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The Morning After: Are You Not Entertained?

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Any doubts about Iowa’s viability as a Big Ten contender were shattered in a dominant win over previously unbeaten Maryland on Friday night.

Iowa v Maryland
T-Good was too good on Friday night.
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

That. Was. Fun.

Well, at least it was fun until we all got to go to bed early without any worry whatsoever about things getting close. What we saw on Friday night was a good ol’ fashioned a$$ kickin’ that would have made Hayden Fry proud.

“I sure hope we didn’t hurt any of your boys.”

Except we did. And while the injury to Maryland receiver Dontay Demus Jr. was clearly the turning point in the game, it was in no way shape or form the difference in it. The Iowa Hawkeyes took a familiar approach Friday’s matchup but the result was something we’ve yet to really see from Iowa in 2021. The Hawkeyes have turned people over regularly this season but they did it so rapidly against Maryland that the game went from competitive to out of reach to complete blowout in a matter of mere minutes.

Iowa came away with four interceptions in the first half and they put points in the board from each of them. That’s become a very clear theme this season. The Hawkeyes have now scored an incredible 82 points off of 14 turnovers in the 2021 season.

For those counting at home, that’s 5.9 points per turnover on this young season and at 14 turnovers through five games, Iowa is averaging 2.8 turnovers forced per game. The Hawkeyes did much more than that on Friday with seven total turnovers. That included SIX interceptions on the night. Three of those came in the second quarter, but it was really the sequence following the Demus injury and fumble that opened this game up. The Hawkeye defense did its thing and the Iowa offense simply held up its end of the bargain by converting turnovers and field position into points.

The turnover fest was led by Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa, who entered the night as the Big Ten leader in passing yards, completion percentage and passing touchdowns. He had thrown just one interception through four games, tying him for 106th in the nation. He ended the night with more interceptions than any other FBS quarterback while completing just 55% of his passes.

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, it’s time for Hawkeye fans and the nation to simply accept that this is what this particular iteration of Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa team is. The offense isn’t the driver of the team, but that’s by design. This defense is elite and Ferentz has no problems slowly suffocating opponents with their own mistakes - the more you make the faster Iowa takes control and forces you to collapse under you own weight.

The Hawkeyes now lead the nation in takeaways and by a large margin. They were sitting in 10th nationally with six interceptions heading into Friday’s showdown, but doubled that on night to move into first place by three over Kent State (and top their season total from 2020 with a full seven games left to play). Add in the fumble recovery on the Demus injury and Iowa now has four of those on the year to make it a cool 20 turnovers forced.

At four per game, it seems unsustainable, but here we are nearly halfway through the season and it’s hard to envision the Iowa defense not doing what they’ve always done. The Hawkeyes lead the nation in interceptions over the last four years and it’s in large part due to the system Phil Parker runs. It’s not going to change.

With that sort of productivity out of the defense, which is giving up less than 13 points per game now nearly halfway through the year, the offense simply needs to avoid turnovers to be a success.

They did far more than that on Friday with 428 yards of offense and a season-high 51 points (in the second straight game with no defensive scores). With short fields, we saw Iowa attack Maryland through the air to set up the running game, which averaged 3.5 yards per carry, but saw that plummet during the 4th quarter as the second and third unit took the field.

Spencer Petras backed up one of his better games as a Hawkeye against Colorado State by going 21 of 30 (70%) for 249 yards and 3 TDs. He added two more on the ground to account for five total touchdowns. For his part, Brian Ferentz put together a solid game without any notable head scratchers and plenty of well timed calls, including a B-E-A-UTIFUL Texas route to Tyler Goodson for six.

After weeks of bemoaning what this Iowa team is not, we saw on Friday what it could be. And while not perfect, it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Maryland isn’t going to win the East. They likely won’t finish the year ranked. But the Terps are a good football team with loads of talent and athleticism, as well as one of the best QBs in the conference. Iowa absolutely embarrassed them on their home field in front of a national audience.

If that’s not enough to entertain Hawkeye fans, there’s likely nothing that will do the trick.

This group is going to continue to make their own luck, force turnovers and convert short fields into points. They’ll catch some lucky breaks and have things bounce their way. But they’re going to win a lot of games.

Despite the questions about national rankings, the Iowa Hawkeyes looked every bit the part of a top-5 team in the nation on Friday night. Now they turn the page to Penn State and a top-5 showdown next Saturday in Kinnick Stadium. FOX will have their Big Noon Saturday show set up in the Pentacrest and rumors are already swirling that ESPN will have College GameDay live from Hubbard Park. It’s time to forget the expectations and the possibilities and simply enjoy the ride.

Regardless of how the season ends, this team is special.