NO. 19 IOWA 18, IOWA STATE 17: PUNTING IS WINNING

By Adam Jacobi on September 15, 2019 at 11:27 am
Iowa hoists the Cy-Hawk Trophy
© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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It's the Hawkeye State.

The Iowa-ISU rivalry submitted its most surreal chapter in many, many years. Today, somehow, through nearly three hours of weather delays, it all ended with the Hawkeyes bringing the Cy-Hawk Trophy back home where it belongs. 

Iowa got four clutch field goals from kicker Keith Duncan, including a go-ahead 39-yard boot with 4:51 left in the game, and the Hawkeyes emerged victorious, 18-17. The victory marks Iowa's fifth straight win in the rivalry

OK, the blunder. We have to talk about it, because it swung the game, and you'll be seeing it for a long time to come. Iowa had just stopped the Cyclones on 4th down with under two minutes to go, but through a series of unfortunate events, the Hawkeyes were punting just 19 seconds later, having traveled backwards on the drive. With Brock Purdy waiting for one last chance, it felt a little like a meltdown in the making.

And... it was, as it turns out!

That's ISU blocker Datrone Young accidentally hamblasting return man Tarique Milton and knocking away the punt in the process, leaving it for Hawkeye Devonte Young to make the crucial recovery and salt away the game. 

Again—the blocker steamrolled his own returner. As he was trying to catch the punt. With the game on the line.

The game was a lot more than that one play, though, and the fact that Iowa was even in position to win it speaks to a level of maturity and resiliency that only Kirk Ferentz's best squads have historically demonstrated.

Let's take a look at a few of those key plays, the difference makers that helped the Hawkeyes turn the game against a desperate, determined opponent like the Cyclones.

  • 2nd quarter, 5:38: ISU 7-3, ISU ball, 2nd and 7, Iowa 30-yard line

The game looked like it could go sideways early—as early as a game can be after three hours of delays—as the Cyclones were driving into field goal range as the half began to wind down. A 14-3 deficit would have been cause for alarm for the Hawkeyes, and even 10-3 would have felt like a lot more than a one-possession game. Instead, Geno Stone punched the ball loose on a Brock Purdy keeper, Jack Koerner was the first to the bouncing ball, and Iowa was able to drive for a half-ending field goal to keep the game at a manageable 7-6 deficit into the break.

Aside from the rather massive swing of points, this was the beginning of the end for Purdy's run game. At that point he had rushed for 26 yards and significantly slowed Iowa's linebackers, leaving them in react mode; Purdy rushed for only 8 more yards in the game. More on him moving with the ball later. 

  • 3rd quarter, 6:12: ISU 14-6, Iowa ball, 3rd and 22, Iowa 19-yard line

Any hope the Hawkeyes had of the Jack Trice crowd settling down after the lengthy delays and a halftime were quickly diminished when the Clones opened up the half with a 73-yard TD bomb to Tarique Milton. Iowa responded with a 3-and-out, which, uh, did not help. Iowa State responded to a drive inside Iowa's 40, but when that petered out, a field position punt against the listless Hawkeye offense seemed wise—a decision that looked to bear fruit when Iowa faced a 3rd and 22 at its own 8, down 14-6 in the third quarter.

That was a fantastic time for Stanley to remember that yes, he has Ihmir Smith-Marsette on his team, and Stanley delivered a bullet to his talented WR1 to keep the drive alive and eventually lead to a field goal to cut the deficit to 14-9:

The value of that conversion against the "safe" draw play (especially with ISU pinning its ears back against a vulnerable and conservative Iowa attack) can't be overstated; the game was in serious jeopardy of pushing to 21-6 if Iowa had to punt again from deep in its own territory. Instead, Iowa drove for another field goal and the game was firmly in reach at 14-9.

  • 3rd quarter, 1:20: ISU 14-9, ISU ball, 2nd and 11, ISU 5-yard line

Speaking of punts, Iowa State hadn't been forced into a three-and-out in its first six quarters of play in 2019, and it had moved the ball with relative ease up to this point against a tentative Iowa defense. But a penalty on the kickoff after Iowa's field goal left ISU backed up to its own 6-yard line. The Cyclones lost a yard on their first run of the possession, then Purdy threw to Deshaunte Jones on a short route, where he wriggled away from the first defender only to be absolutely tattooed by—hello again—Geno Stone, who drilled Jones into Nevada city limits and forced a 3rd and 10. The Cyclone fans booed because they wanted a targeting call (booing is what they do), but no referee on earth was going to grant that. The game was lurching in Iowa's favor now.

  • 4th quarter, 14:50: ISU 14-9, Iowa ball, 3rd and 11, ISU 26-yard line

Still, Iowa could not move the ball with regularity against the aggressive Cyclone defense, and even with a Nico Ragaini punt return that put the ball at the ISU 25, Iowa faced an immediate 3rd and 11 in a situation where, let's be honest, a field goal would have felt like a failure. The Cyclones came with a familiar 3rd-down blitz, and with the linebackers dutifully plunging headlong into the line and the defensive backs chasing Iowa's receivers to the end zone, Stanley availed himself of the wide-open right side of the field and scampered easily to a drive-sustaining first down. The Hawkeyes would go on to score a touchdown and regain a lead that had looked distant for most of the game.

  • 4th quarter, 7:51: Iowa 15-14, ISU ball, 3rd and 8, Iowa 9

One-point leads don't often last 12 minutes, and Iowa's wasn't about to either against an offense like Iowa State was throwing at the Hawkeyes here in the second half. Purdy and Campbell had the green Hawkeye secondary on skates for the drive, and a touchdown could potentially leave Iowa in an overtime-at-best situation in the last minutes of the game.

With a 3rd and 8 inside the red zone, AJ Epenesa made his All-American presence known with a bull rush that disrupted Purdy's throw, forcing an easy incompletion and a field goal that kept Iowa within striking distance without needing to reach the end zone again.

  • 4th quarter, 6:16: ISU 17-15, Iowa ball, 1st and 10, Iowa 45

After ISU's go-ahead field goal, Iowa just needed points—any points would do. Stanley had just easily converted a 3rd and 4 to a wide-open Mekhi Sargent, and with the clock finally working in the Hawkeyes' favor, all signs pointed to a time-sucking, game-managing drive for a game-winning field goal.

The hell with that.

Iowa revved the gas pedal and Stanley threw to a wide-open Brandon Smith, who scampered for 28 yards and put the Hawkeyes well within field goal range, well ahead of schedule. It's easy to take points for granted—Iowa went out and got them.

  • 4th quarter, 2:56: Iowa 18-17, ISU ball, 2nd and 8, Iowa 34

Any optimism surrounding Iowa's late lead was tested quickly, as Purdy and the Cyclones were chewing up on Iowa's soft zone again. It was easy to second-guess the Hawkeyes' defensive strategy at the time, but in retrospect, ISU never sustained a long touchdown drive.

It sure looked like the Cyclones might do that in response to Iowa's go-ahead score, especially as ISU had driven to the edge of field goal range in the dying minutes of the game. On 2nd and 8, Brock Purdy kept the ball, tried to juke Djimon Colbert on the wet turf and fell over for a loss of 5. Iowa had the play sniffed out — we told you we were coming back to Purdy's keepers playing a role in the game — and the 3rd and 13 led to two fruitless* plays.

*On the very next snap, D.J. Johnson was flagged for pass interference on a pass so poor that he arrived to the receiver/point of reception before the ball did. It could have been a debilitating penalty had ISU not also been called for holding, offsetting the whole thing. Imagine if the pass interference that set off the 2008 rally vs. Penn State was negated by holding, Now laugh, because it wasn't.

Iowa has five road games this season, and they're all against teams that were A) ranked in the AP Top 25 to begin the season, or B) preseason AP No. 26 Nebraska. It's a LONG season, but Iowa now finds itself 1-0 on the road. Every journey starts with a single step. This is a hell of a step.

And now we dance. You know we have to.

GO. IOWA. AWESOME.

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