116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Ranching towns like Fort Collins, Colo., have a deep-rooted rodeo culture, but when it comes to football, almost only counts in horseshoes.
The Colorado State Rams almost had a chance to take down the No. 5 team in the nation when they captured a 14-7 lead at halftime Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, but the Iowa Hawkeyes’ defense corralled a fumble, it set up Iowa receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. for a seven-second ride to the end zone that set the tone for the second half.
“We were behind and not playing great, quite frankly,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “A lot of our own doing, especially that field position. We put the defense out there twice on short fields. I just told the guys: that's why we play 60 minutes.”
While Iowa’s defense continued its streak of allowing no more than 25 points in now 26 straight games, the offense also continued to look, at times, unremarkable against a team from the Mountain West Conference. Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras’ five-game streak of no interceptions was snapped after an interception in the second quarter halted an otherwise explosive drive for the Hawkeyes. Iowa sealed out the win, but not in the dominant fashion comparable to previous weeks, defeating the Rams 24-14.
A fumble recovery by Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell, forced by defensive lineman Yahya Black, set up an easy score for the Hawkeyes to kick off the third quarter. Tracy carried the ball in for a 6-yard touchdown to tie the score, 14-14, in an otherwise slow offensive performance.
Iowa’s defense kept pace, forcing a three-and-out at Colorado State’s 23, and despite all-star punter Ryan Stonehouse’s 51-yard rocket launch, Iowa returner Charlie Jones carried the ball back 38 yards to ensure the ball stayed on the Rams’ side of the field.
The Hawkeyes weren’t moving much following an incomplete pass and a 1-yard run by Tyler Goodson, but Colorado State’s Robert Floyd was flagged for interference on a pass to Nico Ragaini to keep the drive alive. Petras found tight end Sam LaPorta wide open in the middle of the field for a 27-yard touchdown pass to give Iowa the lead, 21-14.
LaPorta was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for spinning the football in celebration, which gave the Rams 15 extra yards on its following offensive possession, but it didn’t amount to anything as Iowa forced a turnover on downs at its own 41.
“It’s one of those things I regret as soon as I saw the referee reach for the flag,” LaPorta said. “But at the end of the day, we're having fun out there and I was celebrating. It’s too bad, we’d love to celebrate in the end zone as a team, but I didn’t know.”
Iowa’s offense went three-and-out on its next drive, then, following a 34-yard reception by Ragaini, took a step back as Jones recovered his own fumble for a 13-yard loss. Petras was unable to convert on two subsequent passes before the Hawkeyes settled for a 45-yard field goal by Caleb Shudak to take a 24-14 lead with just over 12 minutes left in the game.
True freshmen and big plays were the highlight of the first half for both Colorado State and Iowa.
Iowa scored at the beginning of the second quarter on a 43-yard touchdown pass by Petras to true freshman wide receiver Keagan Johnson. That came on a drive where true freshman wide receiver Arland Bruce IV rounded the edge on a reverse play to gain 13 yards for a first down that put Iowa at the 43.
Johnson became one of five true freshmen wide receivers to start in the Ferentz era. True freshman Connor Colby also started on the offensive line.
“I think that's good for the coaches to know that they have more play-makers that they can trust, but I mean, we have a lot of guys in receiver room,” Johnson said. “I definitely did try to work my hardest this off-season, knowing I can control what I can control.”
Quarterback Todd Centeio was the Rams’ leading rusher for much of the first half as he took advantage of the Hawkeyes’ occupation in pass coverage to run the ball up the middle or down the sides for pivotal gains. In the team’s initial nine-play, 35-yard scoring drive, Centeio ran for 15 yards to convert on third-and-11 to put the Rams on the Iowa 36. Officials reviewed Centeio’s 11-yard completion to tight end Trey McBride on third-and-11, where McBride reached to break the plane as he was brought out of bounds, to put the Rams on the Iowa 22.
“Their tight end is an impressive player,” Ferentz said. “You see guys on film and you're impressed with them, and then sometimes you get on the field and it's either maybe not as impressed or more impressed, and certainly in his case I'd say even more impressed.”
Centeio ran the ball in for a 10-yard touchdown three plays later to put the Rams on the board, 7-7.
Just as Iowa was on the heels of another scoring drive ignited by a 49-yard completion to Johnson, Colorado State true freshman walk-on Robert Floyd picked Petras off on a tunnel screen to the left for 62 yards to set up a scoring drive.
The Rams drove 9 yards before a false start penalty drew them back. Centeio found McBride for a 16-yard completion up the left sideline, then tight end Gary Williams in the flat for a 3-yard touchdown to put the Rams up 14-7 going into the half.
The Rams converted on nine of 13 third downs in the first half before the Hawkeyes were able to flip the script in the second, allowing only two of 10 third-down conversions. Going into the half, Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker was not happy, and Iowa senior defensive end Zach VanValkenburg said an angry Parker scale is different from most.
“I say for him it was probably like six and a half out of 10,” VanValkenburg said.
It was the third week in a row Iowa’s defense forced a fumble, and without it, the game would’ve been a closer call. But that’s all she wrote.
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