All week long, when asked to predict what the key factor in Monday night's Holiday Bowl would be, BYU coach LaVell Edwards said turnovers and Iowa coach Hayden Fry said special teams.
They were both right.
Two fourth-quarter turnovers by BYU and the near-total collapse of both teams' kicking games resulted in a 13-13 tie.
"It's unreal that this is my 20th year coaching and I'd only had one tie before this year, and the last two times we played here we tied," Edwards said, referring to last month's 52-52 encounter with San Diego State at Jack Murphy Stadium.
It was an unreal end to an unreal season. The team that started the year 0-3 ended it 8-3-2, with two ties in three games. The high-octane offense that had bailed out the defense most of the year couldn't score enough to match the defense's bowl-level performance. And Ty Detmer, the Heisman Trophy winner, ended his storied college career with an interception. Not exactly storybook stuff.
Even more strange was the teams' reaction to the deadlock. The seventh-ranked Hawkeyes (10-1-1), who were lucky to stave off two fourth-quarter BYU scoring opportunities, were cheerless. "Everyone's real sad, heartbroken, in our dressing room right now," Fry said. "Anytime you hold BYU to 13 points, you should win."
Over on the BYU side, there was less gloom. "Some guys are disappointed," said Cougar safety Josh Arnold, named co-most valuable defensive player. "Most of us are happy with the outcome."
BYU quarterback Ty Detmer was one of the exceptions. "It's a bad feeling right now, because we had control of the game," he said. "I'm not going to lose sleep over the tie, but I probably will lose sleep over the interception."
Detmer may have gotten some consolation from being named offensive MVP. Except for that last pass he was as on-target as ever, completing 29 of 44 passes for 350 yards and two TDs against a team that gave up an average of 145 passing yards a game.
"Detmer's every bit as good as they say he is," said Iowa safety Brian Wise.
BYU, of course, wasn't supposed to win this game. They weren't even in the Top 25 and came into the game a five-point underdog to the Big 10's second-place team. Some had declared that BYU didn't belong in the same bowl game as Iowa; one Iowa writer, having seen the Cougar defense shredded by San Diego State on national TV, suggested that BYU stood for "Bring Your Undertaker."
In other words, this was one of those games where Iowa would only gain something if it won convincingly; the Cougars would achieve at least a moral victory by just hanging in there.
"The pressure was on Iowa," Arnold said.
If so, the Hawkeyes didn't handle it well. The BYU defense held them scoreless for the final 42 minutes and 25 seconds, while keeping them well under their average output in several key categories: third-down conversions (three of 10), rushing yards (125) and total yards (346).
Not bad for a team that doesn't have a defense.
"It didn't entirely surprise me that we played that well defensively," said Edwards, but he may have been the only one not surprised.
"We knew their defense was good; we didn't know it was that good," said Iowa cornerback Carlos James, the defensive co-MVP.
What did surprise Edwards was that his offense, which has been so good at scoring once it gets within sight of an opponents' end zone, could only get points on two of six forays inside the Hawkeyes' 20-yard line.
The Cougars may have been victims of their own confidence. The first time they got into scoring territory, with a fourth and one at the Iowa 11, Detmer faked a dive play to Jamal Willis (who went over the top untouched) and rolled right, then passed incomplete to Brad Clark in the end zone. And on their last possession of the game, with a first and 10 at the Iowa 18-yard line, 26 seconds to play and everyone in the stadium expecting some Detmer magic, the BYU quarterback rolled left and rifled the ball to tight end Byron Rex. But lacking magic, the ball sailed high, off Rex's upraised fingers, and into the arms of James.
"I know better than to throw a bad pass at a time like that," Detmer said. "If we keep it in the middle of the field and kick a field goal, the game's over."
In between those possessions, BYU fumbled once and botched two field-goal attempts. The fumble was nothing special, except that it occurred at the Iowa 28-yard line as the Cougars sought the go-ahead score. Otherwise, it was a simple matter of a stumbling Detmer handing off to Tuipulotu, who couldn't find the handle before being hit by a Hawkeye.
As for the field goals, Earl Kauffman tried one from 41 yards that was tipped by James and fell short, and Keith Lever attempted a 33-yarder that veered wide left. Kauffman also shanked an extra point on BYU's first TD.
The Hawkeyes probably aren't too sympathetic; they had kicking problems of their own. Kicker Jeff Skillett, who pulled a groin muscle four days ago and hasn't practiced since, missed his first extra-point try and, in the fourth quarter, muffed a potential game-winning field goal of 40 yards.
Early on, it looked like missed field goals would be the least of BYU's worries. Iowa drove 74 yards in 12 plays on its first possession of the game, scoring on a 13-yard run by Mike Saunders.
"(The defense) started out a little tentative, a little unsure" Edwards said.
The Cougs gave up another touchdown 12 minutes later, this time on a five-yard run by Saunders, and trailed 13-0.
The BYU offense, meanwhile, was trying to solve the Iowa sack attack, which was as good as advertised, even without Big 10-leading sacker Leroy Smith, who left in the first quarter with a strained right knee. "They were coming hard every play," Detmer said. "It was tough to get anything off."
BYU finally broke through late in the second quarter, when Detmer capped a 78-yard drive with a nine-yard scoring toss to Peter Tuipulotu. BYU's final score came on the first possession of the fourth quarter, on a gutsy 29-yard, fourth-and-four pass to Tyler Anderson.
Ty to Ty, for the tie.
One thing Edwards did come away happy with was the preparedness state of his team. Coming down two days earlier than usual helped them focus on the game. "If we get back here again, we'll do the same thing," he said. "It turned out even better than I anticipated."
Edwards also couldn't resist a parting pitch to the pollsters.
"I would think we ought to be in the Top 25," he said. "We have gone 10 games and not been beaten."