By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – One game is obviously a small sample size, and to suggest that the Iowa football team is poised to have a special season based just on what happened Saturday is premature.
But I am suggesting after watching No. 18 Iowa dismantle No. 17 Indiana 34-6 at Kinnick Stadium that the Hawkeyes might be better than previously thought.
Because this much-anticipated season opener was a beat-down in every sense of the word.
Iowa led 14-0 barely two minutes into the game, and 31-3 at halftime.
Indiana’s high-powered offense led by quarterback Michael Penix Jr., was a turnover machine in the first half with three interceptions.
“It was really a good team win for us and it starts with the effort and focus,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “A week ago, I wasn’t so sure where we were at. But the guys had a really good week. They came in Monday morning focused and ready to roll and put a good week in working on Indiana.”
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The game certainly wasn’t over at halftime, but you probably could’ve counted on one hand the number of people in Kinnick Stadium who thought the Hoosiers had a chance to make a serious comeback.
I started writing this column during halftime with the assumption that the drama was over, and that Iowa would be 1-0 heading into next Saturday’s showdown against Iowa State in Ames.
It turns out that I was right thanks to a brilliant performance by the Iowa defense.
It’s fair to say that the Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker is earning his $1 million salary based on how well his defense performed on Saturday.
“It was all him, to be honest with you,” senior cornerback Riley Moss said of Parker, who is considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the country.
Rarely were the Iowa defenders out of position in Saturday’s game, and they tackled well, especially in open field.
Moss did his best Josh Jackson impersonation with two pick sixes in the first half, while the Iowa defensive line, which has three new starters, applied pressure throughout the game.
The Iowa linebackers also made tackles all over the field, and played well in space.
There’s wasn’t much not to like about Iowa’s defensive performance, and it all starts with Phil Parker’s influence.
Iowa has now played 23 straight games without surrendering 25 points.
“We absolutely won because of film (study) and our preparation today,” Moss said.
Moss is the first Iowa player to have two pick sixes in a game since Jackson did it against Wisconsin in 2017.
The difference is that Jackson’s two pick sixes came during a 38-14 loss, and during a game in which the Iowa offense was inept.
Iowa’s offense was far from sensational against Indiana, but did enough to complement the defense.
Junior running back Tyler Goodson broke loose on the fourth play from scrimmage and raced 56 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Goodson wasn’t even touched until he was about to cross the goal line and was shoved in the back by an Indiana defender.
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras only completed 13-of-27 passes for 145 yards, but at least four of his passes were dropped.
Goodson and backup running back Ivory Kelly-Martin also lost fumbles in Saturday’s game.
So yes, there is lots of room for improvement on offense, but that is to be expected coming off a season opener.
There was one scary moment that occurred in the second quarter when Iowa all-America center Tyler Linderbaum was slow to get up after the play in which Petras scored on a 9-yard quarterback draw. It appeared that Petras’ foot hit Linderbaum in the thigh as Petras catapulted into the end zone.
Linderbaum walked slowly to the Iowa bench, but was back on the field for Iowa’s next offensive possession.
“I was a little nervous for Lindy at first,” Petras said. “But there’s no tougher guy in college football than Tyler Linderbaum. “So I knew as soon as I saw him walking that he would be alright.”
The lopsided score wasn’t unusual for an Iowa season opener, but the circumstances were with the opponent being a nationally ranked Big Ten team.
Indiana is considered a program on the rise under head coach Tom Allen, but that was hard to tell on Saturday as its offense sputtered throughout.
As for a program on the rise, seventh-ranked Iowa State now awaits Iowa in a game that has the makings of a classic.
The Cyclones struggled to defeat Northern Iowa 16-10 Saturday in Ames, a score that undoubtedly raised a few eyebrows.
And while you could read a lot into that, an Iowa team that would go on to win 11 games in 2009 had to block back-to-back field-goal attempts in the final seconds to defeat Northern Iowa 17-16 in the season opener.
So there is a risk in reading to much into a season opener, win or lose.
But there is little risk in thinking that Phil Parker has another rock-solid defense because he almost always has a defense that puts Iowa in a position to win.
It’s hard to say that Iowa is under-appreciated as the 18th ranked team in the country.
But with Iowa State getting so much national attention, and deservedly so, maybe the Iowa players are motivated by that, and it showed on Saturday.
I predicted a 28-27 Iowa win on Saturday, but that was assuming that both teams were evenly matched.
Sometimes, it’s fun to be wrong.
And for Iowa fans, Saturday’s game was the definition of fun.
It was great to have fans back in the stands after last year’s Covid-19 shortened season, and they made a big difference on Saturday. They created a hostile environment, and then the Iowa players took it from there.
“It was crazy,” Moss said of the fan support. “We had kind of had forgotten about it. It felt like my first game in Kinnick again because it was loud. It was absolutely amazing.”
Iowa has now won seven games in a row dating back to last season, and there is clearly momentum building.
Again, it’s only one game, but my biggest take from Saturday’s mismatch is that Iowa could be better than expected.