For the first time in a long time, I was genuinely excited for the Cy-Hawk game. Though I occasionally oscillate towards ambivalence, my default mental state heading into this weekend is dread. The social weight of this game usually looms larger than whatever on-field implication there are. A loss entails more than the usual portion of misery and thus a win provides more relief than joy.
Case in point: I spent most of my teenage years on the other side of Iowa’s 15-game win streak against Iowa State, soaking in comments like “YOUR HAWKEYES SURE DID LOSE, DIDN’T THEY?” from Cyclone-loving uncles. Not that any of this was traumatizing, but my dopamine-receptors quickly recognized this pattern: “Iowa beating Iowa State equals no annoying conversations.” Throw in a first girlfriend that cheered for and eventually went to Iowa State, and life was noticeably less aggravating for a week or two each September when Iowa won.
When you are in Iowa, this rivalry is inescapable. It is hard to understate how just-plum weird this is. A state of this size with two Power-5 teams in different conferences that play each other every year? Where else does this happen? Iowa and ISU are two medium-sized fish gnawing at each other for control of the same tiny pond. It just does not feel like the pond is big enough for the both of us and that plays out in interactions between our heavily integrated fanbases.
What made this matchup different is that for the first time in my living memory, Iowa State was the team soaking up all the hype and Iowa got to be the team saying “What about us?” We’ve absolutely seen hyped-up Hawkeye squads collapse under the weight of their own preseason hype, usually around the time of the Iowa State game. To have the tables turned with a spot in the Top Ten at stake? Yes please!
As is becoming the excruciating standard in this matchup, things started out with whatever is softer than a whimper for both of these two offenses. Early on Iowa and Iowa State combined for four punts and 27 crummy yards, meager scraps allowed by these two stingy defenses. Yet boring though it was, this seeming draw was actually a win for Iowa, because Tory Taylor + Charlie Jones >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Corey Dunn and Tarique Milton.
Seriously this 2 vs 2 matchup was an absolute boon for Iowa. Tory Taylor kept Iowa State perpetually pinned inside their own 10. Charlie Jones, the Deerfield Dervish, whirled under every punt, flipping field position and threatening to house it each time. Iowa State’s guys…participated. It honestly felt like Iowa gained 20 yards each time these teams traded punts. Sometimes special teams play is considered “hidden” yardage, but the dominance by Jones and Taylor was visceral and obvious.
These two helped set Iowa up at the ISU 41 on their third drive. This primo real estate was mostly squandered by the offense, whose best play was Charlie Jones generating a holding call on ISU’s defense. They did muster up a 50-yard field goal try, an attempt which was shanked to death thanks to a poor snap.
The worst part about the miss was that it gave Iowa State their best field position of the day, which they put to good use. Brock Purdy hit a couple of passes on first downs to complement their uncomfortably effective running game, marching right into the red zone. ISU moving the ball versus whatever horrific adjective you would use to describe Iowa’s offense was extremely unnerving and a 7-point lead would have felt like a hundred, but Iowa’s defense held fast in the red zone and kept the lead to just three.
Iowa’s offense continued doing very little. (Though they did pick up their first first down of the game on a shallow cross that looked DOA but was salvaged by the heroics of Tyler Goodson.) The spark for this team would come, as it seemingly always does, from the defense.
ISU had the ball at their own 10-yard line and decided to take a shot. Purdy dropped back and had more than enough time to talk himself into a bad decision. Seeing his receiver with a step and inside position down the middle of the field, he chucked it up. There is no doubt Hankins got away with a hold, but Purdy’s throw was absolute bunk, coming both late and short. This meant Hankins was actually in a better position to catch the damn thing, and he wanted it more, fighting for the jump ball and corralling the squirming ball before it touched the ground.
With the ball at ISU’s 49, this time the Iowa offense would capitalize. Brian Ferentz used a couple of first down throws for easy chunk plays and to loosen the defense ever so slightly. The trio of Pottebaum, Goodson, and Kelly-Martin carried it the rest of way, with Goodson slicing and slithering through the right side of the line and just barely breaking the goal line for a massive touchdown in this offensive-gobbling swamp of a game.
Iowa State had another punt in them which set up Iowa’s bar-none best drive of this early season. This one started at the Iowa 29 and initially went backward. On 3rd-and-15, me and probably everyone in the stands assumed a halfback draw for one-and-a-half yards was coming next. Instead, LaPorta ran out and nestled in a soft spot in ISU’s zone past the first down marker. Petras fired his Moonraker-laser throw on the money for a gargantuan first down.
Iowa ground their way to a 2nd-and-10 at the ISU 26. I wouldn’t have been upset with a couple of clock-chewing runs and a field goal to be honest. Instead, Petras threw it up to a mostly-covered Charlie Jones running a post route. The throw was to the back of the end zone away from the defenders on Jones’ tail. Somehow, Jones contorted his body, getting his hands underneath the ball to make a ludicrous pretzel catch with two ISU defenders all-up in his shit, putting Iowa in complete control of what looked like another “Give us 14”-type game.
It looked to all the world like Iowa was walking into the half with a righteous 14-3 lead, but unfortunately it was time for the defense's first, last, and only meaningful mistake of the day. With a minute left in the half, not giving up a big play was the defense’s only job. Unfortunately ISU got the ball to midfield with 23 seconds to go and some dude named Darren Wilson got wide open down the field on a slow-burning route, Purdy hit him in stride and he sprinted down the sideline to the Iowa 4, setting up a deflating touchdown plunge by Bryce Hall and seemingly evaporating all of Iowa’s mojo.
No worries though. This defense makes their own stinkin’ mojo. I haven’t talked about them in detail yet, but the second half was their fuckin’ half. They somehow elevated their play from great in the first half to transcendent in the second. This despite being “complemented” by an offense who, aside from not turning the ball over, was a big empty void of nothingness, netting all of 20-some yards in the entire second half and sometimes squandering field goal tries.
But we can bellyache about our offense later. Today it did not matter. Iowa’s defense sent the ISU offense to its room and simply waited for them to shit the bed. Iowa’s defense (and special teams), along with Iowa State’s ineptitude, accounted for every bit of the 13-0 scoring margin deep into the second half.
The defense, with some strong assists by the special teams, did just about everything. Literally scoring points on scoop-and-scores, setting up field goals, all while steadily erasing any confidence Iowa State’s offense had in itself. They had Brock Purdy, purdy rattled. The defense only nabbed him a couple of times, but they did set up residence in his head. Both Brock and his coach seemed to know he didn’t have it and, stunningly, Matt Campbell took out his senior starting QB in the fourth quarter down 17 in a rivalry game. That is astounding.
The final stat line looks better for Iowa State’s offense, but 150ish of that was back-up QB-fueled face-saving garbage time. Put it this way: The fourth quarter was so out-of-hand, Rece Davis and Kirk Herbstreit were reminiscing about the 2002 Hawkeyes and desperately praising ISU’s moxie in order to fill the dead space where an exciting finish should have been.
This game was a mega-sized opportunity for the Hawkeyes to announce themselves on the national stage, and Iowa’s defense seized it by flaying Iowa State’s offense. Expectations are about to rocket into the stratosphere. We all know that it will take something resembling mediocrity from this offense to reach them, but if the floor for this team is to be a version of the 2006 Chicago Bears, I’ll buy a ticket on that train. For now though, we’ve got a couple of weeks of cupcakes to eat while floating around on Cloud Nine, before we see if Iowa can notch enough Big Ten wins to earn a trip to Indy.
* Another mention for Tory Taylor. I don’t really remember Reggie Roby, but was watching him like watching Tory Taylor? I get genuinely excited watching Double-T punt and was astounded when, sometime in the 4th quarter, he attempted to hit the coffin corner and looked legitimately pissed at himself for missing. (Bonus: That punt he 69’d (yarded) could have been even longer if our dudes had not snagged the ball thinking ISU’s dude might have muffed it.)
* Another mention for Charlie Jones. Of all the skill position guys, he was the only one consistently making plays. His touchdown catch was massive and his Tasmanian Devil recklessness returning punts is a massive boost to an otherwise moribund offense. In sticking with the 2006 Bears’ analogy, he is our Devin Hester, and I am pumped to see his “Oh my God, hold your breath he may score here” returns the rest of the year. (I still love Tyrone Tracy, but my wild speculation is that he got a lot of ISU’s attention.)
* This defensive line is really, really fun. It feels like there are 7-8 dudes that are solid and pressure can come from absolutely anywhere. ISU’s offensive line is the real deal, but Iowa's defensive line was consistently in Purdy’s grill. If one or two of those guys turns into a terrormonster, this defense could become even better.
* In sticking with the 2006 Bears analogy, if Petras is our Rex Grossman, minus the turnovers, I’m cool with it. It was mostly terrible, but Petras’ second quarter was legitimately great (7 for 8 with 92 yards and a TD). Not a lot of guys open and when they were, there were very small windows to hit, but Petras hit them. But for the love of God, if your job is to not do negative things, don’t take sacks that move the offense out of field goal range.
* Caleb Shudak and his 51-yard field goal. Keith Duncan was money, but seeing a 50+ yarder so down the pipe was massive. If that is yet another tool in this team’s toolkit, that is super awesome.
* One last plug for this defense. They know.