Three cool things:
1. I wrote the story below before Desmond King “happened.” You could see it. You really could.
Iowa defensive coordinator and secondary coach (for the last 20 years, by the way) Phil Parker doesn’t mess around. If you’re a true freshman and you’ve checked all of the boxes, you’re going in the game. Maybe you’re even starting.
About 15 minutes into his true freshman season, King replaced Jordan Lomax, who left the game with a hamstring injury, and went on to play in a school-record 53 games (a record he shares with WR Matt VandeBerg).
King had rambler in him. He always seemed genuinely happy to be playing the game. I think the key word there is “playing.”
Desmond King loved to play.
2. Yes, so the whole “Championship Math” headline thingie, it was a risk on my part. Here’s how that decision-making goes: Do I think you want to read about the specifics of a 31-15 game (on deadline, we’re not even having this convo)? Or, do you want to read about the rising stakes that go along with magical seasons?
This one was an easy decision.
Now Iowa and Maryland? It will have been three seasons since their last meeting when the two teams get together Oct. 20 at Kinnick.
This basically is the cool non-conference game you guys want to play. That’s what the ninth Big Ten game is for everyone. That’s the best way to look at it.
Maryland Coach D.J. Durkin has the recruiting headed the right direction. The Terrapins could use some help in the depth department. (What was it last year or a couple of years ago? Three QBs?) Weird Hawkeye trivia: Durkin has a cousin who I went to grad school at Iowa with and who is one of the biggest Iowa fans I’ve ever met.
Hi, Hank! (He does this Polar Plunge deal every year. I’m pretty sure he survived.)
3. We’ve touched on how the national media (whatever that even means anymore) drilled the Hawkeyes for their schedule in 2015. In the end, none of that mattered.
A 12-0 Iowa team finished No. 4 in the nation and would’ve been in the College Football Playoff with a victory over Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Mind you, this was a season that included North Texas and Illinois State in the non-conference.
And then there was Iowa’s finishing moves against average Indiana and Minnesota teams and bad Purdue and Nebraska teams.
Hey, at least you saw that national assault coming.
Can a Big Ten West champion get to the CFP without winning the Big Ten title? Probably not. Or it would take an interesting sort of circumstances. It wouldn’t happen automatically.
Quote: We’ll get to the one game where Kirk Ferentz went all hype man, but after this one, he was doing the Kevin Bacon in “Animal House”/“All is well” thing.
“We’re not claiming anything. We’re getting ready for our next football game. Our goal the first week was to win a game, and then ever since then it’s just been to win another game, win the next game. Good thing about football is no style points. When you win, it’s beautiful, and when you lose, it’s not so good. That’s kind of how we look at the world and it’s about as simple as that.”
Note: How did Iowa go undefeated? This was a big reason.
In this game, Iowa scored off a turnover. At that time, it had scored 71 points off 19 turnovers. In 2014, it scored just 35 points off turnovers, which was fewest in the Big Ten.
Why No. 81? — Maryland was a cornered critter in this one. Iowa just had to figure out how to bag it without getting bitten.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2015
IOWA CITY — Time for some championship math. Forget that blah second half. Maybe wince and worry about a few of the injuries that came out of No. 11 Iowa’s 31-15 victory over Maryland, but it’s going to be that way from here on out, so there’s that.
It’s time for some championship math. The Hawkeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) are unblemished halfway through the Big Ten season. They have a one-game lead on Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) in the Big Ten West Division and hold the tiebreaker over the Badgers with their 10-6 victory at Madison on Oct. 3.
The Hawkeyes have four games left with a tricky road trip to Indiana (4-4, 0-4) next weekend, home games against Minnesota and Purdue (2-6, 1-3) and a season-ender on Black Friday at Nebraska (3-6, 1-4). They need three wins in the next four if Wisconsin holds serve for the West Division title.
There’s the championship math. Now, no one at Iowa, which is now 8-0 for this first time since 2009 and for the second time under head coach Kirk Ferentz, took out their championship calculators in the Maryland (2-6, 0-4) postgame, but it’s OK for you to go there.
It’s reality. The Hawkeyes are 4-0 in the Big Ten. It’s just not their reality, or one they’re willing to entertain right now.
“We’re not claiming anything,” Ferentz said. “We’re getting ready for our next football game. Our goal the first week was to win a game, and then ever since then it’s just been to win another game, win the next game.
“Good thing about football is no style points. When you win, it’s beautiful, and when you lose, it’s not so good. That’s kind of how we look at the world and it’s about as simple as that.”
The Hawkeyes roared out to a 21-0 halftime lead before 62,667 fans Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Three different running backs scored Iowa’s first three touchdowns. From there, it was ...
“Second half was pretty bumpy,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “We just wanted to have the time expire, get the win and play another week.”
It was mission accomplished, just not with banners and trumpets.
The Terrapins moved the ball in the second half with quarterback Perry Hills finding some rhythm. Maryland scored its first TD with 14:37 left in the fourth quarter to pull within 21-7. Iowa answered with Marshall Koehn’s 49-yard field goal, but then Hills, who is the first player to rush for 100 yards against Iowa this season (104 on 19 carries), moved the Terps to Iowa’s 12-yard line.
This is where junior cornerback Desmond King did his thing. He read a wide receiver screen, inserted himself into the scrum and Hills threw the ball right to him.
King found a lane immediately and raced 88 yards for a TD and a 31-7 lead with 7:38 left.
Maryland came into this game with 67 points allowed off giveaways, most in the Big Ten this year. Along with King’s pick-six, the Hawkeyes turned a first-quarter fumble into running back LeShun Daniels’ 1-yard TD and a 7-0 lead. Iowa ended with four takeaways and gave back just one fumble, which happened while strong safety Miles Taylor returned an interception.
Iowa now has scored 71 points off 19 turnovers this season. Last year, it scored just 35 points off turnovers, which was fewest in the Big Ten.
The second half wasn’t finished being bumpy for the Hawkeyes. After King’s pick-six (with seven interceptions, now he’s one from tying Iowa’s season record), Maryland return specialist extraordinaire William Likely cruised 100 yards down the middle of Iowa’s kick return team to pull within 31-15 after a two-point conversion.
But that was that for this one. After rolling up 240 yards in the first half, Iowa was satisfied to tread water and run clock, rolling up just 53 yards on 26 plays.
Now it’s time to talk about those injuries.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard, who passed for less than 200 yards (12 of 23 for 183 yards) for the second week in a row, was sacked four times and took several hits. He declared himself OK in the postgame, but he does that every week.
Defensive end Nate Meier left the game in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a left shoulder injury. He conducted postgame interviews with his left arm in a sling.
“I’ll be all right,” said Meier, who collected a sack.
You won’t allow yourself to be hurt at this point?
“No, no,” he said. “I’ll be all right.”
For Iowa’s championship math to add up, Meier kind of has to be all right.
Desmond King feature from 2014
From Buddha to King
When Yvette Powell’s son was born, he was a hefty kid. Desmond King came into the world 9 pounds, 8 ounces. He had chubby cheeks and so his mom nicknamed him “Buddha.”
Nineteen years later, King is a cornerback for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He is one of the stars of the defense, named all-Big Ten midseason this week by ESPN.com. He had a one-handed interception and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown last week against Indiana. King came off the bench last year in his first game as a true freshman and hasn’t left the field.
King is making a name for himself. Around teammates, that name still is “Buddha.”
“That would make sense,” said sophomore cornerback Greg Mabin, King’s corner mate and dorm neighbor. “I’ve seen baby pictures of him. He used to have a little bit of a gut and the chubby cheeks and everything.”
Yes, the Buddha nickname has followed him from Detroit to Iowa City.
“Around here, everyone is comfortable calling me Buddha,” King said. “It’s a name to me. I’ll answer to it if anyone calls me that.”
King talks about being Buddha with, as you might imagine, a smile. It’s a way into a conversation with a player who’s probably heard all of his life that he’s too small or too slow. There’s a hardness in there that allows King to blow through all of that.
His mom nicknamed him Buddha and then threw him out on a wrestling mat. That probably kind of helped. This is where he learned the whens and hows of taking his shot.
“She threw me out there to see if I liked it,” King said. “I ended up liking it and did it for a good amount of years in high school.”
King said he lost eight matches during his prep years at East English Village High School. He wrestled at 150 pounds and had no problem cutting weight.
You don’t see the cornerback/wrestler combo much in football. You see offensive and defensive linemen and linebackers with wrestling backgrounds, but not too many cornerbacks.
By the way, the wrestling thing is something King wears with pride. Maybe too much pride, as it turns out.
“He tells us every day,” linebacker Quinton Alston said. “He’s a little guy and he comes into the locker room and he tries to challenge all of the big guys. You’ll see him over there, trying to grab at (massive offensive tackle Brandon) Scherff’s legs every day. He has a big heart, I like it. But, yes, he tries to show off his little wrestling ability everyday.”
This turns out to be truth, and so you’d better be ready.
“He tries to get at us,” Mabin said. “From time to time, just randomly out of nowhere, he’ll try to blindside us. You’ve just got to be ready. You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel around him at all times.”
Iowa’s defensive backs are kind of an alley dog group. Free safety Jordan Lomax had Power Five conference offers (Stanford, Virginia, Maryland and Louisville), but the others were mostly Mid-American Conference-level recruits. King committed to Central Michigan and Ball State before hooking in with Iowa. Mabin had offers from Jacksonville State and Tulane. Strong safety John Lowdermilk had offers from Air Force and Miami (Ohio).
The group has made it this far with that extra sort of cussedness that lift non-pedigreed athletes. They constantly compete. One competition King mentioned no one seems to remember. Then again, if you have a contest to see who falls asleep last, you can’t be surprised if no one remembers the winner. Or even the contest, really.
They occasionally will have wrestling matches, cussedness being cussedness.
“We like to compete, we’re competitive, so we get into wrestling matches,” Lowdermilk said. “Someone told me he (King) wrestled before, and you could tell. He was a good wrestler and whatever, but one thing you really could tell was he has really strong hands.”
There’s the connection, at least part of it. Cornerbacks jam wide receivers and pretty much do everything they can to prevent them from getting open. You can see where strong hands would come in, oh no, handy.
“When (King) gets his hands on receivers, he’s really good at getting a jam in,” Lowdermilk said.
King set the East English career rushing record (nearly 4,800 yards), which included 2,360 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior. King said he often draws from the running back experience.
“I know what a running back wants to do in the open field against a defensive back,” King said. “I know they’re going to make a move on me when I get close, so I know I have to take my shot.”
Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker also recruits Michigan for the Iowa staff. He was intimately involved with King’s recruitment. It wasn’t the wrestling or the strong hands that caught his attention. The running back film gave Parker insight into King’s game.
“Lots of times with defensive backs, you don’t see it in high school,” Parker said. “Sometimes, the guy stands out there and there isn’t much activity. But when the guy was running the ball that relates to being a defensive back, and that’s the hardest challenge to find defensive backs that are involved on both sides of the ball.”
There was the running back film. There also was the 29 career interceptions, which is the Michigan prep record. Detroit’s Public School League isn’t known for passing.
“He’s not a blazer,” Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “ ... But he is so instinctually aware at the position that he plays faster. You can’t fake 29 interceptions.”
Interceptions are nice, but it’s not the only measure for defensive backs. Parker often asks his corners to be primary run support.
“I know when I have someone coming at me in the open field, I’m a very good open-field tackler,” King said. “You have to have the leverage on the ball carrier and take your shot.”