116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s best receiver Saturday was Iowa cornerback Riley Moss.
No. 18 Iowa’s defense crippled a star-studded offense, coasting to victory backed by its young defensive line, strong secondary and consistent ground game to open the college football season with a 34-6 victory over No. 17 Indiana at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa running back Tyler Goodson’s 56-yard touchdown run on the fourth play of the game struck a rumbling tone for the game, and Moss not only echoed it, but amplified it. He’d end the game as the top receiver on either team with 85 yards, with Iowa junior tight end Sam LaPorta next in line with five catches for 83 yards.
“I just can’t even believe that I even did that today,” Moss said.
By halftime, Moss had more yards receiving than Goodson had rushing, and Goodson was averaging 7.2 yards per carry for 79 yards on the ground. Moss’ first pick-6 came on a 30-yard return on Indiana’s opening drive and the other a 55-yard return in the second quarter down the right sideline.
“We were cover-2 and they ran a quick out,” Moss said, describing the first interception. “They’re trying to run a little smash concept to the boundary, so I was kind of sitting there, he threw the ball, I was waiting to break on it and tackle and then I see the ball pop up. I got super excited that I was foaming from the mouth.”
Add in a 9-yard rushing touchdown by quarterback Spencer Petras and Iowa led 31-3 at halftime.
The Hoosiers came into Kinnick Stadium returning an estimated NFL fourth-round pick at wide receiver, senior Ty Fryfogle, and a healthy junior quarterback in Penix, who led the Big Ten in passing yards per game last year (274.2). Despite playing against an experienced offensive line that allowed a Big Ten-low in sacks last year, Iowa’s young defensive line came out at full force, tallying three quarterback hurries in the first half from three different players.
Indiana’s offense struggled with its usual game of passing or rushing the edge. It took until its fifth drive to punt from a fourth down of less than 10 yards, and the punting game struggled. The Hawkeyes didn’t travel more than 67 yards in any of their first-half scoring drives
“We preached all week about we need to start fast,” Petras said. “The beauty, I think, was that it was all three phases: starting with the opening kickoff with Charlie Jones for a 35-yard return, we scored pretty quickly and then a pick-6. You can’t write a better start than that.”
Iowa’s offense did have two turnovers — Goodson fumbled with 1:10 left in the first half, but nothing came of it as Moss’ second interception followed one play later. Ivory Kelly-Martin fumbled in the second half. Petras also struggled under pressure to find his targets.
“We had two fumbles today and that’s not good, but Ivory has been out for a while, so I think that’s part of it,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think Spencer has more confidence and you can’t give that to anybody, they’ve got to earn that. He’s played through the highs and lows and we’ll have more of them ahead.”
The third quarter was mostly uneventful on both sides. Indiana opened the second half with a lengthy drive for a field goal to bring the score to 31-6, but that was all the Hoosiers wrote. Penix finished the game 14-of-29 for 156 yards passing and three interceptions. Starting running back Stephen Carr, a graduate transfer from USC, had 57 yards on 19 carries.
Iowa concluded the third quarter by slowly finding its offensive rhythm, finishing a 40-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Much of that was carried by senior Nico Ragaini’s two receptions for 21 yards and concluded with a 35-yard Caleb Shudak field goal to bring the score to 34-6.
Kelly-Martin opened Iowa’s second drive of the fourth quarter with two carries for 7 yards, then tight end Sam LaPorta caught a 17-yard pass to move Iowa to Indiana’s 45. Kelly-Martin broke through for a 22-yard trot down the right sideline only to fumble, giving the Hoosiers the ball with just over six minutes left.
Iowa had two almost-interceptions in the second half by cornerback Matt Hankins and safety Kaevon Merriweather, but Hankins’ was called back on a roughing the passer call while Merriweather dropped the pass and settled for a pass breakup.
But the Iowa defense remained steady and held Indiana to four-and-out on its next drive. The Hawkeyes limited Indiana to 233 yards of total offense and no touchdowns to win the afternoon.
“It’s good team defense, I know that sounds really mundane, but that’s how we play,” Ferentz said. “If we can get a spark play, you’re not banking on that, but when you get those, it’s super.”
Both sophomore tight end Luke Lachey and junior defensive back Dane Belton made the first half one to remember. Lachey caught his first pass in Kinnick Stadium for 15 yards, while Belton grabbed his first career interception as a Hawkeye.
“He (Lachey) told me that he was going to be a little nervous for today and I told him not to be worried at all,” LaPorta said. “I was really excited with his performance, it’s kind of like a little brother thing.”
Caleb Shudak, a sixth-year senior, notched his first field goal from 41 yards out to end the first half, making it twice before on called timeouts.
Iowa’s offensive and defensive lines rotated just like coaches said they would.
The starting defensive line, from left, was juniors John Waggoner and Noah Shannon, sophomore Logan Lee and junior Zach VanValkenburg. Redshirt freshmen Lukas VanNess and Deontae Craig rotated in at left tackle and right end, respectively. Junior Joe Evans came in for Waggoner.
Redshirt freshman Mason Richman started at left tackle, Cody Ince at left guard, Tyler Linderbaum at center, Justin Britt at right guard and Nick DeJong at right tackle.
“Mason is a guy who is very coachable, but he goes out and really tries to execute,” Ferentz said. “If he had a rough day and VanValkenburg gave him some fits, he would come back the next day and take the challenge.”
Senior guard Kyler Schott was still the only Hawkeye out with an injury before the game, and is expected to return within the next 1-2 weeks. Linderbaum went down on Petras’ touchdown run with a calf injury, but was back on the field in the following offensive series.
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