116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — They don’t ask “How?” They ask “How many?”
Just kidding. They do ask “How?” But “How many?” matters more, as Clemson and Texas A&M and Iowa State could attest Saturday.
Iowa’s bid to be taken seriously as a top-five team took a bit of a hit Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, but not nearly enough to knock the Hawkeyes to the canvas. In the “How?” category, the answer was “Not easily.” The 23.5-point favorite Hawkeyes struggled mightily before putting away Colorado State.
How many? Iowa 24, CSU 14.
As for “How many times can the Hawkeyes get away with ordinary offense?” Good question.
“We've witnessed it here, right, in Kinnick and a couple other places the last 20-plus years,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game. “I started the talk a week ago, a week ago Monday before Kent State. I just kind of cited some all-time disappointing games.”
This could have been among them. But Iowa blanked the Rams 17-0 in the second half, acting the way a No. 5 team should act when it has been issued a challenge.
Put that potentially enormous Oct. 9 Iowa home game against Penn State in the back of your mind and focus on the coming Friday night at fellow 4-0 Maryland. You know the Hawkeyes will after having to spend a considerable amount of perspiration against Colorado State.
Iowa just isn’t a program that does well when it’s not locked in on an opponent. Locked in, it wasn’t in the first half against CSU, no matter how much it insisted it had a good week of practice. Its offense was lackluster, again, and the Rams’ was opportunistic in notching a pair of touchdowns after inheriting great field position.
At the half, CSU had a 14-7 lead. The visitors had lost at home two weeks earlier to Vanderbilt, which lost 62-0 at home Saturday to Georgia, and — oh, just stop it. Comparing scores in college football is a rabbit hole that usually isn’t worth exploring given how most teams’ performances fluctuate from week to week.
Iowa’s first three results of this season certainly didn’t translate to Saturday, so they kind of did if you were looking semi-carefully.
So, the Hawkeyes had a mediocre half. One mediocre half often can get you beat, but it isn’t mandatory. Certainly not with a defense like Iowa’s. Luckily for the Hawkeyes, the loss column remains the one that matters most.
Still, to be in trouble at home against a team that lost at home to Vanderbilt and didn’t score an offensive touchdown at Toledo? You’re the No. 5 team in America? Really? Well, maybe not on Saturday afternoon. Maybe they were No. 5 1/2 or 5 3/4.
Iowa, with all its advantages over Colorado State in finances, facilities, recruiting and raw talent, surrendered a 62-yard interception return in the second quarter to Robert Floyd, a walk-on freshman defensive back from Florida.
Here is the entire bio of Floyd on the CSU athletics site:
Two-sport letterman in high school as he also participated in track … Plans to major in Business Administration.
Now it can add Quick-jumped a Spencer Petras pass and almost took it to the house. Set up the Rams for a 23-yard touchdown drive that gave them a 14-7 halftime lead against the No. 5 team in America.
None of Petras’ previous 167 passes were picked. The 168th wasn’t good.
But the pump-fake followed by the 27-yard midfield throw to wide-wide-wide-open Sam LaPorta for a 21-14 Iowa lead with 6:01 left? Beauty.
“It was kind of one of those trickeration plays we had dialed up earlier in the week,” LaPorta said. “We got the look that we wanted.”
LaPorta’s thought as he waited for Petras’ pass? “Don’t drop it.”
“It’s one of those things that if you get a ball shot at you real quick and you’re blanketed, you don’t think about it, you just go out and snag it. But when you’re that wide-open, you kind of second-guess yourself, like oh my gosh, the ball’s taking forever to get to me.”
Even LaPorta’s touchdown came with a blemish. He was assessed an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for spinning the ball in the end zone after the catch. Had he not spun it so well, it probably wouldn’t have been an infraction.
“Apparently you can’t spin the ball. I learned that today,” Ferentz said.
The 15-yard walk-off on the kickoff helped the Rams start their next drive at midfield. A three-and-out took the sting out of that for Iowa. Three-and-outs were the status quo for the Hawkeye defense in the third quarter, when Iowa erased its deficit, went in front, and finished the way it was supposed to finish.
Petras’ first-quarter 43-yard TD strike to freshman Keagan Johnson? Lovely. His loft to Nico Ragaini that covered 34 yards to the CSU 14 early in the fourth quarter? Gorgeous.
“I got hit,” Petras said. “I didn’t really see the catch, but I heard it was pretty incredible.”
There weren’t a lot of beauties and lovelies, but somehow, there were enough. Thanks to the defense. Thanks to the special teams for downing a third-quarter punt at the CSU 1. Thanks to Charlie Jones for an excellent day of punt returns.
It also helped that Iowa had linebacker Jack Campbell. Colorado State and everyone else does not.
Campbell had 18 tackles, a pass breakup, and a fumble recovery at the CSU 6 that set up Iowa’s game-tying touchdown in the third quarter.
It was Campbell’s second fumble recovery deep in opposing territory in the last three weeks, both sort of gifts claimed by someone else’s work. This time, it was Yahya Black. But Campbell again deserved it given all the productive labor he provided.
“I just try to get around the ball first and foremost,” Campbell said, with the understatement of the season to date.
Campbell wasn’t doing any self-bragging afterward, saying “It’s just that we have so much improvement (to make), an individual’s numbers aren’t going to matter if the team doesn’t win.”
It’s hard to tell what Iowa’s defense truly thinks of its offense, but its play suggests it bears no grudge. Don’t hand the opponents touchdowns, they seem to say, and we’ll figure out the rest.
Will that work endlessly this season? It’s hard to imagine Iowa can afford any more games of averaging 1.7 yards per rush like they had Saturday. Then again, the consistent defense, punting and kick coverage, the punt returns … it’s no sin to enjoy the good things.
The best of the good: The Hawkeyes have stacked up four wins.
If anyone asks “How many wins?” the answer is “As many as possible.” So far.
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