Iowa football: Why this is the Hawkeyes team we expected all along
Now this is the Iowa football team that fans and pundits were anticipating. The Hawkeyes definitely did not have the start they expected, but Iowa’s current form is better late than never.
After losing the first two games of the season by a combined five points, Iowa (4-2) has reeled off four consecutive victories to climb into second place in the B1G West.
Iowa entered the season ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll and earned their way back to that same spot prior to Friday’s 26-20 victory against rival Nebraska.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) November 27, 2020
The Iowa defense now looks fearsome. The unit showed flashes in the first two games, holding Purdue and Northwestern to 20 points each with 3 shutout quarters.
Since then, the Iowa defense has been lights out. Iowa has produced 10 shutout quarters in the past four games.
The Iowa defense came up huge in the clutch during Friday’s 26-20 victory against Nebraska. Chauncey Golston sacked Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez and Zach VanValkenburg scooped up the fumble with 1:18 left to ice the victory.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) November 27, 2020
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was effusive in his praise for Golston, raving that the senior defensive end has the kind of moxie that can’t be measured in physical dimensions.
“He really embodies to me what an Iowa football player is,” Ferentz said. “He was under-recruited, undersized when he came out. He had the height, not the girth. The guy just has a positive energy. We’re thrilled he’s on our football team.”
Led by Golston and Daviyon Nixon, a by-committee approach has worked wonders for the Iowa defensive line in filling the void for drafted defensive end A.J. Epenesa.
Golston has provided excellent leadership and playmaking in his final season at Iowa. Golston has amassed 4 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble in 2020.
Meanwhile, Nixon, the junior defensive tackle, is making a strong case for B1G Defensive Player of the Year. Nixon leads Iowa with 5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, plus has an interception and a forced fumble. Nixon’s interception was a key 71-yard pick-six to secure Iowa’s win at Penn State.
The Iowa offense notched just 20 points in both losses. Since then, that unit has been revived and scored at least 35 points in three of the past four games. It hasn’t been because of anything spectacular from Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras, though.
Petras received plenty of hype and has perhaps the most talented group of targets in the Ferentz era. But the sophomore has mostly served as a game manager during an uneven first season as the starter.
Petras has been largely erratic, throwing for 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions on the season.
This isn’t to knock Petras or assume that he won’t eventually transform into an impactful quarterback. But the Iowa rushing attack has anchored the offense. Tyler Goodson and Mehki Sargent have been a phenomenal one-two punch in the backfield for Iowa.
In Iowa’s win vs. Nebraska, Tyler Goodson eclipsed 100 yards on the ground for the third time in four games. Goodson tallied 111 yards on 30 carries, while Sargent added a touchdown. The duo has combined for 13 touchdowns (Goodson 7, Sargent 6).
If the Hawkeyes want to contend for the B1G West title next season, they’ll need more offensive balance. But right now all that matters is that they register enough points to keep their winning streak intact.
Finally, Iowa’s special teams has been strong in all facets.
Kicker Keith Duncan is 10-of-11 on field goals from 20-49 yards and has converted all 21 of his extra points. Duncan missed a late 51-yard field but converted his other four tries against Nebraska. Duncan has shown enough this season coming off leading the nation in field goals to merit being a legitimate NFL prospect.
Punt returner Charlie Jones had a spectacular 54-yard score against Michigan State. On Friday, Terry Roberts swung the momentum for Iowa when he recovered a muffed punt at the Nebraska 38.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) November 27, 2020
Yup, Iowa is clicking on all cylinders in all three units.
In the preseason I forecasted that the Iowa offense would be better and the Iowa defense would be worse. The rushing attack and special teams have held to form, while the defense has been better than expected. The only disappointment has been the passing game.
Heading into Friday, we still didn’t know how Iowa would respond in a close contest. Iowa routed their previous three opponents by an average of 30 points.
Nebraska (1-4) has struggled this season but a win is a win in a rivalry game. Iowa answered the question loud and clear about their ability in the clutch. Their mental toughness is the reason the Heroes Trophy remains in Iowa for the sixth straight season.
“It’s hard to win conference games, just in a nutshell,” Ferentz said. “If you can get a streak going, that’s great. But that wasn’t foremost in our thoughts today. We knew we had a big challenge on our hands. Just glad we were able to get the job done.”
Now, Iowa heads into the final two games of the regular season against Illinois and Wisconsin brimming with confidence.
It’s an added bonus as Iowa shapes up to be the team we expected to see all along. Iowa almost certainly isn’t going to win the B1G West or get to compete in the conference title game, but the team’s revival makes this season a success.