Iowa's strong defensive performance highlights 27-10 victory over Rutgers in Big Ten opener

Raven Moore
Hawk Central

The Iowa football team's 27-10 victory at Rutgers on Saturday was the Hawkeyes' most complete game of the season.

The defense played lights out for most of the night and special teams units did their job. The offense, meanwhile, looked much sharper after being under fire for the first three weeks. 

The following grades reflect each unit's performance on Saturday night.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras (7) hands off to running back Leshon Williams (4) during the first half against Rutgers on Saturday.

Offense: The group looks better when Sam LaPorta is making plays

Sam LaPorta is one of Iowa's best offensive players. So it was surprising to see that the tight end had just 77 receiving yards coming into Saturday's game.

LaPorta was more involved vs. Rutgers. He was the most-targeted pass catcher for the Hawkeyes and finished with four catches for 77 yards.

More:Leistikow's 6 thoughts from Iowa's impressive 27-10 win at Rutgers

Quarterback Spencer Petras had his best game of the season, completing 11 of 17 passes for 148 yards and no interceptions. That opened up the ground game, which saw the offensive line open big holes for the running backs. Leshon Williams had 11 carries for 64 yards and the team's lone offensive touchdown. Kaleb Johnson and Gavin Williams had some nice moments as well. Collectively, the unit rushed for 129 yards, its second-highest total of the season.

Grade: B-

Iowa defensive back Kaevon Merriweather (26) returns a fumble for a touchdown Saturday at Rutgers.

Defense: The unit shows off its ball-hawking ability

Death, taxes and Iowa's defense making big plays. Against the Scarlet Knights, the Hawkeyes created two first-half turnovers that resulted in touchdowns.

Sophomore cornerback Cooper DeJean has cemented himself as one of the top defenders in the Big Ten after picking off his third pass of the season. He turned that play into a 45-yard touchdown.

Fast forward a few drives and fellow defensive back Kaevon Merriweather made his way into the end zone after recovering a Rutgers fumble that was forced by Sebastian Castro. Merriweather also came away with an interception in the third quarter, his first of the year.

With big plays like that and the immense pressure that the unit put on quarterback Simon Evans, it is no wonder that Iowa kept Rutgers out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.

Grade: A

Special Teams: Tory Taylor wins the punting duel

One of the biggest storylines coming into the game was which team's punter would have a better game.

Iowa's Tory Taylor and Rutgers' Adam Korsak are among the best punters in the nation. Taylor took home the crown after yet another memorable kicking performance. He punted five times, with four of them falling inside the 20-yard line.

More:Iowa football's secondary powers Hawkeyes to road win at Rutgers. Next up: Michigan

Iowa kicker Drew Stevens also had a good night, converting on both of his field-goal attempts, including one from 51 yards.

Grade: A-

Coaching: It is becoming easier to see the coaching staff's vision

While it took some time for the offense to get going, Iowa's ability to run and pass the ball  allowed offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to be more creative in his play calling, which resulted in more first downs.

However, much work needs to be done so that the group can finish drives. The Hawkeyes can't count on the defense scoring two touchdowns.

As their lead continued to grow, the Hawkeyes' defense was able to routinely send blitzes that made Evans uncomfortable in the pocket.

Grade: B+

Raven Moore covers high school sports for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. You can reach her at Follow her on Twitter at @Raven_XReport.