The Hawkeyes took a 14-3 lead late into the second quarter having run a total of just 16 offensive plays. All 14 of those points were defensive touchdowns and put the team in control despite just 68 total yards of offense. Then, the Hawkeyes went on their longest drive of the season. It was aided by a couple of great passes by Spencer Petras, lasted 87 yards, and resulted in a field goal. The 17-3 lead at the half transitioned into a comfortable 27-10 victory against Rutgers in Piscataway.
Physically Forcing Turnovers
The first turnover of the game came on a deep pass by Evan Simon as he was getting hit hard by Lukas Van Ness. Cooper DeJean made an over-the-shoulder interception, reversed direction, and took it 45 yards to the end zone. The score put Iowa up 7-3 in the first quarter. It was his third game in a row with an interception. He was able to add seven total tackles to his stat line on the day. The sophomore has had a breakout season thus far, routinely making big plays on defense and special teams.
Midway through the second quarter, the Hawkeye defense came up with another big play. After an 18-yard completion to Joshua Youngblood, Sebastian Castro laid a physical hit on the receiver, knocking the ball loose. Kaevon Merriweather picked up the loose ball and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. The second defensive touchdown on the day gave Iowa a 14-3 lead.
Physicality at the point of the attack gave Iowa the advantage in this contest all evening. The Hawkeyes recorded 20 quarterback hurries and five tackles for loss including three sacks. True freshman Aaron Graves led the team in that department with 1.5 sacks. Merriweather added another interception as the defense finished with three total turnovers.
Petras With Time
The Hawkeye offense produced 13 of the 27 points against Rutgers, and the passing game took a step forward. It was far from spectacular, but it was productive. Petras finished the game 11 of 17 for 148 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Two of those incompletions could have been caught, with one that would have resulted in a touchdown. His adjusted completion percentage was 80%, and the ball was never put in a dangerous spot.
Petras also showed his accuracy when he had time to throw. He completed seven of ten passes on throws with more than 10 air yards. They resulted in 92 of his 148 total yards. Sam LaPorta hauled in a 42-yard seam pass on a perfectly placed deep ball, a play call that has been rare this season from Iowa. The difference in that play was Petras’ noticeable time to drop back, set his feet, and deliver. The same could be said for a handful of other passes he distributed to his tight ends. Petras looked comfortable in the pocket on those throws, and it transitioned into accurate passes. LaPorta and Luke Lachey had six total receptions for 117 yards.
Areas of Improvement
Though productive throwing the ball, his passing distribution to different receivers is still an area that needs improvement. On several occasions, Petras looked to his tight ends almost exclusively. It was effective against Rutgers, but there were a few times where Petras didn’t see open targets elsewhere. At the end of their 87-yard drive that resulted in three points, Petras scrambled out of bounds to bring up fourth down. He didn’t see Arland Bruce IV come open in what could have been a walk-in touchdown. Petras was generally effective on the day, but he is going to need to see his other pass catchers continue to have success in the passing game. The offense was also one of nine on third down. The lone conversion came late in the fourth quarter as the game was already out of reach.
Last Gasp for Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights scored a fourth-quarter touchdown early into the period on a great throw and catch from Simon to Aaron Cruickshank. He came down with the reception over Riley Moss in the corner of the end zone as he fell backward. However, it shouldn’t have counted. The snap occurred after the play clock expired, but it was not called on the field. That kind of play is not reviewable, so the touchdown stood. Simon completed passes of 31, 14, and 18 yards en route to their only touchdown of the evening.
He took the majority of the snaps on the day for Rutgers, with Johnny Langan coming in on occasion to run the wildcat. The Scarlet Knights tallied 361 total yards of offense on 74 plays. They were on the field for much of the first half, though the time of possession was almost even at the final horn. Rutgers moved the ball pretty effectively, but offensive drives were stunted by turnovers all evening.
Hawkeye Defense Prevails in Piscataway
If you take away the defensive scores, Iowa wins this game by three points. Interestingly, that’s exactly what the model predicted. Defensive scoring opportunities are something Iowa has shown they can produce year-in and year-out. It’s not sustainable, but can be effective if the offense doesn’t turn the ball over. That is exactly what happened on Saturday. Petras and the Hawkeye offense didn’t record a single turnover while the defense came up with three.
Last season, Iowa thrived on those kinds of performances. This year began differently. Iowa turned the ball over five times in the first two games this season and struggled to a 1-1 record. The last two games had no turnovers and were two convincing wins. Small steps forward in the offense have been great, but the real difference in Iowa’s last two games has been the turnover margin.
With an offense that is slowly getting its footing, the key going forward is going to be winning the turnover battle. The defense is going to continue to play opportunistic football, so success going forward falls on the offense’s ability to take care of the ball. The Hawkeyes host Michigan next Saturday in a rematch of last year’s Big Ten Championship Game. Big Noon Kickoff will visit Iowa City for the second season in a row.