Missouri fans cheer their team during the third quarter of the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game against Iowa Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York) By Matt York
Iowa running back Marcus Coker is lifted by a teammate after scoring a touchdown against Missouri during the first quarter of the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Connors) By Paul Connors
Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert (11) throws as Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end Adrian Clayborn (94) pursues during the third quarter of the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York) By Matt York
Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Marvin McNutt (7) acknowledges the fans after winning the Insight Bowl NCAA college football game against Missouri Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010, in Tempe, Ariz. Iowa won 27-24. (AP Photo/Matt York) By Matt York
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- A season that started off with such promise spiraled away with a series of injuries, losses and suspensions.
Iowa needed this win, not just to salvage a difficult season, but to prevent any negativity from spilling into next year.
The Hawkeyes accomplished that, thanks to a fill-in freshman and a 72-yard interception return that seemed to cover 100.
Freshman Marcus Coker bulled his way through Missouri's defense in place of suspended starter Adam Robinson, and Micah Hyde scored the decisive touchdown on a meandering, 72-yard interception return in the fourth quarter, helping Iowa to a 27-24 win over Missouri Tuesday night in the Insight Bowl.
"It feels like a team win, the way it should be," Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. "It has been a tough road and we are very happy to get the victory."
Coker helped carry them to it.
A backup who had 403 yards and a touchdown during the regular season, Coker helped the Hawkeyes (8-5) overcome a rash of injuries and suspensions that left them undermanned and scrambling in the desert.
The bruising freshman had no trouble taking over for Robinson, running over and occasionally around the Tigers to set school records with 219 yards and 33 carries while scoring two touchdowns in front of an Insight Bowl-record 53,453 fans.
Behind Coker, Iowa piled up 425 yards against one of the nation's stingiest defenses to overcome two rare turnovers by Stanzi and win three straight bowls for the first time.
"We've been in a lot of close games -- in the past three years, actually -- and it's a lot more fun when they come out the right way," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's a credit to our players. They believe in themselves and prepared for this."
Missouri (10-3) had its way with Iowa's once-stout defense most of the night, rolling up 512 yards, including a school bowl-record 434 passing by Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert finished 41 for 57 to set two more school records, but inexplicably threw the ball right to Hyde, who dodged several tackles and seemingly every Missouri player for the second-longest interception return in Insight Bowl history.
"I just got greedy," Gabbert said. "I forced it."
Missouri had one final chance, but a fourth-down reception at Iowa's 33-yard line by T.J. Moe with 2:15 left was overruled on review and Coker helped grind out the clock. Moe finished with an Insight Bowl record 15 receptions for 152 yards for the Tigers in their second straight bowl loss.
"I'm very disappointed," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "It is very difficult in the locker room with kids that you love and you have been through so much this year and you come out of a tough, close game and a loss."
Once fierce rivals, these teams hadn't met in a century, despite being separated by less than 250 miles.
The 12-game rivalry plagued by dirty play, riots and racial discrimination ended following a particularly brutal game in 1910, and a planned four-year series from 2005-08 also fell through, putting an interesting twist on this Midwest battle in the desert.
Missouri was looking to cap one of its best seasons, even after having its Big 12 and BCS bowl chances dashed with consecutive losses to Nebraska and Texas Tech. The Tigers won their final three games to get into the Insight Bowl and were in position for their third 11-win season.
Iowa had a different kind of momentum going.
After opening the season No. 9 in the polls, the Hawkeyes were plagued by injuries and an inability to close out games. They played most of the season without defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who had a foot amputated due to complications from diabetes. They had five losses by a combined 18 points and entered the bowl having lost their final three.
Turned out to just be the prelude to their problems.
Since the regular season ended, the Hawkeyes have lost their career leading receiver, top rusher and two other running backs.
Receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was the first to go, booted off the team after being arrested on drug charges in early December. Robinson then was suspended for breaking team rules, and was arrested Monday night for marijuana possession, jeopardizing his career at Iowa.
Promising running back Jewel Hampton also decided to transfer, and fullback Brad Rogers was out to undergo cardiological tests.
Missing all those key players and on the brink of a four-game losing streak, the Hawkeyes hopped on Coker's back and made the defensive plays they needed to pull out a welcome victory at the end of a tumultuous season.
"It feels great to finally close out a game," Hyde said.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)