IOWA CITY — The Hawkeyes TV show still is full of serious narratives going into the last game of October.
There’s the Big Ten West Division chase, which Illinois — Illinois?!?! — made all the more interesting with its defeat of No. 13 Wisconsin. Yes, the mighty Badger taken down by Lovie Smith’s Illinois. Just like we all predicted.
The No. 20 Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) won twice Saturday. They beat Purdue, 26-20, in a sticky affair in which Iowa clearly led the charge, but had a hard time finding a place to park it.
Mistakes and missed opportunities kept the Boilermakers (2-5, 1-3) within one score late in the fourth quarter, but the Hawkeyes did definitively shut the door when running back Mekhi Sargent rushed twice for 35 yards to fully own Iowa’s last scoring drive and a two-score lead with 2:16 left in the game.
Therein lies the theme for the Hawkeyes in the next month-plus of football. Sargent had been quiet since fumbling on his first carry at Michigan. In the last two weeks, Sargent had just 16 carries for 30 yards. Against Purdue, the junior had 68 yards and the TD on 13 carries.
Sargent could’ve gone fetal position, but there he was vs. Purdue breaking maybe five tackles on his way for a 14-yard TD.
“To finish it off that way, yeah, it was really big and really pleasing and hopefully we can just keep pushing forward here and building off that stuff,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
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The Hawkeyes TV show has some redemptive arcs in full swing. Some of those came to fruition against Purdue.
— Cornerback Riley Moss lost his job against Purdue last season. Saturday, he replaced junior Matt Hankins in the second half and, three plays in, the Boilermakers went at him and the sophomore from Ankeny came up with an interception, which went along with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup (which nearly was a second pick).
“You’re kind of out on an island out there sometimes and a touchdown is right there,” Moss said. “It’s high stakes out there. You kind of have to brush it off and you do need thick skin. If you let it get to you, it’ll probably happen again.”
— Of course, the Hawkeyes’ defense has more than held its own, but you heard Ferentz talk about getting turnovers the last few weeks. The Hawkeyes did have just one takeaway in the three games before Purdue. Obviously, you can’t plan for turnovers, but the way the Hawkeyes have been playing defense this season, you expect a few to happen. And the Hawkeyes did lead the Big Ten in takeaways last season (27).
So, it was a sign of life, the plus-1 in turnover margin. Moss’ interception came on Iowa’s side of the 50. Do-it-all safety Geno Stone maybe had the day’s sneakiest big play with the forced fumble after a 9-yard gain to Iowa’s 9 early in the second quarter.
— One redemption arc came and went.
With about 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter and Iowa winning 19-7, quarterback Nate Stanley tried freshman running back Tyler Goodson on a quick route in front of linebackers.
It was a ball where the TV announcers probably gave each other a quick look to see where to assess the damage. Was this QB’s touch or the RB’s hands?
Stanley answered that definitively.
“That ball was not a very good ball,” Stanley said. “I put him in a bad position on that. That interception is on me.”
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Who have been Iowa’s most consistent playmakers? Yes, one of them has been wide receiver Brandon Smith, who averages 12.0 yards per reception. He did leave the game with what’s believed to be a bruised leg, so his status is maybe up in the air for this week at Northwestern (1-5, 0-4).
Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette has been Iowa’s most consistent playmaker. He’s 10th in the Big Ten with 94.1 all-purpose yards (including kick returns) per game.
The running back who ends up being the hot hand for that particular game is a top three playmaker. Sargent has averaged 77.5 yards from scrimmage per game; Goodson averages 55.4.
The Hawkeyes aren’t backing away from Goodson. Stanley made that abundantly clear in the postgame.
“He’s the epitome of what I’ve been saying all year,” Stanley said. “There’s no quit in that guy. He’s going to compete, he’s going to fight until the end.
“That ball isn’t going to stop coming his way. He’s a playmaker. Being a young guy doesn’t set the tone for him mentally or physically. He prepares his ass off every single day to put himself in a great position.”
That’s a pretty good tease for next week’s episode of totally unscripted Hawkeye TV. There’s still some drama out there ...
Thanks to Illinois.
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