody, but he'd get discouraged."

The discouraging year eventually made Greene stronger and wiser.

"It just goes to show not to take something for granted," he said. "Something can be taken away from you very quickly. It makes you appreciate it."

Greene eventually got his grades back in order, returned to school and rejoined the team. But he still had to work his way up the depth chart.

When he last had played for Iowa, Greene had moved from running back to defensive back as the Hawkeyes prepared for the 2006 Alamo Bowl. He wasn't able to participate in Iowa's 2008 spring practice, and he had no idea he was capable of putting together this kind of season.

"I don't think anybody knew," Greene said. "I didn't. I didn't know what to expect. My main goal was just to get back to school and get back on the football team."

Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer insists he knew the Hawkeyes had something special the first time Greene stepped on campus.

"I remember his freshman year, when he came in and was behind Albert and Damian [Sims]," Angerer said. "I don't want to [discredit] those guys, but I think he was our best running back then, when he was younger. It's just exciting to finally watch him running and playing and having the success that he's having."

After weighing as much as 250 pounds during his time away from football, Greene changed his diet and got down to a more manageable 235. He won a spot in the starting lineup, ran for 109 yards in a season-opening victory over Maine and never looked back.

Greene rushed for at least 100 yards in every game and exceeded the 200-yard mark in victories over Wisconsin and Purdue. He has rushed for 17 touchdowns this season and has reached the end zone twice in each of his past three games.

"He's the same guy every week," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He just comes and plays. It serves as a real example to our whole team. He makes everybody a little better."

His signature moment came Nov. 8 when he rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns against Penn State to help Iowa hand the Nittany Lions their only loss of the season. Penn State has the nation's No. 3 scoring defense and held the Big Ten's two other top running backs Ohio State's Chris Wells and Michigan State's Javon Ringer below three yards per carry.

"The main thing about him is he's tenacious," Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin said. "He never gives up on a play. He's a big back [5 feet 11 and 235 pounds], but he's also elusive. He has a lot of qualities that make him a great back. He's not just a power guy.

"Whenever you tackle a guy like Shonn Greene, you have to wrap him up. You have to secure the tackle because he's a big back and he can try to run through you, and he's quick enough and nimble enough to get around you."

Greene displayed a similar tenacity off the field as he worked his way back onto a roster. When he had to leave school, Greene could have returned home to New Jersey, never to be heard from again. He instead stayed at Iowa, accepted his punishment and found a way to make amends.

"He easily could have said, 'Forget about it. I don't want to play anymore,' " Young said. "But he wasn't going to go through all of that for nothing."

Greene instead made himself the season's most improbable success story.

Who has the edge?

Iowa run offense vs. South Carolina run defense
After ranking last in the SEC in run defense a year ago, South Carolina got quite a bit tougher this season. The Gamecocks rank 36th in the nation against the run and allow 3.6 yards per carry. South Carolina limited Georgia's Knowshon Moreno to 79 yards on 20 carries. But the Gamecocks haven't faced anyone as good as Greene, who ranks second in the nation in rushing. The suspension of run-stuffing SS Emanuel Cook should make things even easier for Greene.
Edge: Iowa.

Iowa pass offense vs. South Carolina pass defense
Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi ended the regular season by throwing for 255 yards and three touchdowns without an interception against Minnesota, but he only reached the 200-yard mark in one other game this season. The Hawkeyes have to make sure Stanzi has time to throw against a solid South Carolina pass rush. CB Captain Munnerlyn heads a South Carolina secondary that has helped the Gamecocks rank 22nd in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
Edge: South Carolina.

South Carolina run offense vs. Iowa run defense
South Carolina has gained less than three yards per carry and ranks 109th in the nation in rushing. Mike Davis rushed for 101 yards in a season-opening win over North Carolina State, but he hasn't exceeded the 80-yard mark since. Iowa ranks 10th in the nation in run defense. South Carolina averages less than 100 rushing yards per game, while Iowa allows less than 100 rushing yards per game.
Edge: Iowa.

South Carolina pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has alternated between Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia for much of the season. Garcia gets the nod in this game; he is 56-of-104 for 753 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions. Kenny McKinley is one of the SEC's top receivers, but injuries and his team's quarterback struggles have prevented him from delivering stellar numbers this season. South Carolina also boasts an exceptional tight end in Jared Cook, who has 35 catches for 550 yards. Iowa ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
Edge: Iowa.

Iowa special teams vs. South Carolina special teams
Iowa Ks Trent Mossbrucker and Daniel Murray are a combined 18-of-22 on field goals, though all but two of their attempts have been from inside 40 yards. Ryan Donahue averages 41.5 yards per punt. South Carolina's Ryan Succop is 19-of-28 on field-goal attempts and 9-of-14 from at least 40 yards out, with a long of 54. Spencer Lanning averages 42 yards per punt. Iowa is 20th and South Carolina is 74th in net punting. South Carolina ranks 26th in the nation in kick-return average.
Edge: Even.

Iowa coaches vs. South Carolina coaches
Kirk Ferentz has done a nice job of helping the Hawkeyes bounce back from two consecutive down years. Steve Spurrier hasn't matched the success at South Carolina that he enjoyed at Florida, but he has made the Gamecocks consistently competitive. This game matches two outstanding defensive coordinators: Iowa's Norm Parker and South Carolina's Ellis Johnson.
Edge: South Carolina.

X-factor: After using a 4-2-5 scheme during the regular season, South Carolina is switching to a 4-3 for its bowl game to help compensate for the loss of Cook in the secondary. Will having an extra linebacker on the field help the Gamecocks contain Greene?

Iowa will win if: Greene has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of Iowa's games. If he reaches the century mark again, Iowa ought to win.

South Carolina will win if: Garcia has garnered plenty of attention as a former highly touted recruit, but he hasn't lived up to the fanfare yet. He needs to deliver the best game of his young career for South Carolina to pull off the victory.

The picks
Mike Huguenin: Iowa 24, South Carolina 17
Steve Megargee: Iowa 20, South Carolina 13

Steve Megargee is a national writer for He can be reached at

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