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Iowa’s defense takes center stage in 27-10 win over Rutgers
Cooper DeJean and Kaevon Merriweather score defensive touchdowns in Big Ten opener
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The 1981 Journey hit song “Don’t Stop Believin’” blared through SHI Stadium at the end of the third quarter as the Hawkeyes boasted a 24-3 lead.
It rang hollow though to the Rutgers fans in attendance for a couple reasons — not just because of the swaths of empty bleachers of what was once supposedly a sellout crowd at that point, but because of the dominance Iowa’s defense already showed.
Iowa’s defense forced three turnovers, avoided big plays and even scored twice in the Hawkeyes’ 27-10 blowout win over Rutgers Saturday.
Rutgers struck first with a Jude McAtamney field goal on a 12-play, 66-yard drive. But after that score, Iowa’s defense outscored Rutgers’ offense, 14-7.
Iowa’s defense also outscored its own offense, 14-13, for the second time in the four-game season. Iowa’s defense scored four points, versus the offense’s three points, against South Dakota State.
Both defensive touchdowns Saturday came in the first half to give the Hawkeyes a multi-possession lead at intermission for the second consecutive game.
Cooper DeJean scored first with an interception returned 45 yards for a touchdown. It was DeJean’s third interception through four games of his sophomore season.
“Instincts kicked in once I got the ball,” said DeJean, who played quarterback and other positions in high school.
DeJean’s big play extended Iowa’s streak of seasons with at least one pick-6 to 15.
Then in the second quarter Sebastian Castro forced a fumble and Kaevon Merriweather recovered it and went 33 yards for a touchdown.
Castro earned the start after Terry Roberts was a last-second scratch because of injury and Cooper DeJean moved from Cash to cornerback.
Merriweather later had an interception that he returned for 33 yards. He almost had a second one too, but he dropped it on a fourth-and-long and likely saved Iowa some yardage.
Merriweather said it was intentional. Is that 100 percent true? “Ninety-eight,” Merriweather said.
While the defense earned the spotlight, the offense also had respectable results in Piscataway.
Quarterback Spencer Petras had his most efficient performance of the season, going 11-for-17 for 148 yards.
Petras did so targeting his tight ends and running backs almost exclusively. The senior’s first completion to a wide receiver didn’t come until the fourth quarter.
The Hawkeye rushing attack surpassed 100 yards for the second consecutive week. The 129 yards tied the team’s season high, which it set against Iowa State.
Leshon Williams carried the ball 11 times for 64 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown on Iowa’s opening drive of the second half.
Iowa freshman Drew Stevens connected on field goals of 25 and 51 yards. Stevens is now 4-for-4 since taking over field goal responsibilities.
Linebacker Jestin Jacobs returned after missing two games with the injury he suffered against South Dakota State. He played eight snaps before having to exit the game.
“I don’t think it’s good,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said about Jacobs’ status.
Wide receiver Keagan Johnson also missed another game with his nagging injury. Ferentz said it’s a “soft tissue” injury, which can be difficult to predict.
“He was making progress and then had a setback a week ago,” Ferentz said.
The last two wins come with a caveat. Nevada will likely be the worst opponent on Iowa’s 2022 schedule, and Rutgers might be the worst Big Ten opponent.
The Scarlet Knights came into Saturday’s contest with a 3-0 record, but the two FBS wins came against teams that did not appear in bowls last year. The other win came against FCS-level Wagner, which hasn’t won a game since 2019.
Iowa will have a more difficult opponent next week, playing host to No. 4 Michigan. It’ll be a rematch of the Hawkeyes’ 42-3 loss in last year’s Big Ten championship game.
The Hawkeyes will undoubtedly be the underdog in the matchup, so it might be their turn to not stop believing next week.