IOWA CITY, Iowa – Lost in the loss to Northwestern this past Saturday, and with what he said after the game was one of Desmond King’s best performances as an Iowa Hawkeye.
And that’s saying a lot, considering King’s long list of best performances.
From defending like a blanket to racking up over 150 return yards to tackling anybody who came his way, King was a force against the Wildcats.
He did the Jim Thorpe Award proud with his dominance.
But it came in a loss and on a day in which King told reporters after the game that Iowa was out-coached.
He quickly backed away from that comment, but it was too late because it only took a few seconds to spread like a wildfire on social media.
It isn’t often that an Iowa player says anything beyond the typical we-have-to-get-better responses after a loss.
And with King having recently lost his title as a team captain, his comment suggested that something was wrong with the team’s chemistry, on and off the field.
Nobody seemed too interested in King’s performance against Northwestern, only with what he said after the game, which is a shame.
King played liked you would expect the reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner to play.
“I thought he had a heck of a game the other day,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “He’s playing well on defense for us. He’s not getting tested near as much as last year, for obvious reasons. But he’s doing all he can to help us win certainly, and it goes back to January. One of the things I really appreciate about Desmond, I don’t think he’s missed a snap since last year. He’s out there every day in practice, works hard.
“And you know, Saturday it was a little bit unusual for him because he actually ran forward more than he was running backwards. A lot of his yards going forward, but did a great job in the return game. And he’s doing all he can, and that’s all we ask of every player. But he’s certainly stepping up as a returner, did that a year ago. I think that indicates he was an unselfish guy that wants to play hard and try to help the team.”
King has since regained his title as team captain. He confirmed that with the media on Tuesday.
So maybe the conspiracy theorists should look elsewhere because it seems that King’s comment about Iowa being out-coached was made more out of frustration and in the heat of moment. The players get asked so many questions with a negative tone after a loss, that sometimes, they run out of things to say or they speak without really understanding what they’re saying.
King was trying to praise Northwestern more than rip his own coaches. It just didn’t come out right.
King also seems to have handled not being a captain for two games with humility and grace. It certainly didn’t affect his performance on the field, nor did he complain to the media.
It was just business as usual for the Detroit native.
But King also acknowledged on Tuesday that regaining the captain title means a lot to him.
“Being a captain is somebody who has the ability to lead the team and lead them in the right direction and having that as something that defines you is very significant,” King said. But if I’m not the captain for a game, I’m still captain of the defense and I still have to do my part by keeping the defense ready to go.”
Iowa, which plays at Minnesota on Saturday, is nearly halfway through the regular-season schedule, and yet King still doesn’t have an interception.
So if you only look at statistics, King isn’t performing as well as he did last season when he tied Iowa’s single-season record with eight interceptions.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story, though, especially with regard to King.
He doesn’t have any interceptions after five games because teams rarely have thrown his way out of respect and fear.
“If that’s the meaning of it, I’m not sure,” King said. “I think that is just their game plan, keeping the ball from my way. And that’s what they’ve got to do and that’s what teams are going to do to win the game. So I just feel like it’s a game plan.”
King probably won’t win the Jim Thorpe Award again this season because he doesn’t have the statistics or the help from playing on an undefeated team like he did a year ago.
But you could argue that he is even better this season.
The 5-foot-11, 203-pound King has shined as a run-stopper, which will be needed against the physical Gophers on Saturday.
“I feel like it’s a natural instinct, but at the same time, I’ve worked on it,’ King said of being a run stopper. “There are always things to improve on. And that’s what I’m always doing.”
It sort of feels like things are back to normal with King being one of Iowa’s four team captains again.
“I think we definitely need Desmond’s leadership,” said junior linebacker Ben Niemann. “He’s, obviously, a great player on the field. He plays well every week. Obviously, he’s a highly regarded player.
“So if he can be vocal and motivate the guys around him, and bring them up when we’re down, that’s big for us.”
It is more difficult to appreciate greatness during tough times. Iowa is struggling as a team, but King is thriving as a player.
He isn’t perfect, on or off the field. Remember, King was suspended for the first quarter of Iowa’s regular-season finale at Nebraska last season after being late for a team meeting.
He accepted his punishment and moved on without letting it affect his performance on the field.
King also returned to Iowa for his senior season instead of lunching his NFL career a year early. He is on course to leave college with a degree and as arguably the greatest defensive back in the history of the program.
Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of that.