Iowa Football

Iowa's comeback win at Illinois is emblematic of the Hawkeyes' 2020 season

Hawkeyes started slow, but turned it around for 5th straight win following 0-2 start

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA colleg
Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Illinois Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Champaign, Ill. Iowa won 35-21. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Iowa’s first three possessions Saturday afternoon produced one first down and 28 yards.

Illinois, on the other hand, totaled 148 yards the first three times it had the football, got eight first downs and two touchdowns.

The Hawkeyes did a better job the on their fourth possession, but still trailed 14-0 early in the second quarter of a Big Ten road game in Champaign, Ill.

Then something started to click and really never stopped clicking.

Granted, the opponent wasn’t Ohio State or Wisconsin, but what the Hawkeyes did the final three quarters Saturday inside Memorial Stadium was quite impressive.

Kind of like their five-game winning streak after season-opening losses to Purdue and Northwestern — by a total of five points.

It’s not hard to imagine Iowa being 7-0 heading into the regular-season finale against Wisconsin next Saturday. Kind of like it’s not hard to imagine a more dominating final score Saturday than the 35-21 verdict that pushed No. 19 Iowa to 5-2.

If only things had started a little better — Saturday and in 2020.

“We can either fold or we can fight,” defensive end Daviyon Nixon said. “We’re going to continue to fight.”

That sums it up pretty well, but it’s still fun to look at the numbers this turnaround season and game produced.

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Since that 0-2 start — where Iowa totaled 40 points — the Hawkeyes have scored 186 points, an average of 37.2 per game. Iowa allowed 24 and 21 points those first two games. Since, it’s 76 points or an average of 15.2.

Those numbers are going to win you a lot of football games.

A closer look at Saturday’s game reveals a similar story.

During the first quarter — Iowa had a pitiful 28 yards of offense. That was 1-of-3 passing from Spencer Petras for 9 yards and nine rushes for 19 yards. That was 2.3 yards per play.

That’s not going to win very many football games.

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said the Hawkeyes weren’t spinning their wheels — “they weren’t even moving.”

“It was rough there for a while,” he said.

Fold or fight.

By halftime, Iowa had cut that 14 point deficit to 14-13. In the second quarter, the Hawkeyes had 159 yards. Illinois had 51. By the end of the third quarter, the Hawks had a 21-14 lead and had gained another 118 yards and held the Illini to 60. In the final 15 minutes, Iowa did give up 130 yards — most after the outcome was in hand — but gained another 119.

By the end, it not only was 35-21 but also 424 total yards of offense to 348.

Iowa obviously had decided to fight.

“How you start is not as important as how you finish,” Ferentz said in his opening remarks Saturday night,

It also was Petras completing 18 of 28 passes for 220 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. It was, by far, his best game of the season with a 165.6 rating.

It was Tyler Goodson rushing for 92 yards on 19 carries, a lot of that out of the wildcat formation. It was Mekhi Sargent adding 54 on 10 rushes. It was Ihmir Smith-Marsette rushing twice for 44 yards. It also was tight ends Shaun Beyer and Sam LaPorta getting their first TD receptions.

It was, Ferentz said, the players having fun.

“It makes the ride home a little easier,” he said.

Most importantly, it was a team that didn’t fold after 0-2 or after getting down 14-0.

“That’s why you keep pressing,” Ferentz said. “That’s why you stay together.

“You want to keep your eyes forward.”

Comments: (319) 398-8416; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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