By Pat Harty
This Friday night beat-down proved to be a resounding statement about both teams.
Maryland’s dysfunction and misguided emotion versus Iowa’s discipline, focus, toughness and sound fundamentals.
The Terrapins probably would defeat Iowa in a 7-on-7 scrimmage in which space is easy to come by, but Big Ten football is a different animal.
What unfolded on Friday at Memorial Stadium in College Park, Maryland was a mismatch between two teams with 4-0 records.
Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw three interceptions in the first half, and his team also self-destructed with inexcusable penalties and emotional breakdowns, and that allowed fifth-ranked Iowa to first seize the momentum, and then cruise to a 51-14 victory.
“That was just crazy. In my wildest dreams I didn’t expect this tonight,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said on the Learfield post-game radio show. “Their guy comes into the game with 10 touchdowns, one pick. Our defense just did a great job. We’re getting pressure up front, guys made him uncomfortable and guys were ball-hawking in the secondary. They’re having fun playing.”
The Terrapins without question suffered a massive loss when star receiver Dontay Demus hyper-extended his right knee on a kick return early in the second quarter. Demus is a sensational talent, and he had been causing Iowa problems before he was injured.
His loss seemed to suck the emotion and swagger from the Maryland players and Iowa took advantage as any good team would.
Iowa’s ground game also was productive for a change, and it’s incredible how much easier the game looks for Iowa when it can sustain a rushing attack.
Tyler Goodson showed again that if you give him just a little space, he can shred a defense with his elusiveness.
Fifth-year senior backup Ivory Kelly-Martin also had some impressive moments in Friday’s game, and he didn’t fumble.
And junior quarterback Spencer Petras continues to get better. He’s still very much a work in progress. But he’s getting better, with a lot of help from his favorite target, junior tight end Sam LaPorta.
This was a business trip in which Iowa rose to the occasion in impressive fashion, while Maryland lived up to its reputation as a team that often unravels during tough times.
Iowa also did its part to set the stage for next Saturday’s much-anticipated matchup against Penn State at Kinnick Stadium.
There was some concern that Friday’s game was sort of a trap game for Iowa, but that’s selling this Iowa team short.
Nobody takes it one game at a time better than the 66-year old Kirk Ferentz, and that was obvious with how well his team executed on Friday.
This Iowa team has top-notch leadership from its veteran players, and is also unified.
Petras scored two touchdowns on quarterback sneaks in the first half, while fullback Monte Pottebaum scored on a short run in the first half.
That’s what happens when your team dominates the line of scrimmage.
Iowa led 34-7 at halftime, and by the start of the second half, Iowa hadn’t just taken the Maryland fans out of the game from an emotional and interest standpoint, many of the Maryland students had left the stadium on a Black Out night.
And what’s even more encouraging is that the Iowa offense still has plenty of room for improvement.
Goodson scored on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Petras on Iowa’s first offensive series of the third quarter, and with Iowa leading 41-7, the rout clearly was on.
It would’ve been easy for Iowa to let up in the second half, but instead, Petras and his cohorts kept their foot on the gas and showed Maryland no mercy.
Iowa also finished with six interceptions.
That’s a sign of being special, and maybe even a playoff-caliber team in a season in which there appears to be more parity than usual once you get past Alabama and Georgia.
But it’s still early with next Saturday’s game against Penn State only the halfway point of the regular season.
Iowa has won 11 straight games dating back to last season, and while it hasn’t always been pretty, Kirk Ferentz isn’t concerned about style points, just wins.
Sixth-year senior Caleb Shudak also made all three of his field-goal attempts in Friday’s game and is now 8-for-9 in field goals this season.
Special teams is clearly a strength for Iowa at this point, along with defense, but the offense is making strides.
“I love the defense. I love this team and it’s just so fun to be around these guys, and especially this locker room right now, it’s awesome, we’re all just having a great time,” said senior cornerback Riley Moss, who had one of Iowa’s six interceptions. “It’s amazing. Especially the ways those guys behind you get in and they don’t skip a beat. They go in and fly around and make those plays.
“It’s really cool to see them have success and see the entire defense, offense, special teams all come together and put together a perfect game. We’ve been waiting for that for the past four weeks, so it was nice to see and the scary thing is I think we can get better.
Ferentz was pleased with how the Iowa offense capitalized on the turnovers.
The stage was set for Maryland to make a statement on Friday at home, but the stage collapsed under the pressure from a program that has been solid for over four decades.
Maryland is trying to get to Iowa’s level and learned the hard way on Friday that the hill to climb is steep and filled with trouble spots.
Iowa was vastly superior in just about everything, from execution to play calling to playing with toughness and poise.
Iowa is now 58-21 since the start of the 2015 season in which it finished undefeated in Big Ten play and played in the Rose Bowl.
You could argue that Kirk Ferentz is coaching his best right now, and that’s saying a lot.
Because remember, this Iowa program is barely one year removed from the racial unrest that rocked the program and tarnished Kirk Ferentz’s image.
The team could’ve easily splintered, but Kirk Ferentz has led the way through rocky waters in impressive fashion.
And now he might have a team that is special.