IOWA CITY — The best way not to give up a lead in the second half is to build a big enough one for that not to happen.
The best way not to lose a close game is not to play one. Sorry about the double negative there.
The best way to go about not playing a close game is scoring 35 unanswered points in the first half. The best way to go about scoring 35 unanswered points in the first half is to get touchdowns on defense and special teams, as well as offensively.
The Iowa Hawkeyes found the best way to get their first win of the season Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium, obliterating Michigan State, 49-7, at Kinnick Stadium. This was Iowa’s largest margin of victory in a 48-game series that is now tied overall (23-23-2).
“The performance today was everything we hoped for,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, who was given the game ball by his team after surpassing Joe Paterno for third place on the Big Ten Conference’s wins list in all games as a conference member (163). “I thought the guys played really hard out there, they played tough, and they played physical. Just really pleased. Certainly all three segments played well, and they complemented each other.”
Where to start with all the goodness here?
Iowa (1-2) went back to a more Iowa-like offensive approach, for one thing. Spencer Petras did not throw 51 passes like last week, nowhere close to that, in fact (16 of 29 for 179 yards and a touchdown).
Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent had two TDs each, playing key roles in a rushing attack that produced a season-best 226 yards. And that was despite two starters missing up front: tackle Coy Cronk and guard Kyler Schott were both out with non-coronavirus issues.
Cody Ince (guard) and Mark Kallenberger (tackle) subbed in and helped Goodson record his second career 100-yard rushing day (113), most of that coming via a career-best 71-yard run in the third quarter to the Michigan State 4. That run set up a 2-yard Sargent TD, Iowa’s first second-half touchdown against a Big Ten opponent in six games.
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“I think it’s all about having a fresh mentality going into each and every week that we’re going to be successful in the run game,” Goodson said. “That’s just got to be my mentality, the offensive linemen’s mentality, all starters in the football game.”
“The O-line this week, we keyed in on just finishing drives,” said tackle Alaric Jackson. “(Getting) the extra 1, 2 yards. The little details and stuff.”
This is a good time to mention Charlie Jones. He got some run at wide receiver with the suspension of Ihmir Smith-Marsette, carrying a pair of jet sweeps for first downs but making a much larger contribution on punt return.
His five returns included a beautiful 54-yarder for a TD late in the second quarter in which the Buffalo walk-on transfer fielded the ball on the right hashmark, took a few steps toward the middle of the field, then cut back to the left and down the sideline, picking up a block from Jestin Jacobs at the 15 that took him the rest of the way to the house.
“I think on some of (the returns) I could fair catch it,” Jones said. “But I take a little bit of a risk and try to make something out of nothing ... That (TD) was actually return middle. I took that first step and saw the left side was wide open. There was great blocking on the left.”
On the ensuing possession, cornerback Riley Moss intercepted an overthrown pass near the sideline from Michigan State quarterback (and fellow Central Iowa native) Rocky Lombardi and weaved his way down field for another touchdown of 54 yards that made it a 35-0 game at the half. This is the 13th consecutive season now that Iowa has had a pick-6, a pretty remarkable statistic.
Overall it was a forgettable homecoming for Lombardi, who was picked off three times, completing just 17 of 37 passes for 227 yards. He had over 300 yards passing in each of his team’s first two games.
Credit Iowa’s coverage, as well as its pass rush, which had been pretty non-existent. Here it consistently pressured Lombardi and forced a plethora of errant passes, both overthrows and underthrows.
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With just a couple of exceptions, it also prevented Michigan State (1-2) from doing much of any damage with the deep ball, something that helped it beat Michigan last week.
“Earlier this week in film, the D-linemen were talking that when he sees pressure, you can see he flinches and stuff like that,” said Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston, who had 1.5 sacks. “So we knew that if we got pressure early and consistently, he would throw high passes and stuff like that. That happened a few times on key third downs, where he threw the ball high ... There was one time where (we) got a bull rush and put the offensive linemen in his face. Just little stuff like that, helping out our secondary whenever we can.”
“We really understood that the only way we lose this game is if we do it to ourselves,” Moss said. “If we give up the big plays.”
That didn’t happen. What did was a win, a needed one after two frustratingly close losses.
Iowa hopes this builds momentum for the rest of the season. Minnesota is up next on Friday night in Minneapolis.
“We just needed to experience some success,” Ferentz said. “But right along with that comes you have to earn it. You can’t sit around counting on the other team to mess up so you go home happy. That’s not the way it works. We just needed to work hard, have a good week of practice and then show it on the field. Hopefully we took a positive step today.”
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