116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Maybe a mathematician, statistician, logician or tactician can explain Iowa’s strategy on its final offensive possession Saturday.
For the record, though, the next time the Hawkeyes are ahead 24-22 with the ball at their opponent’s 3-yard line and 2:17 left, they may want to consider slamming it in the end zone for a 9-point lead instead of lopping time off the clock and then kicking a field goal for a 5-point edge.
The Gophers got one more shot with 71 yards and 39 seconds to go, but Iowa’s defense put the lid on a 27-22 win that was weird, wild, and if you’re the Hawkeyes, wonderful.
Had Minnesota found a way to reach the end zone with a stunning play like its 68-yard touchdown pass with 5:28 left that pulled it within 24-22? Iowa City-Coralville Walmarts would quickly have run out of torches and pitchforks Saturday night.
Instead, the strategy was one last quirk in a game filled with them. Minnesota possessing the ball for 83 plays and 40 minutes to Iowa’s 49 and 20? Just a quirk.
The Gophers playing turnover-free ball, gaining 132 more yards than the Hawkeyes, and still losing? Big-time quirky.
It’s still about making one play more than your opponent with a game on the line, and the Hawkeyes’ Joe Evans sacked Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan to finally end this thing.
Iowa could have laid a big egg. Instead, it kept the bacon at home, again. Floyd of Rosedale went no further Saturday night than from Kinnick across the parking lot to the Hawkeyes’ football compound.
We puff this stuff up so much, but it’s all really quite funny. College football followers get so wrapped up in recruiting.
Where are we in the recruiting rankings? Who was in for a recruiting visit this weekend? Did they have a good time? Where else have they visited? Did they have a good time there?
Who’s leaning to coming here, who’s leaning the other way, who is Player B if Player A ditches us for someone else?
Then look at some of the most-important players for Iowa Saturday. Alex Padilla got his first start at quarterback and did just fine.
You know who was offering Padilla scholarships when he was a high school kid in Colorado? Mountain West Conference and Ivy League programs, mostly.
Penn, Cornell, Dartmouth, Yale and Columbia all wanted him. Big Ten coaches? Not until Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe got wind of Padilla, checked him out, and sold head coach Kirk Ferentz on him.
Georgia made a late pitch to Padilla once he verbaled to the Hawkeyes. “Won’t be visiting there,” Padilla told the recruiting bird dogs at Hawkeye Report. “Done with recruiting.”
Saturday, the former darling of Ivy League coaches threw two touchdown passes and ran for Iowa’s other TD.
“I’ve been dreaming of this moment ever since I was a little kid,” Padilla said.
Charlie Jones caught one of those touchdown passes. It was a 72-yarder early in the third quarter that gave Iowa a lead it somehow never surrendered. Jones made a double-cut, left Gopher cornerback Justin Walley behind him, caught the pass, and saw nothing but green ahead.
Jones wasn’t supposed to be here. His FBS scholarship offer out of high school in suburban Chicago was with Buffalo. He took it, played a season there, caught 18 passes, returned kickoffs and punts, scored four touchdowns, did a very nice job for a freshman.
He wanted more. He didn’t define himself as a Mid-American Conference player.
So Jones joined Iowa as a walk-on in 2019, sitting out that season as a transfer. Last year, he returned punts and did it quite well, breaking one for a touchdown against Michigan State. He played well enough to be put on scholarship, again. But he hadn’t caught a pass.
This year, he’s still returning kicks artfully. Receivers want to receive, though. Saturday he got a 72-yarder in a tight November Big Ten game.
“This is exactly why I came here,” Jones said. “I was playing in the MAC, left the scholarship because I knew I could play in the Big Ten.
“It was tough on me, tough on my family, but we knew it was worth it. Moments in games like this is exactly why I came here.”
Ferentz once may not have been so sure why he took in Jones.
“Charlie, to me was a real wild card,” Ferentz said. “He almost kind of annoyed me earlier when he got here, and he knows this. Some idiosyncrasies, and I'm sure he feels the same about me.
“You see him in live action, once you get to live action — and we don't practice kicking live — we knew pretty quickly last year that, boy, this guy has great judgment fielding balls. He is reckless and just daring on the return part of it.
“The other part he has really developed into a good receiver, as we saw today. That's a real credit to him. He has worked really hard at that. … Love players like that.”
How about Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg? He sacked Morgan at the Minnesota 3 late in the game. He had two other tackles for losses, and 10 stops total. He was fantastic, and has been fantastic.
VanValkenburg came here from Division II Hillsdale College in Michigan. He sold defensive line coach Kelvin Bell on him. Bell met him in a Hillsdale coffee shop, got a good feeling about him right away. But Bell couldn’t know if the player could truly handle the leap from D-II to the Big Ten.
VanValkenburg, however, did know. He played great ball last year and enjoyed it so much that he used the one-year eligibility waiver the NCAA gave athletes last year because of the pandemic to become a sixth-year senior.
This season, he’s better. He leads Iowa in tackles for losses with 9.5. He leads the team in quarterback hurries with 8. If there are two defensive ends voted ahead of him for the All-Big Ten team, they better be incredible.
“It's hard to evaluate looking at the Division II film,” Ferentz said, “but the one thing about him, he went hard, and he is a smart, mature guy. You feel like if you get a little time, maybe this guy can grow into something. He has.”
Recruiting? Hillsdale wanted him out of Zeeland, Mich. So he went to Hillsdale.
Saturday was why he came here.
“Yeah, just big-time football,” VanValkenburg said. “Every week they’re great games, they’re great contests. The competition is obviously a lot higher than what I used to play, just physically.
“Just being able to test yourself and being part of a team that can go and do things like this, it’s a great feeling.”
Padilla, Jones and VanValkenburg all thought they were better than the world thought they were, if they could prosper on larger stages than where they originally were pegged.
Saturday’s was a tough, nutty game. It’s a tough, nutty sport for tough, nutty people. But those three guys are winners, and earned a tough, nutty win.
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