Who needs cupcakes?
“I’ve been too long, I’m glad to be back.” Brian Johnson’s words weren’t written with me in mind, but damned if they don’t describe my life in 2021 on a primordial level. After a decade wandering the frozen tundra of Minnesota, I’m back living in the corn-filled flatlands of my forefathers. The Twin Cities have been an amazing place to spend the last ten years, but proximity to family ultimately won out over the accoutrements of Minneapolis.
Way more importantly to all of us, the Hawkeyes are back, kicking off another college football season in a fan-filled Kinnick. I’m ecstatic, or, I would be, if there weren’t a dark cloud harshing my buzz. Instead of some horribly overmatched schmo chilling on the sidelines waiting for the check to cash, we get a very good Indiana squad with an elite QB-WR Combo and a feisty defense? That’s a no for me, dog.
Look, that just isn’t how I like to spend my Week One. Give me the sacrificial lamb that lets me skinny-dip in a vat of Black-and-Gold Kool-Aid, marinating in the delusion that every single week will be a breezy, dominating Hawkeye victory en route to National Title. I know it ends with me sticky and embarrassed, but I don’t give a rip. You know what though? Things sometimes have a way of working out, so please pardon the nudity. I’m just going to float here awhile.
I’m not saying anything revelatory here: This was an absolute shitkicking by our Hawkeyes, but it was damn shocking how quickly they took control of this thing. The Hawkeyes got the ball first, and after an initial good return by the fearless and fantastic Charlie Jones, and a couple of plays for a first down, an incompletion set-up 2nd and 10 at their own 44 yards line. 2nd and 10 might scream “passing down,” but Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz gave the ball to Tyler Goodson. The Hoosier defense made the dopey mistake of losing contain on the left side of their defense. T-Good bounced it outside down the right sideline and absolutely incinerated the entire Hoosier defense for a 56-yard TD and a much-needed early-lead in game where points were likely at a premium.
The misery would continue for the Hoosiers on their opening possession. It was as if the 70,000 screaming fans at Kinnick were performing a séance, summoning up the spirit of Duke Slater and a legion of Hawkeye legends, who spent this drive fucking with the Hoosiers like the Angels in “Angels in the Outfield.” After a ho-hum run by Stephen Carr, Penix fumbled a snap and wisely swatted the ball forward for a confusing incomplete pass. On the next play, the receiver stumbled when he tried to cut and the pass doinked off of his shoulder pad. Riley Moss was there to grab the rebound, and with nobody in his path, run unabated into the endzone for a lickety-split 14 point-lead and something resembling relief.
The teams would exchange punts before Indiana would draw blood. My biggest fear in this game was Penix thrusting the ball deeply and accurately to Ty Fryfogle, a massive and freakishly athletic human being and potential destroyer of dreams. On this drive, Penix connected Fryfogle in the midst of a soft spot in a zone, who then ran loose among the secondary for a 32-yard gain. The good news? Indiana would gain no more yards on the next three plays and had to settle for a field goal from the Iowa 19.
Another exchange of punts ensued, but with Aussie legend Tory Taylor far surpassing Indiana’s inferior New Zealand knockoff, Iowa came out ahead and started the drive on Indiana’s 48. Iowa took the good field position and capitalized with their best drive. The yards came mostly in small chunks, but the key play was a gut-check conversion on a 4th and 2 at the Indiana 14. Petras dumped it to Charlie Jones in the flat well short of the sticks. Despite being bear-hugged by a dude, Charlie managed to churn his legs and squirm his way just to the first down marker by the nose of the football. Iowa capped the drive off with a sparingly-called QB draw which worked to perfection, and this game was on lockdown with a 21-3 Iowa lead.
The stage was set for the old standard of Iowa’s offense sitting on a big lead while the defense choked the life out of the Hoosiers, but the D was not done having fun at Penix’s expense. With a little under three minutes to go, Iowa had the ball and was flirting with the possibility of extending their lead, when Goodson took a carry and was enveloped by a cadre of Hoosiers. The ball squirted out before Goodson was down. Maybe? Either way the fumble stood and the Hoosiers recovered the ball, getting them a much-needed break and chance to cut into Iowa’s 18-point lead.
It turned out to be a massive break -- for Iowa. On the next play, Riley Moss dropped back into soft coverage. The receiver ran a couple yards out and turned around. Penix lobbed a floater his direction, apparently expecting a different route. Moss pounced and took another Hoosier mistake into the end zone. It turns out a rolling Moss can gather a rock, and the game was effectively over.
Penix wasn’t done spitting out mistakes though. Just a couple of plays later, Penix rolled to his left and chucked the ball to some guy who was blocking Dane Belton. The dude made no attempt to catch the ball, but Dane Belton corralled the ball while being shoved. Iowa mustered up enough offense after the turnover with a minute left to get a field goal. 31-3 would be more than enough for this defense.
The second half was exceedingly uneventful. Indiana got the ball to start. After six minutes of game time and another 30+ yard reception by Fryfogle on a fourth down conversion, Indiana’s drive ended with another field goal, which turned Indiana's four-score deficit into... a four-score deficit. I had zero worries about a comeback and judging by Indiana’s body language, they seemed to know the jig was up too.
The rest of the half was a (joyous) snoozefest. Penix desperately tried to add more interceptions to his totals. Petras and the Iowa offense spent their time... getting reps? The running game wasn’t getting much going and the passing game was on the wrong side of consistent. The Hawkeyes did manage to score a half-hearted field goal along the wya.
A 34-6 hamblasting of a ranked Big Ten team is a hell of a way to start the season. The awesomeness of this win and two defensive touchdowns probably covers up warts on the offensive side of the ball, but Indiana has a legit defense and we can fret about our offense when it costs us a win. This defense is again crazy-legit. Yards come at an absolute premium against them. Fryfogle had two 30-plus yardcatches in the game. That was 25% of Indiana’s offensive production for the entire game. A+ stuff.
Iowa State looms, but the importance of this win shouldn’t be understated. Any team in the Big Ten West that you might have possibly viewed as Iowa’s stiffest competition has a Big Ten loss already. (*Purdue scowls. *Illinois nods in acceptance.) Iowa has banked at least one “Get out of a non-Wisconsin Big Ten Fuck-up” free card. In the quest for a Big Ten title, this win bought Iowa some serious leeway.
* This defense.
* Opinions differ in my own head about Petras. His numbers for this game were sub-sub-pedestrian, but I can recall at least three drops for first downs on drives that faltered not long after, but to my eyes he looked notably less flustered and the speed of his throws seemed to vary correctly based on the route. He still has bouts with inaccuracy and struggles to throw on the run. I’m not ready to say he has turned the corner, but maybe he is poking his head around the corner and scoping out the vibe on the other side.
* The offensive line’s performance felt like a mixed-bag. On the one hand I thought the pass protection and blitz pickups were excellent against a very aggressive front. The run-blocking was straight up bad though. The 56-yard run was a mistake by the Hoosier defense. Aside from that, there just wasn’t room for Goodson to operate, which could be a major bummer against some fierce defenses down the road.
* Tyrone Tracy’s frustration was palpable. Indiana’s secondary is first-rate, so the passing attack having a ho-hum game is nothing to worry about, yet. Hopefully improvement is on the horizon, but finding more opportunities for this unit will be crucial against stiffer defenses.
* This defense.
* Sam LaPorta.
* The new(ish) defensive line had no problem controlling the line of scrimmage. Indiana’s offensive line is not great, but it was excellent to see this unit more than hold its own weight.
* Special teams remain superb, but if Charlie Jones has to miss time, they might get slightly less great.
* This defense.