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The Morning After: Pickscataway, NJ

Iowa tops Rutgers on the backs of three turnovers, two defensive touchdowns, and a strong running game

Iowa v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

I’ll admit it, I was more nervous about this game than I should have been.

But can you really blame me? Yeah, I had Iowa winning this game but with how the Hawks performed in the first three games I can’t say I would have been shocked if Iowa lost. Rutgers has a solid defense and with an Iowa offense that would struggle to move the ball against eleven cardboard cutouts I could just see a mistake here or there spelling doom for the good guys.

I was fully expecting a black and blue slugfest between two of the conferences top defenses with the more opportunistic one carrying their side to victory. It turns out, that’s exactly what happened, only with the offense playing a bigger part than I expected.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

To be clear, the offense was not perfect, nor was it super productive. The Hawkeyes ended the game with 277 total yards, even going only 1 for 9 on third down. It wasn’t exactly pretty. The good news was it didn’t have to be.

Cooper DeJean, Kaevon Merriweather, and the Iowa defense proved to be more opportunistic last Saturday night, notching three takeaways and killing the Scarlet Knights’ momentum at the best times. And did I mention that two of those takeaways went for touchdowns? Because two of those takeaways totally went for touchdowns.

DeJean kicked off the turnover-fest with an unbelievable over-the-shoulder pick in the first quarter, racing 45 yards to the endzone.

This seriously is one of the most impressive picks I’ve seen. To track and catch a pass over your shoulder like that is seriously tough. To track and catch a pass that wasn’t even meant for you is even more impressive.

Not to be outdone by the youngster, Kaevon Merriweather found pay dirt on a scoop and score after Sebastian Castro helpfully jarred the ball out of Rutgers’ Joshua Youngblood’s hands.

Merriweather would go on to record Iowa’s second pick of the night deep into the third quarter. Despite not finding the end zone he did return this one 33 yards into Rutgers territory.

Iowa’s defense alone would’ve won this game. They outscored every other unit in the game by themselves. They outscored both Rutgers’ and Iowa’s offenses 14-10. The Knights did have success moving the ball in the passing game, with quarterback Evan Simon throwing for 300 yards. But true to the gospel of Bend But Don’t Break they kept Rutgers out of the end zone until the fourth quarter on a play that should never have happened due to an uncalled delay of game.

Iowa’s defense is Iowa’s defense, and we all knew they would come to play. It was the Iowa offense that was more of a pleasant surprise...relatively speaking.

Spencer Petras had his most efficient game of the year, going 11 for 17, but for only 148 yards and no scores. However, he didn’t turn the ball over and I don’t remember any heart stopping near-picks into a defender’s hands. Petras was smart with the football and (mostly) made good reads and throws, including a picture perfect toss to LaPorta late in the first half.

If anything, Petras relied a little too heavily on LaPorta and Lachey in this game. Too often he zeroed in on the big tight ends while ignoring, or not even seeing, his wide receivers. On a third down near the goal line Spencer passed up a wide open Arland Bruce IV on a shallow route and again went to LaPorta who was tightly covered in the end zone and couldn’t make the grab. The pass was as good as you’d want in that situation, with no risk for the defender to intercept it, but to miss a wide open target like that for what could have been at least a first down is awfully frustrating. It wasn’t a deal breaker in a game like this, but eventually Petras has to start seeing the whole field instead of just number 84.

I haven’t even gotten to the running game yet. After a bit of a slow start, the offensive line started opening up some big holes in the second half and the backs Kaleb Johnson, Leshon Williams, and Gavin Williams took every advantage. It was Leshon who capped off of the offenses long drives for a touchdown early in the third quarter.

This was the offensive line’s best game yet and by late in the game all three backs had interstate-sized lanes to run through to keep the clock moving. If not for a bizarre third and short call by BF I’m confident they could’ve put another rushing TD on the board. At the end of the night, the Hawks had 129 yards rushing, their first 100+ game of the year and hopefully not the last.

Next week Iowa faces their toughest test of the year when the Michigan Wolverines come to Iowa City. FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff will be in town for the second consecutive year and Jim Harbaugh is still searching for his first win inside Kinnick Stadium. A signature win won’t be hard to come by as the Wolverines sit at #4 in the AP, and top four in the conference in both offense and defense. But if we’ve learned anything about Kirk in these 24 years it’s that his biggest wins sometimes come when you least expect it.

With this defense, once again the offense may only need to give them 14.