IOWA CITY, Iowa – Good teams are sort of like bloodhounds in how they sniff out victories regardless of the circumstances.
On a Halloween day in which the Iowa football team’s offense only generated 53 yards in the second half against Maryland, the Iowa defense picked up the slack by forcing four turnovers and by holding the Terrapins to just 74 passing yards during a 31-15 victory on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa’s defense was so impressive and scary on Halloween that Maryland interim head coach Mike Locksley twice chose to punt late in the fourth quarter rather than go for it on fourth down in his own territory.
I could sort of understand Locksley’s decision to punt the first time because there still were more than 4 minutes remaining with his team trailing by 16 points, or in other words, by just two scores. But the second time he chose to punt with less than 2 minutes remaining was bizarre to say the least. The Terrapins were buried deep in their own territory, but they basically threw in the towel by giving the ball back to Iowa with no real chance of getting it back.
But enough with Maryland, which is now in Iowa’s rearview mirror as the eighth consecutive opponent to lose to the undefeated Hawkeyes.
Iowa improving to 8-0 is the story that won’t go away, the story that keeps gaining steam with each victory.
C.J. Beathard overcame the pain from nagging injuries to improve his record to 9-0 as Iowa’s starting quarterback, but the day still belonged to the vastly improved Iowa defense, which held Maryland to just 68 yards in the first half and 241 yards overall.
“You definitely have to find ways to win,” said Iowa strong safety and Maryland native Miles Taylor, who had one of Iowa’s three interceptions on Saturday, although he fumbled it back to the Terrapins. “I don’t think the defense played as well as everyone thinks we did. We have a lot of stuff to improve on and to cut down on the big plays and just get better.”
Take away William Likely’s 100-yard kick return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and Maryland really didn’t have any big plays. Its longest play from scrimmage only gained 24 yards.
It’s probably a good sign, though, that Taylor isn’t satisfied because the nation is just waiting for Iowa to wilt under the national spotlight.
The narrative seems to be that Iowa doesn’t deserve much praise or the benefit of the doubt because for one, it’s Iowa, and two, the schedule is considered suspect, or “almost embarrassing” is how ESPN college football commentator Kirk Herbstreit described Iowa’s schedule.
“I don’t know how good we are as a football team, but our guys are playing hard and they play together, and I’m really proud of them to move to eight and all that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Iowa being 8-0 for just the second time in school history. “It’s a very significant accomplishment. It hasn’t been done an awful lot, and I’m really happy for the guys that way.
“But that being said, we’re still halfway through the Big Ten. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Certainly we’ll see a lot of things to correct and improve on tomorrow during the tape and then we’ll go back to work Monday morning and another tough opponent coming down the road here.”
Iowa’s next opponent is Indiana, which I ranked during the bye week as the toughest of the five opponents still left on the schedule. The Hoosiers have one of the Big Ten’s most productive offenses and they have a history of being competitive against the Hawkeyes.
Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld can really sling it, but he had better account for Iowa cornerback Desmond King or risk being burned.
King is having the kind of season that makes legends. The Detroit native intercepted his seventh pass of the season on Saturday and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown with 7 minutes, 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
He only needs one more interception to tie the school record of eight, which is held by Lou King (no relation) and by somebody from way back named Nile Kinnick.
“Desmond is a playmaker,” Taylor said. “He definitely puts the time in. He works hard. The game means something to him. He’s really passionate about the game. It pays off and shows on the field.”
The national pundits can say what they want about Iowa not being a legitimate playoff contender. But until somebody defeats the Hawkeyes, they will remain relevant. It’ll probably take just one loss to eliminate Iowa from playoff contention, but so far it hasn’t happened despite being two-thirds of the way through the regular-season schedule.
“I don’t mean this in a disingenuous – I really don’t care,” said Ferentz, who led Iowa to a 9-0 mark in 2009 before finishing 11-2 overall. “I’m not worried about the playoffs. We’re still four games from the end of the Big Ten season. We’re going to enjoy this one. We’ll worry about our next opponent starting tomorrow afternoon.
“But the one thing I’ve noticed, and I really haven’t followed all the stuff that close, the new system and committees and all that, it just seems like if you win enough, good things happen. And that was true 30 years ago, and that’s all we’re looking at right now. We’re just going to try to keep winning every week we’re out there.”
It could be Beathard and his cohorts on offense who lead the way to Iowa’s next victory, especially considering that Indiana is a sieve on defense. Beathard showed the effects of his nagging groin injury on the few times he tried to scramble from the pocket, but he still did enough for Iowa to prevail.
Whatever it takes to win, this Iowa team seems capable of doing it.
The offense sputtered throughout the second half on Saturday, but it also had three different running back score touchdowns, including a now healthy LeShun Daniels.
So in addition to being undefeated, Iowa is also getting healthier for the stretch drive, although, Beathard is less than 100 percent and defensive end Nate Meier showed up for his postgame interview with his left arm in a sling, but he made it seem as if it wasn’t serious.
“Offensively, we probably didn’t execute as well as we wanted to,” Daniels said. “But we’ll look at the film and get the corrections and be better moving forward.”
Iowa owes nobody an apology for being undefeated after eight games. Maybe the teams that lost to the Hawkeyes should apology to those who seem bothered by Iowa’s resurgence.