116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Cooper DeJean, 19, still has a while before he is of legal drinking age.
But if DeJean was old enough, he would not need to buy a drink in Iowa City for a long time.
DeJean finished with 114 all-purpose yards — 32 from a pick-6 in the first half and 82 from punt returns — as the Iowa (6-4, 4-3) defense and special teams units fueled the Hawkeyes’ 24-10 win over Wisconsin (5-5, 3-4) Saturday.
The sophomore standout’s 114 yards were almost more than the Iowa offense’s 146 total yards.
All three of Iowa’s touchdowns were either directly or indirectly results of big plays on defense or special teams, and DeJean was responsible for two of the three big plays.
Iowa defensive lineman Deontae Craig blocked a punt, which Jay Higgins recovered and took to the Iowa 17-yard line.
“I’m feeling it a little bit right here on my forearm right now, but a W takes all the pain away,” Craig said afterward.
Iowa then had a two-play, 17-yard touchdown drive early in the second quarter that ended with a 4-yard run by Kaleb Johnson.
DeJean’s pick-6 came later in the second quarter.
“It was man coverage,” DeJean said. “I probably got beat a little bit. Then I came back out of it, and I just saw the ball coming and had to make a play. ... Then it was all green ahead.”
The sophomore from Odebolt then returned a punt 41 yards in the third quarter to set up the Hawkeyes in the red zone.
“What doesn’t Cooper do well?” fellow defensive back Kaevon Merriweather said. “The ceiling for him is the sky. ... I can’t wait to see where his game progresses, even when I leave here.”
Riley Moss, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, grabbed his first interception of the season.
Moss made a herculean dive to haul in a Graham Mertz pass after Merriweather tipped it. Iowa’s offense could not take advantage of the opportunity, though.
Joe Evans had a strip-sack in the fourth quarter, and Logan Lee recovered it to remove any lingering doubt of the Hawkeyes’ victory.
The defense was not perfect — blown coverage bailed out the Badgers on a third-and-18 as Mertz completed a 51-yard touchdown pass to Keontez Lewis in the second quarter — but it did enough for Iowa to be in a position to win.
Mertz was 16-of-35 for 176 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Wisconsin’s rushing attack — a longtime trademark of the Badgers’ offense — was dormant against Iowa’s defensive front.
The Badgers averaged 1.6 yards per carry. Their top running back, Braelon Allen, had 40 yards on 17 carries.
A lack of protection from Iowa’s offensive line, meanwhile, made life difficult for the Hawkeyes offensively.
Spencer Petras was 14-for-23 for 93 yards, but he took six sacks and had one fumble.
Iowa averaged 1.2 yards per carry.
Gavin Williams, who entered play with 18 rushing yards since Iowa’s Oct. 15 idle week, had a 19-yard run in the first quarter. His next four runs went for a combined 3 yards, though.
Kaleb Johnson, last week’s Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and Big Ten Freshman of the Week, finished with only 57 yards while averaging 2.6 yards per carry.
“We didn’t run the ball effectively,” tight end Sam LaPorta said, “but we’ll get that cleaned up.”
Saturday marked Iowa’s third win against Wisconsin in the last 11 Heartland Trophy matchups and second in the last seven years.
Iowa is eligible for a bowl for the 10th consecutive season after picking up its sixth win of the season. The Hawkeyes still have a path to a Big Ten West title after Purdue beat No. 21 Illinois.
If Iowa wins its next two games and Illinois loses to No. 3 Michigan, the Hawkeyes would return to Indianapolis.
“It’s a total waste of time for us to think about that only because we have to beat a good Minnesota team and a good Nebraska team coming up here,” Petras said. “The second we set our sights on that, we’re doing ourselves a disservice."