Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes traveled to Piscataway, New Jersey for the first Big Ten conference game — and road matchup — of the year against the Rutgers and ran all over the Scarlet Knights, 27-10 under the lights in a game that featured zero minutes of weather delay. The win puts Iowa at 3-1 on the year, and 1-0 in conference play.
The offense once again was good, but not great, as Spencer Petras tallied 148 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions on 11/17 completions. While the senior didn’t put up gaudy stats, he did look the most comfortable he had all season, but was hindered by an offensive line that continued to change personnel almost every drive, and struggled mightily in pass protection. Petras’ top target was Sam LaPorta, who hauled in 4 catches for 77 yards.
For the second game in a row, the offensive MVP for me was Kaleb Johnson. The true freshman tallied 58 yards on 15 carries and just ran with a speed and strength that I feel like we don’t typically see from him. I was admittedly worried that we would not see him featured much this week with the return of Leshon Williams, so I was extremely pleased. Leshon Williams, back after the unfortunate passing of his father last week, had 11 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown. Make Johnson and Leshon RBs 1 and 1B, respectively, and give Gavin carries as needed after that.
Defensively of course, it was Kaeven Merriweather and Cooper DeJean who were once again the stars of the show. DeJean had an early pick-six for Iowa’s first points of the game and many, many hard tackles on the day. Merriweather returned a fumble for a touchdown and logged another interception to boot, and was merciless in pass coverage all night.
Iowa opened up the game on defense, but struggled to stop the Scarlet Knights on third and long twice in a row, setting up Rutgers in a good scoring position early as they found success through the air. But on 3rd and 8 in the red zone, Iowa got the stop it needed and forced a field goal….until they were called for an offside, which made Rutgers want to go for it on 4th and 3. And yet, they were called for not getting the ball off in time, and brought back the field goal unit, and Iowa allowed its first-first quarter points of the season, trailing 3-0 early.
Iowa started things off offensively with a successful pass for a first down from Petras to LaPorta, before being called for a penalty of its own. That penalty turned out to be a drive killer, as the run game couldn’t get going, and Petras couldn’t complete any more passes, but did set up another golden punt from Taylor, pinning Rutgers at its own 4 yardline.
Rutgers looked poised to have another solid drive, until Jack Campbell made a great stop to set up a 3rd and 11. On the next play, Lukas Van Ness got great pressure on the quarterback, and the throw was promptly picked off and returned 47 yards. to the house by Cooper DeJean for Iowa’s first interception — and pick six — of the season.
I MEAN LOOK AT THIS THING:
Iowa kept up its defensive pressure on the next drive and nearly grabbed another interception, forcing Rutgers into its first punt of the day. Iowa’s offense, shockingly, couldn’t do anything once again, after the offensive line caused another penalty on first down brought back a solid game from Johnson and killed the drive.
After another Rutgers punt, Iowa’s next offensive drive started off strongly as the run game finally had a chance to get going with the use of all three backs. Iowa moved efficiently down the field, until Petras got sacked off a rush from the right edge, taking Iowa back 8 yards. But the line continued to force Petras to run for his life, and Iowa once again was forced to punt.
The defense came up clutch once again on Iowa’s falling a drive, forcing a fumble on a 3rd down conversion that Kaevon Merriweather scooped up and brought home. Who needs an offense when you have a scoring defense? 14-3 Iowa.
Iowa finally put it all together on its next offensive drive, and that was primarily due to the running of Johnson. With the line finally able to give Petras a bit of time, he was able to complete two beautiful passes in a row, including a perfectly placed 42-yard deep ball to LaPorta to get them into the redzone. While LaPorta couldn’t complete a pass in the end zone and the drive resulted in a field goal, I’d still wager it was the best drive from the offense of the season as Iowa went into the half up 17-3 after going 81 yards. .
Iowa elected to receive the second half, and got things going again with its second consecutive great drive of the night…even if it was saved by an uncatacable pass that was called for PI. Either way, Leshon Williams found pay dirt and Iowa went up 24-3.
Stop me if this is getting repetitive, but Rutgers responded with a nice looking drive that included a conversion on 4th and 2…that ended prematurely due to an interception by Merriweather.
This was a unit that was just feasting as a whole all night long and god, it was beautiful to see.
Rutgers ended the third quarter and started the fourth quarter with its strongest drive since the beginning of the game. But after Iowa brought up a 4th and 4, the Scarlet Knights went for it, and couldn’t convert, thanks to the continued relentless pass rush.
Iowa couldn’t get much time off the clock in response, and gave Rutgers the ball back. The Scarlet Knights responded by driving down the field and finding paydirt thanks to a missed delay of game call on a scoring play.
Thankfully, the Hawkeyes were able to respond with a few key conversions on 3rd down and a running play to set up Drew Stevens for a 51 yard field goal that sank through the uprights for a 27-10 lead.
The defense once again was authoritative in Rutger’s next drive. An Aaron Graves sack was the exclamation point, forcing Rutgers into a 3rd and 28. They attempted to go for it and almost scored a touchdown, but Merriweather broke up the pass, giving Iowa the ball back with 3:49 on the 42 yardline.
Was this game sexy on offense? No. On defense? Absolutely yes. And either way, we saw this team play its most complete game in every facet. For once, we have more good to say about this game than bad, and honestly, I’ll take it.
Go Hawks baby!