116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — This is senior Riley Moss’ favorite Iowa team he’s ever been on.
“Jack (Koerner) and I were talking about it during practice today,” Moss said. “It’s partially because we're seniors, but we also are just so close with the freshmen, the sophomores, and I think that really has a big turnover for our defense. We trust each other so much.”
It’s a combination of both the adversity over the past year and seniority on the team. Senior Zach VanValkenburg said that started last year with the opening loss to Purdue in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the team returned after not knowing they would have a season. Even though the Hawkeyes lost the following game against Northwestern, he still felt there was something special on the rise. Fast forward to now; Iowa has won eight straight games, defeating five ranked opponents in that time.
“It wasn't up to our standards so it kind of lit a fire under us,” VanValkenburg said. “It’s hard to put words to it, but there was a tangible difference in how we were practicing.”
Junior linebacker Jack Campbell said that after position meetings, some of the players will watch extra film of the team they’re facing, or sit at lunch with different underclassmen to get to know them better. Those are the opportunities they missed out on during the pandemic. They kept their connections strong through phone calls, FaceTime and Snapchat.
There’s also this sense of pride that this year could be special after finishing the previous season on a six-game winning streak.
“I think it starts with they take pride in what they're trying to accomplish,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Start with Matt Hankins — had he left here after last season, I would not have been surprised. That is the trend right now for players to leave, a national trend, not just here. I think that showed a lot of wisdom and judgment on his part. Probably three years ago, he wouldn't have done that.“
That leadership is what fosters a sense of selflessness. In 2019, Koerner was the one who recovered a fumble that led to an Iowa field goal in the game against Iowa State. This year it was sophomore Jestin Jacobs forcing the fumble that led to Campbell’s touchdown recovery. They not only celebrate each other for it, but also have friendly competition behind closed doors, keeping tallies on turnovers.
“It gives him a little bit of: ‘Hey, I'm part of this, this is fun.’ We see that growing,” Ferentz said.
The defense faces an up-tempo, no huddle, run-pass option offense in Kent State this Saturday. Moss said it will be a challenge because the Golden Flashes will play like they have nothing to lose. They also have multiple weapons at their disposal and first-team all-MAC quarterback Dustin Crum, who is rising on NFL draft boards. The offensive coordinator of this “Flash Fast” offense is Andrew Sowder, who was a graduate assistant under Art Briles, known as one of the first coaches to use the air-raid offense.
That means the Golden Flashes will throw the ball a lot. Against Virginia Military Institute last week, Crum threw for 180 yards on 70-percent efficiency and against Texas A&M, he completed 12 of 26 passes for 89 yards.
It’s just another game Iowa defensive players see as an opportunity to keep the turnovers coming, and maybe someone new will get to hold the ball.
“When there’s a three-and-out on our offense, our mentality is to put the fire out and get our offense back out there to try and score,” Moss said.