Leistikow: Iowa football's dismantling of Indiana shouldn't be a surprise. Here's why.

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — To those that haven’t been paying too much attention to Iowa football, the final score of Saturday’s probably seemed a little bit jarring. Certainly eye-opening.

Iowa 34, Indiana 6.

A four-touchdown rout in a battle of top-20 teams.

But it was no accident. And it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

This is pretty much how the Hawkeyes have been playing since Week 3 of the 2020 season. Saturday was just a continuation to the realization that they've got a chance to be really, really good.

The roster has changed a little bit, but for the most part the central players are the same. This was a group that bashed Michigan State by 42, blasted Minnesota by 28, owned Penn State by 20 in Happy Valley and finished the 2020 season with a 21-point vice grip against vaunted rival Wisconsin.

Tyler Goodson leaps for extra yardage over Tiawan Mullen during the Hawkeyes' 34-6 win against Indiana. Goodson finished with 19 carries for 99 yards and a score.

While there was plenty of curiosity with how Iowa would fare against an explosive Indiana team that has been getting all kinds of national love after last year’s breakthrough in Bloomington, what happened Saturday was expected by the grunt-work guys in Iowa City.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” said tight end Sam LaPorta, whose 83 yards on five catches helped the offense chip away against a super-stingy, experienced Indiana defense. “I thought we were ready to play, and we executed really well. We’ve been busting our butts for eight months. It was a long camp. We put in the work, we put in the time, we put in the effort.”

If you’ve been listening to the comments of Iowa 23rd-year head coach Kirk Ferentz in the spring and summer, you also had to feel encouraged about what the 68,166 fans at Kinnick Stadium were going to see. He’s been complimentary of the team’s approach, how it’s continued to become a tightknit group. He was cautiously optimistic that the team would carry over momentum from a six-game winning streak to end the 2020 season (one that few nationally paid any attention to, considering Iowa fell off the radar after a 0-2 start).

Make it seven in a row, all against Big Ten opponents.

The average score in those games? Iowa 35.4, Other Guys 12.7.

“The way we prepare, we’re confident against anybody,” said defensive back Dane Belton, who had one of Iowa’s three interceptions of fellow Tampa native Michael Penix Jr. “I feel like we can stack up against a lot of people.”

Ferentz, a notorious worrier, admitted he let Week 1 fears creep in last Sunday.

He said he wasn’t sleeping too well after what he described as some lethargic practices in hot weather with lots of players sidelined after an illness (not COVID-19) ran through the team. After a scheduled day off Sunday, Ferentz was pleased to see the same locked-in group Monday that he he had seen since January.

“They came in Monday morning, focused and ready to roll and put a good week in on working on Indiana,” Ferentz said.

It showed up Saturday. Cornerback Riley Moss, who doubled Indiana's point total on his own with two pick-six touchdowns of 30 and 55 yards, said simply, "We absolutely won because of film and with our preparation for today."

And these are hardly the "win-close-games" Hawkeyes of the past. Iowa’s formula of domination from 2020 bled into Saturday’s opener.

Limit the mistakes (although two fumbles were uncharacteristic, there were only two penalties for 20 yards — one being a very questionable roughing-the-passer call on John Waggoner).

Jump all over the opponent (Iowa scored 14 points in the game’s first 2 minutes, 15 seconds).

Then let the defense finish the fight (Indiana was held to its lowest point total since 2013).

It helped even more to have screaming fans in the Hawkeyes’ corner. Unlike last year in Week 2 after the Hawkeyes took a 17-0 lead against Northwestern in the home opener (and lost, 21-20), there was no letdown.

Certainly, the challenge is completely new and different this coming Saturday. For the first time since the Keith Duncan “kiss game” at Nebraska in 2019, the Hawkeyes will be going to enemy territory with a full stadium of fans.

What happened Saturday — Iowa’s suffocation of Indiana, Iowa State’s escape against Northern Iowa — probably should be mostly forgotten in what will be a top-15 matchup. The Hawkeyes could easily play a very good game and lose against a terrific Iowa State roster hunting for its first Cy-Hawk win since 2014.

But after Saturday’s Week 1 validation, it doesn’t seem like this Hawkeye team is going to lay an egg in Ames. It would be a shock if this team didn't come ready to play, and that's because of what has taken place in the last eight or nine months.

Quarterback Spencer Petras summed things up pretty well. Saturday was great to see for Iowa, which got some nice help from East Division teams this week as West contenders Wisconsin (to Penn State), Minnesota (to Ohio State) and Northwestern (to Michigan State) suffered home losses.

But it's just one game out of 12 in the regular season. Saturday was big. Next Saturday is big. The 10 after that are big. But the Hawkeyes seem ready for the fight ahead.

"From January on, this team has been fully committed and fully invested in the process every step of the way,” Petras said. “That’s really all you can do, is take one step at a time. It starts back in January, when it’s 5 degrees out and we’re doing workouts every morning.

“This team has run the race well to this point. One game is not a whole season. If we want to achieve our goals, we need to play like this every week.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.