By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa senior cornerback Riley Moss is a savvy veteran on and off the playing field as he so keenly demonstrated on Tuesday.
Moss was among a handful of Iowa players that attended the weekly press conference, and the Ankeny native faced a barrage of questions, not only about the Iowa defense, which has forced seven turnovers and scored three touchdowns in two games, but also about the Iowa offense, which has only scored four touchdowns in two games.
The Iowa defense forced four turnovers in this past Saturday’s 27-17 victory at Iowa State, and that was after having forced three turnovers in a 34-6 victory over Indiana in the Sept. 4 season opener at Kinnick Stadium.
Moss had two pick sixes in the first half against Indiana and his 85 return yards on those two interceptions is more than any player on offense has in receiving yards except for tight end Sam LaPorta, who leads Iowa with 104 receiving yards on six catches heading into Saturday’s game against Kent State at Kinnick Stadium.
Charlie Jones is second on the team in receiving yards with 38 on three catches.
An while it’s sort of funny that a defensive back has more return yards than almost every player on offense has in receiving yards, it’s also a concern.
But you’d never get Moss to say that publicly to the media because that would be counter-productive and would be like pointing fingers.
“They’re doing what they can do, and we have their back no matter what,” Moss said when aske if he was concerned about the offense.
Iowa is 2-0 and has climbed to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll despite having an offense that has mostly sputtered on the ground and in the air.
Defense and special teams have carried Iowa so far, and without question the offense will have to improve for Iowa to achieve its goals.
But that doesn’t mean Moss should’ve critiqued or poked fun at the offense to the media.
Moss had numerous opportunities to say the wrong thing on Tuesday, but he didn’t.
Being a senior probably helps, but Moss also lives with three members of the Iowa offense, including quarterback Spencer Petras. Moss’ other two roommates are center Tyler Linderbaum and receiver Nico Ragaini.
“I’m outnumbered so when we get into talking about practice during fall camp, they say they beat us. But I don’t think they ever beat us to be honest with you,” Moss said. “But they don’t understand the defensive side.
“So I let them take the win because I’m not going to fight them over that stuff. It would be nice if I had a teammate from the defensive side in my house as a backup. But it is what it is.”
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Moss might tease his roommates in private about how much better the defense is playing right now, but that’s okay because only they can hear it, and because that’s what friends do.
It would’ve been a violation of trust and horrible optics if Moss would’ve taken the bait on Tuesday.
The media has every right to ask about the sputtering offense, but Moss also has the right to avoid answering such a delicate question.
He was reminded that the Iowa offense has only scored four touchdowns in two games, while the defense has scored three.
Again, it’s an unusual statistic and cause for discussion.
But to address it with the media would’ve put Moss in a tough situation because the last thing he wants is to be perceived as poking fun at the Iowa offense.
“We’re just trying to do our job and good things come from it,” Moss said. “At the end of the year, a couple months after the end of the year, we’ll probably say it’s kind of crazy we almost had more touchdowns than you.
“But in season, they’re doing their best and we’re doing our best. So at the end of the day, team effort, But it’s kind of fun to have that little competition, too.”
Team chemistry can suffer from a player saying the wrong thing publicly.
The media was obviously pushing for some catchy sound bites from Moss at the expense of the Iowa offense, but he didn’t play along.
He didn’t say no comment because there are times when not saying anything is actually saying a lot.
Moss answered the delicate questions without really answering them.
It would have been a public relations disaster if Moss had accused the offense of not doing its part.
And he’s smart enough to know that.
The media has to do its job, but so does Moss, and part of his job is not saying anything to the media that could become a distraction.
There is a lot that goes into being a good teammate and helping to stay unified is part of that responsibility.
Iowa had just finished practice Tuesday morning when Moss met with the media. Moss was asked about what makes the team so close, and he mentioned a conversation that he had in practice with Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell earlier that morning.
“Me and Jack were just talking about that at practice today,” Moss said. “This is probably our favorite team that we’ve been on at Iowa.”
Moss went on to say that the veteran players are close with the younger players, and that the trust level on the team is very strong.
The players have been through a lot together since the summer of 2020, including the racial unrest from the summer of 2020 and dealing with the distractions caused by the global pandemic.
“Adverse times end up creating stronger people,” Moss said. “And I think everyone has gotten stronger from it, and I think everyone has grown together because of it.
“So I’m grateful for the team that we have and I’m very grateful for the position group that I’m in and for the dudes that are in my position group.”
It was that gratitude that kept Moss from saying the wrong things on Tuesday, along with his maturity.
Moss considers it a privilege to be an Iowa football player because it is a privilege that very few get to experience.
“I think it starts with they take pride in what they do, what they’re trying to accomplish,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday when asked why the current team is so close. “They’re a good group of guys.
“All these guys are really unselfish guys. They just want to play hard. They don’t care who does what. They’re generally happy for each other.”
The players also are protective of each other because a football team is just like a family in that the players have each other’s back and share a mutual respect and admiration.
That doesn’t mean that everyone on the team is best friends, or that the players always get along.
But there is a time and place to address certain issues, and Tuesday’s press conference wasn’t the right time or place for Riley Moss to talk about Iowa’s offensive woes.