Iowa football: My 10 favorite moments from the 2020 season
The 2020 Iowa football season was a story of perseverance.
Iowa began the season with narrow losses vs. Purdue and Northwestern but triumphantly bounced back to close with six consecutive victories en route to finishing 16th in the AP poll.
Along the way, Iowa had a bevy of contributors, most notably B1G Defensive Player of the Year Daviyon Nixon and unanimous All-Americans Tyler Linderbaum and Alaric Jackson.
The 2020 season was unlike any other in program history because of the unique challenges posed by the pandemic.
With that said, here are my 10 favorite moments from the 2020 season:
Daviyon Nixon’s pick-six vs. Penn State
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) November 22, 2020
This was the perfect snapshot for why the 6-3, 305-pound Nixon will be a coveted prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. On the play, which occurred late in the fourth quarter, Iowa blitzed Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, who threw in Nixon’s direction. The big DT immediately licked his chops. The nifty Nixon managed to cross up Clifford in the process. The dynamic play encapsulated Nixon’s instincts and agility.
As the B1G Defensive Player of the Year, Nixon had many memorable moments, but this one stood out above the rest.
Charlie Jones takes it to the house vs. Michigan State
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) November 7, 2020
The Buffalo transfer and walk-on delivered the season’s most dynamic special teams moment in Iowa’s first win of the season. Jones made one quick cut at midfield and then turned on the jets. Jones’ spectacular 54-yard punt return score with 1:57 left in the first half put Iowa up 28-0.
This play was the peak of a season in which Jones led the B1G in yards per punt return. With how electric Jones was on special teams, I’ve been advocating for Iowa to find some offensive snaps for him at wide receiver next season.
Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi’s first half nightmare
Iowa forced Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi into 3 interceptions, all in the first half. Barrington Wade and Jack Koerner each snagged passes from Lombardi but the best takeaway came from Riley Moss.
Moss scampered down the sideline for a 54-yard pick-six with 1:30 remaining in the first half to put Iowa ahead 35-0.
Lombardi is an Iowa native and this was his first game against the Hawkeyes. The fact that his worst game of the season came against Iowa makes it even sweeter.
Clutch takeaway vs. Nebraska to secure Heroes Trophy
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) November 27, 2020
This ended up being the narrowest victory of the season for Iowa, so every play was consequential and none more than this one.
Chauncey Golston sacked Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez and Zach VanValkenburg scooped up the fumble with 1:18 left to ice the victory.
Prior to the play, Nebraska had driven to the Iowa 39-yard line seeking a go-ahead touchdown. Instead, this was one of Iowa’s three victories in an undefeated trophy-game season.
The Iowa defense produced a ton of eye-popping moments and this was one that will be remembered for quite some time.
Tyler Goodson’s epic rushing touchdown vs. Wisconsin
80 yards to the 🏠
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 12, 2020
Up until this point, Iowa had a five-game winning streak but no victories came against ranked opponents. Goodson’s lengthy gallop ensured Iowa a signature victory and the Heartland Trophy in the regular season finale.
Goodson evaded the pressure at the line of scrimmage, then proceeded to make a few more defenders miss, and used a burst of speed to cap off the outstanding 80-yard touchdown.
Goodson earned first-team All-B1G honors during a season in which he had 4 games of at least 100 rushing yards.
Without a doubt, this amazing run is the pinnacle of Goodson’s terrific sophomore campaign.
Spencer Petras breaks through in final two games
It’s a 21-7 game. pic.twitter.com/FKR2UoRYjG
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 12, 2020
In his final two games of 2020, vs. Illinois and Wisconsin, Petras finally started to showcase the potential that had Iowa fans fawning before the season. Petras stepped up to tally 431 passing yards in the last two victories. Petras logged passer ratings of 165.6 and 153.3 respectively, his best of the season.
Petras passed for more touchdowns in the last two games (5) than the rest of the prior games combined (4). In both performances, Petras was nondescript in the first half but came up huge in the second half when it mattered most.
Against Illinois, Petras began with just 9 passing yards in the first quarter but ended up completing 18 of 28 passes for 220 yards and 3 TDs.
Once again, against Wisconsin, Petras began slow with only 87 first-half passing yards. Iowa converted 1 third down on 9 attempts to that point. In the second half, Petras bounced back with 2 touchdown passes to Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
By no means is it a guarantee that Petras is the definitive starting quarterback for next season. He’ll have to prove his worth. But it seems like we witnessed enough encouraging signs in the final two weeks by Petras to elicit hope he can be Iowa’s long-term answer.
Star-studded recruiting class
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 16, 2020
The 2021 recruiting class is the highest ranked Iowa group since 2005. It is ranked 24th nationally and 7th in the B1G, according to 247Sports.
Iowa landed 6 4-star players, anchored by 6-6, 295-pound offensive tackle David Davidkov. The offensive line was Iowa’s most decorated recruiting unit. In addition to Davidkov, Iowa has 2 other 4-star offensive linemen: guard Connor Colby (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) and tackle Beau Stephens (Blue Springs, Mo.).
Iowa locked up most of the key in-state prospects. Iowa collected 9 of the top 15 in-state recruits. Iowa also landed some impressive skill position players, such as 3-star pro-style quarterback Joey Labas (Broadview Heights, Ohio) and 4-star receiver Keagan Johnson (Bellevue, Neb.).
Ferentz hilariously trolls Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck
Kirk on the 3 timeouts.
“Figured we’d take Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here.”
— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) November 14, 2020
If you had to pinpoint a moment where Iowa got its swag back, Week 4 would definitely be it. Down 35-0, Minnesota used all three of its timeouts to get a garbage time touchdown.
Needless to say, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz found it extremely annoying, because the Hawkeyes proceeded to rub in the Floyd of Rosedale victory by using its 3 timeouts as the game wound down.
Afterward, Ferentz delivered a classic jab that will be fondly recalled for years to come.
“They called a timeout, I guess, to get a look at what we were doing and reconsider,” Ferentz said. “So we just wanted to make sure we got a good look at what they were doing. No sense in taking them on the bus with us. (The media) have reminded me of that a couple times over the last 22 years. Figured we’d take Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here.”
Improvements to locker room culture
To be continued…..🐤💯 pic.twitter.com/OteA52AiUw
— DaviyonNixon (@DaviyonNixon) December 30, 2020
In the offseason, allegations were cast regarding racial bias in the program. Many past Black players stepped up and voiced their complaints about a toxic environment in the locker room.
Ferentz issued a heartfelt apology and expressed a pointed willingness to change the program for the better. Despite the apology, it’s going to take time to see if there won’t be lingering long-term roster effects from the allegations.
However, the 2020 Iowa squad was unified in public, so that’s an encouraging step in the right direction. Also, the allegations didn’t impact recruiting, as 3-star defensive back Jordan Oladokun (Tampa, Fla.) was the only Black recruit who decommitted from Iowa.
Going into next season, Iowa needs to continue to institute best practices and make sure all its facilities are comfortable places for Black players.
Playing every regular season game
Six straight wins in a season unlike any other.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 27, 2020
In any other season, this wouldn’t even matter. In an unprecedented season such as this one, though, merely making it through the slate is a monumental accomplishment.
COVID-19 forced programs such as Ohio State and Maryland to each have three regular season games cancelled.
Meanwhile, Iowa managed to play in all eight regular season games before eventually coming down with its own outbreak that led to cancelling the Champions Week matchup vs. Michigan. Iowa’s bowl contest vs. Missouri was then cancelled because of COVID-19 issues with the Tigers.
Part of playing all eight regular season games was the good fortune that Iowa’s opposition remained healthy. However, credit should also go to Iowa for managing to avoid a spread during that extended period of time.
Hopefully by the time next season rolls around, the pandemic will be curbed and things can go back to normal. In the meantime, kudos to Iowa for navigating a difficult 2020 and coming away with a memorable campaign.