CEDAR RAPIDS — A relief?
“I don’t know that you can say that. Well, I guess it’s a relief,” said defensive end Chauncey Golston, after his Iowa Hawkeyes thumped Michigan State, 49-7, Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. “We worked towards it. When you work hard, like last week we were working hard, but we didn’t get the result that we wanted. We just knew that if we kept working, we would eventually push through.”
Boy, did Iowa push through.
Its first win of the season, after a four-point loss to Purdue and one-pointer to Northwestern, was a no-doubter. Iowa scored on its first two possessions, got identical 54-yard touchdowns on a punt return and interception return in the second and rolled a Michigan State team coming off a win over Michigan at the Big House.
“Every week you’ve got to focus on improving what you can, fixing what you can and moving forward,” said Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras. “I think this team, we did a great job this week. We saw what we needed to do better, and we made corrections. We had a good team win today.”
After watching a replay of the game from TV, here are a few thoughts.
Physical, Mistake-Free Football
This seemed obvious when watching things live, but Iowa dominated both lines of scrimmage. Despite missing two starters (tackle Coy Cronk and guard Kyler Schott), the offensive line paved the way for a season-best 226-yard rushing day.
Last week’s play calling from offensive coodinator Brian Ferentz seemed out of whack, with Petras attempting 51 passes. Not so here, as Iowa got back to, well, being Iowa.
“It was just embracing everything, for the most part,” said tackle Alaric Jackson. “Embracing the two losses and just looking forward. (Forget) about the past, just be the best us we could be. We really did that all week (in practice), and it showed today.”
Fumbles killed the Hawkeyes against Purdue, and Petras threw three second-half interceptions against Northwestern, but this was clean football. Zero fumbles, zero picks.
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“We’ve seen how we can play when we play turnover free,” Petras said. “Really penalty free as well. That starts with me. Last week, obviously, three turnovers for myself. So it was a point of emphasis to play clean football, and I thought we did a good job of that today.”
A Rough Homecoming
Former Cedar Rapids Washington/West Des Moines Valley prep Rocky Lombardi struggled as Michigan State’s quarterback, which gets back to the dominating, physical theme. Iowa’s defensive front was able to get consistent pushes, which made Lombardi uncomfortable in the pocket and led to him throwing three interceptions.
That included Riley Moss’ TD that made it a 35-0 game at halftime. Moss (Ankeny) and free safety Jack Koerner (West Des Moines Dowling) played against Lombardi in high school and helped ruin his return to the state.
“Yeah, me and Jack Koerner were talking about that this week,” Moss said. “Jack got one against him in high school as well. It was fun to face Rocky again and relive those memories.”
Lombardi was coming off back-to-back 300-yard passing performances to start this season but went just 17 of 37 for 227 yards against Iowa. ESPN reported he suffered a lower-body injury in the game, though Lombardi refused to use that as an excuse.
“It was definitely tough,” he said. “This was not what I wanted to do coming home. At the end of the day, we’ve just got to learn from it. I tried to stay as level-headed as I could, and I think I got better throughout the game. But, obviously, turnovers, they kill games ... I think I just tried to do a little bit too much. I saw that we kind of needed to make some plays. I probably overstepped my boundaries a little bit.”
Tory Taylor Is A STud
The 23-year-old true freshman from Australia has been simply phenomenal in his adjustment from Aussie Rules Football to the American brand. If you weren’t aware, the shape of the football used in the Australian game is a bit rounder and larger, not designed to be thrown.
Taylor punted seven times against MSU for an average of 45.9. Five of those punts were downed inside the Spartans’ 20-yard line, four inside the 10. He uses both power and finesse in his kicks, a truly extraordinary thing to watch. “He doesn’t seem fazed by anything, including wind,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “Last week was a really tricky situation wind-wise, today it was a factor, and he just goes out and plays. Just really happy for him, really proud of him. He’s a delightful young man, just a tremendous young person, so he’s been a great addition.”
Lots Of Debuts
The blowout win allowed Iowa to play 64 guys. That included 11 guys who made their Hawkeyes debut.
Backup quarterback Alex Padilla played a lot in the fourth quarter, mostly handing off to Gavin Williams, also playing for the first time. Williams is a freshman running back from West Des Moines Dowling, who had eight carries for 28 yards.
Padilla is a redshirt freshman from the Denver suburbs. He completed 1 of 2 passes for 12 yards, the completion to Alec Kritta, a redshirt freshman walk-on making his debut.
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The other eight players who saw their initial game action were Jackson Ritter, Luke Lachey, Sebastian Castro, Quinn Schulte, Logan Klemp, Tyler Elsbury, Mason Richman and Logan Lee. Tight end Lachey and offensive linemen Elsbury and Richman are true freshman.
Schulte is a redshirt freshman walk-on free safety from Cedar Rapids Xavier. His older brother, Bryce, has played in all three games, primarily on special teams.
Iowa plays a Friday night game this week at Minnesota (6 p.m./FS1). The Golden Gophers (1-2) won their first game of the season Saturday, crushing Illinois, 41-14.
Running back Mohamed Ibrahim had 224 yards rushing for Minnesota, tying the school record with four touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi missed the game after testing positive for the coronavirus earlier in the week.
“I think he’s one of the most special backs in America, and when you see him walking down the street, who would think he’s a Big Ten running back?” Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck said of Ibrahim. “He’s not the biggest, he’s not the strongest, he’s not the fastest. But he’s got incredible vision.”
Illinois, by the way, had 12 players out due to COVID-19 protocols and was down to its fourth-string quarterback, Coran Taylor.
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