By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – If Saturday was Charlie Jones’ last game in Kinnick Stadium, he went out in style.
Not only did Iowa beat Illinois, Jones’ home state school, 33-23 to improve to 9-2 on the season, but Jones also became just the third player in program history to return both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a career.
Jones’ 100-yard kickoff return touchdown in the first quarter – the fourth of its kind in school history – couldn’t have come at a better time.
Iowa was trailing now 4-7 Illinois 10-0 when Jones followed near-perfect blocking into the end zone.
“That was a designed play,” Jones said. “It was great blocking, just like we drew it up, just like we saw on film, so it was a really good call by (special teams) coach (LeVar) Woods. I knew I had great blocking to my left. I was able to cut inside and then saw guys blocking downfield. It was just me and some grass and guys were just working along the way. The guys on that unit are special. They really take pride in what they do and make me look good out there.”
Jones joked after the game that he might owe his roommate, and fellow senior, Henry Marchese for an outstanding block that helped spring Jones for the touchdown.
“I’ll have to get him some Chipotle or something,” Jones said.
The 6-foot, 188-pound Jones has been a revelation, mostly on special teams, since giving up a scholarship at Buffalo to transfer to Iowa as a walk-on.
Jones sat out 2019 after he transferred, but became a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2020.
As a returner, Jones is fearless, and sometimes downright reckless, but somehow almost always gains positive yardage despite often fielding punts while backpedaling and with defenders in his face.
“With Charlie you love the rollercoaster a little bit,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He may end up doing some things where it’s like, ‘Oh, OK, here we go.’ It’s like a baseball guy or whatever, sometimes you’ve got to live with some other stuff too.”
The Deerfield, Illinois, native could return next season due to an extra year of eligibility granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said he still hasn’t made a decision.
Regardless, he provided some electrifying moments and memories for Hawkeye fans.
“It was nice to have a moment with my friends, guys that I’m really close with,” Jones said. “A bunch of the seniors are some of my best friends, so it’s special for everyone to come together and play well and get a win on senior day.”
Injury Report: Iowa played without half of its starting defensive backfield. Seniors Matt Hankins and Jack Koerner both sat out Saturday’s game with undisclosed injuries. Hankins was noticeably limping, while Koerner dressed and was at midfield as a captain for the coin toss.
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Mason Richman and junior cornerback Terry Roberts both missed their third consecutive games.
Ferentz said that he is hopeful Koerner will return in Iowa’s Black Friday matchup with Nebraska next week, but Hankins and Roberts may be out longer.
Junior quarterback Spencer Petras also did not play, but was throwing in warmups. Petras was replaced by Padilla in Iowa’s win over Northwestern due to a shoulder injury.
Winnin’: Iowa has won at least six conference games in three straight years for the first time under Ferentz. The last time Iowa won at least six conference games in three straight seasons was 1981-83.
First Time for Everything: Freshman receiver Arland Bruce made his first career start. He is the 31st true freshman in the Ferentz era to start, and third this season. Bruce had a career-long 28-yard reception to set up his second career rushing touchdown.
Iowa started two freshman receivers for the first time in the Ferentz era as Keagan Johnson made his seventh career start opposite Bruce.