By Adam Jacobi on November 12, 2022 at 7:33 pm
Cooper DeJean takes an interception to the house
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

On a day that started with Purdue cracking the door open in the Big Ten West, Cooper DeJean and the Iowa Hawkeyes kicked that door down in style, overwhelming the visiting Wisconsin Badgers, 24-10. DeJean took back a pick-six in the second quarter that gave Iowa a 14-3 lead, he returned four punts for 82 critical yards in relief of an inactive Arland Bruce IV, and he registered 10 tackles (1 TFL) and a forced fumble for a Hawkeye defense that held Wisconsin's bruising offense in check for 60 minutes.

Iowa and Wisconsin fans alike rejoiced prior to the game as Big Ten West leader Illinois, who came into the game at 7-2 (4-2) with a bevy of valuable head-to-head wins, dropped a home game to Purdue in the 11 am slot, leaving the Big Ten West firmly in reach for whoever would win this contest in cold, blustery Kinnick Stadium. The weather did no favors for either offense, but Iowa's defense and special teams made the game-deciding plays, led by DeJean's heroics.

  • Deontae Craig blocked a punt in the first quarter, leading to a go-ahead touchdown for Iowa two plays later.
  • Cooper DeJean picked off a miserably underthrown out route by Graham Mertz and returned it for a score to make the game 14-3.
  • Riley Moss finally got his first pick of the year after Kaevon Merriweather tipped a deep pass early in the second quarter. 
  • Iowa's defense forced six three-and-outs and nine punts altogether, and Wisconsin took precisely one play inside Iowa territory in the last 35 minutes of the game: a 4th-and-7 incompletion that DeJean had blanketed.
  • DeJean returned a 3rd quarter punt 41 yards to the Wisconsin 18, and Iowa scored what was effectively the clinching touchdown in five plays.
  • Tory Taylor punted for 391 yards, including one downed at the 1-yard-line after, yes, DeJean (who was also gunning on punts all day) tapped it back to be downed. The Badgers being pinned back directly led to DeJean's aforementioned punt return.
  • Joe Evans logged Iowa's fourth and last sack of the game on the Badgers' final possession, stripping Mertz in the process for Logan Lee to make the triumphant recovery. 

And that's all especially great because Iowa's offensive line was somewhere between lunch meat and dog food for the vast majority of the game. Wisconsin's odd-front defense wrought havoc on the line's assignment recognition, and there were disastrous whiffs and penalties perpetrated by just about everyone who took a snap. Complicating matters, Beau Stephens went out early with what looked like a concussion -- he's had his own struggles along the line this year, but Iowa's still going to miss him if the protocol keeps him out for Minnesota or beyond.

All told, Iowa managed a horrific 146 yards of total offense, 2.1 yards a pop. If that sounds insufficient to win a game, well, it is — everywhere but in Iowa City, that is:

And really, this just felt like a Kirk Ferentz Special, didn't it? The score isn't as jaw-dropping as a 6-4 or 7-3*, but when all of Iowa's touchdowns came from the defense scoring or from special teams starting a drive inside the Badger red zone, you can only tip your cap to the only coach in FBS who keeps getting away with this.

*The other game they won with fewer than 3.0 YPP this year.

And if that sounds bitter, it's not: talking about winning is orders of magnitude more fun than talking about losses, and this team absolutely earned its W today. Mertz and the Badgers were miserable by the end of the day, and not just due to the 22-degree wind chill and snow showers that the clouds only spit when they're bored. The Hawkeye defense bottled Badger behemoth Braelon Allen up for just 40 yards on 17 carries on the day, and many of Mertz' misfires weren't even competitive throws. Iowa's offense was running a fire drill all day, sure, but aside from a 51-yard touchdown throw (on 3rd and 18!) off a blown coverage assignment (probably by Moss), the Badgers looked like they'd never seen anything Iowa was running on defense before. 

Special credit has to go to the top-to-bottom physicality of the Iowa defense, too. Wisconsin's offense clearly isn't used to being the ones that get knocked around, and that's exactly what the Hawkeyes did at every opportunity. Jack Campbell led all defenders with 11 tackles on the day, most that delivered that type of freezing sting that only comes with Big Ten games in the middle of November. Allen rarely had room to accelerate — and when he did it was usually called back for a blocking penalty. And Phil Parker clearly delivered the message that Allen wasn't the type of back that you try to arm-tackle, as Iowa's defenders held him without a double-digit-yard run for the day.

Your Iowa Hawkeyes are now bowl eligible at 6-4, riding a three-game winning streak after the Columbus Debacle, and in a four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West at 4-3. Illinois, who currently holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with every other 4-3 team, now travels to Ann Arbor to face No. 3 Michigan; assuming the 10-0 Wolverines continue their dominance, Iowa would be in charge of its destiny to win the Big Ten West (and, well, the Big Ten) with two regular-season games to play.

It was a cold, ugly mess. It was another defensive bailout for an offense that's needed a whole lot of them. It was a regression for the offense and the line in particular. But damn it if it wasn't a 14-point win too.

Not much more you can ask for than this. We saw it last season too: just keep winning and good things tend to happen. And Iowa still hasn't lost a November game since 2019.


Oh wait, one more thing: whoever in gameday production at Kinnick decided to play "Jump Around" to celebrate the victory, double their salary. Bless you.


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