Leistikow's Cy-Hawk thoughts: Give Keith Duncan a scholarship now; Hawkeyes deliver a special win in Ames
AMES, Ia. — The longest Cy-Hawk showdown ever, which stretched six hours, thanks to multiple weather delays, ultimately came down to 7½ heart-stopping minutes.
Down two, Nate Stanley took the 18th-ranked Hawkeyes one way for a field goal.
Down one, Brock Purdy took the Cyclones down the other way.
A fourth-down stop for Iowa.
A third-down stop for Iowa State.
And then, of all things, a botched fair catch decided this classic.
No. 18 Iowa 18, Iowa State 17.
Devonte Young, a senior who began his career as a wide receiver and switched to safety but never complained, recovered a Michael Sleep-Dalton punt that caromed off Iowa State’s Datrone Young.
"Probably fitting, just the way it was going," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It was crazy on all fronts.”
After horrendous clock management by the Hawkeyes, in which tight end Nate Wieting scooted out of bounds to save Iowa State 40-some seconds, the Cyclones gave it right back without giving Purdy a chance to work his magic.
Devonte Young saw gunner Terry Roberts make contact with Iowa State's Young, and the ball hit him right in the back, making it a live ball.
A monumental moment for a program plugger.
“It means a lot to me," Young said. "Covered the ball. Never lost to them.”
Stanley, who will finish his Iowa career without a loss to the Cyclones, took three victorious knees from there.
And that’s five in a row for the Hawkeyes in this series, the first such streak by either side since Iowa State won five in a row from 1998 to 2002.
And how about this stat? Iowa has only committed one turnover in those five wins, and none since 2015. That covers 358 offensive snaps.
Iowa was plus-2 in turnover margin Saturday night, and dominated special teams — including four field goals from Keith Duncan.
By the way: Give the junior walk-on his scholarship now. His 39-yard boot with 4 minutes, 51 seconds left proved to be the game-winner.
Duncan, now 8-for-8 on field goals this season after making kicks of 25, 40, 42 and 39, said he slipped after the second delay (which spanned 2 hours, 6 minutes) ... and adjusted his approach. He made three field goals after the break, pumping his fist before the final stroke went through the uprights.
"I had to shorten the stance and bring the weight of my foot more to the middle," Duncan explained.
About that scholarship? Hasn't happened yet.
"That's after the Big Ten championship," he said with a laugh.
Iowa was much better on third down after going 2-for-13 in that category against Rutgers.
Before the first lightning delay, Iowa converted its first three third-down tries. Stanley found Ihmir Smith-Marsette for 11 yards on third-and-9 from Iowa’s 26 on the game's third play; then a third-and-5 on an underneath throw to Nico Ragaini for eight yards; then a third-and-7 with a rarely called quarterback run for 10. That led to Iowa chewing up half of the first quarter — 15 plays, 68 yards, 7½ minutes and three points on Duncan’s 25-yard field goal.
It was a positive early statement and minor victory for Iowa, which was an excellent 10-for-19 on third down for the night.
THIRD DOWNS:More on Nate Stanley's clutch proficiency
In the second half, Stanley found Smith-Marsette on his best throw of the game for 27 yards on third-and-22. It reminded me of the important third-and-21 throw from C.J. Beathard to Matt VandeBerg for 48 yards here in 2015, a fourth-quarter toss that flipped field position and changed a 17-all game.
Stanley later ran for 14 yards on third-and-11, a brilliant play call on a rollout right with his receivers running deep routes. That effort set up Iowa's go-ahead touchdown on a Stanley sneak in the fourth quarter.
“We had a lot of tough third downs, and we converted them," Ferentz said. "That’s a value of having a quarterback who’s a veteran guy and stays poised.”
Starting running back Mekhi Sargent played through a right wrist injury.
Sargent wore a protective wrap around his wrist in Iowa’s initial warmup period. He was injured late in the week in practice.
But Sargent started the game and carried four times for 14 yards on Iowa’s initial drive. He later cranked out a 22-yarder to help set up a field goal before halftime. He shared the second-half workload with Tyler Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin but led Iowa with 58 tough yards on 13 carries.
"There was no hint in his demeanor that he wasn't going to play tonight, and play well," Ferentz said. "That's reassuring for a coach. Boy, he fights hard out there."
The game plan for a guy with an injured right wrist?
"Carry the ball with your left hand," Ferentz said. "I told (offensive coordinator) Brian (Ferentz), 'Just run him left.' Simple."
Some good ... and some bad from Iowa’s safeties.
With Iowa State driving and up 7-3 late in the second quarter, Geno Stone (the strong safety) knocked the ball away from running quarterback Brock Purdy, and Koerner (the walk-on free) pounced on the fumble for the game’s first turnover at Iowa’s 18 with 5:01 left.
That would be Iowa State’s last offensive snap of the first half, which Iowa ended with a Keith Duncan field goal. The Hawkeyes trailed at the halftime break, 7-6. If the safeties don't combine on that turnover, the Hawkeyes might've been down 14-3 instead.
But right out of the break, Stone was left chasing Tarique Milton on a 73-yard touchdown connection that looked all too easy. A miscommunication left the middle of the field wide open for one of Iowa State's fastest players.
“We blew a coverage," Stone said. "At the same time, you look at the scoreboard, and it’s still 14-6.”
Iowa’s bye week couldn’t come at a better time.
That’s crazy to say just two weeks into September, but the Hawkeyes need to get healthy. They were missing four Week 1 starters in this one — free safety Kaevon Merriweather (foot), defensive tackle Brady Reiff (knee), cornerback Matt Hankins (leg) and left tackle Alaric Jackson (knee). And backup cornerbacks Julius Brents (knee) and Riley Moss (leg) remained out.
All except Moss might have a chance to get back on the field when Iowa returns to action Sept. 28 against Middle Tennessee State.
Reiff was injured during Wednesday’s practice, opening the door for Daviyon Nixon’s first career start. Neither Reiff nor Hankins, who was injured against Rutgers, made the trip.
Iowa receiver Brandon Smith left the game with a left shoulder injury late in the third quarter but did return and made a clutch 28-yard catch on the go-ahead field-goal drive.
Redshirt freshman D.J. Johnson got the nod at left cornerback. It started poorly. It finished well.
In Iowa's opener, Johnson was duped into backfield action and burned for a 20-yard gain that kept him on the bench most of the rest of the game. Iowa State obviously knew that and went right after Johnson with a lateral to top receiver Deshaunte Jones. Johnson attacked the ball, and Jones threw over the top of his vacated area for a 51-yard touchdown to La'Michael Pettway to make it 7-3.
But Johnson was resilient and stayed engaged in the game plan, earning the respect of his teammates and wound up leading the Hawkeyes with nine tackles, including a sack, and two pass break-ups.
Johnson was a fitting story for the night; a guy who faced adversity early but finished strong late.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.