Leistikow's thoughts: Iowa football takes care of business vs. Kent State behind usual formula
IOWA CITY, Ia. — A lot of folks around Iowa were worried that Saturday would be a vulnerable spot for the seventh-ranked Hawkeyes. After two emotional wins against ranked opponents Indiana and Iowa State, there was fear for a letdown against Kent State — one of the Mid-American Conference’s top teams.
Those folks were right.
Admittedly, there was a September vibe of Ball State 2014 (a 17-13 escape) or North Dakota State 2016 (a 23-21 loss) or Purdue 2017 (a 24-15 loss) for a while in this one.
And while every yard can be a struggle for this offense at times, good teams persevere and find ways to assert control of goofy games like this one. And this Hawkeye team is a good team and now glad to be 3-0 overall after a 30-7 victory Saturday before 61,932 gold-clad fans at Kinnick Stadium.
The outcome was never in serious danger.
"I thought the effort today, our guys were ready to go and they played hard," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "There were a lot of good responses out there to some things that didn't go so well."
The Hawkeye defense starred again. It gave up pass completions of 48 and 45 yards to Kent State receiver KeShunn Abram, but buckled down other than that. The Golden Flashes had 93 yards on those two big plays, 167 on their other 62.
“It’s about how you come back from bad plays is what makes you a good player," cornerback Riley Moss said. "I think personally and as a defense, we did that in the second half. We came out fighting.”
Seven sacks were registered by a swarming defense, led by Lukas Van Ness and Zach VanValkenburg. Iowa recorded a safety for the first points of the game, then a huge turnover in the third quarter.
Tyler Goodson rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns as the offense crossed 400 yards (418 on 75 plays) for the first time since the Illinois game in 2020.
Punter Tory Taylor was magnificent as usual, booming one punt of 57 yards and another of 60.
The game had a few tense moments, for sure, but ultimately resulted in the Hawkeyes extending their winning streak to nine games — eight of those wins by double digits.
You take those wins every time.
“If we’re improving every week, which I think we did today, then I’m happy and that’s all we can do," said Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras, who went 25-for-36 for 209 yards and a touchdown. "t’s a long season, it’s a long road. We need to keep chopping away. We had a great week of preparation. Practices were great this week. I thought we took a step in the right direction today.”
A bizarrely overturned completion ends up moot in a wild third-quarter stretch.
The Kinnick Stadium crowd probably wasn’t louder Saturday than after Tyrone Tracy Jr.’s apparent 16-yard catch in Kent State territory on third-and-5. Inexplicably, the gain was buzzed by the replay booth. Even more inexplicably, the pass was ruled incomplete on the review. Instead of first-and-10 at the Golden Flashes 44, the Hawkeyes were punting in a 16-7 game.
“I thought I caught it. My coaches thought I caught it. The crowd thought I caught it," Tracy said. "... I don’t know what else I could do to make sure it is complete. I made a move. Got tackled, got up with the ball in my hand."
The boos rained down on the officiating crew, as the video boards showed what you saw at home. Tracy taking several steps with possession, then going to the ground. The ball moved, but there was no way it should have been ruled incomplete — especially considering “complete” was the call on the field. Even Fox’s replay analyst was miffed. As my boss tweeted, that was a catch in all 50 U.S. states and multiple territories.
Kent State then took the momentum and marched to Iowa’s 1-yard line, securing a first-and-goal that looked like would turn the game into a scary 16-14 situation. But as he tried to spin for the end zone, running back Bryan Bradford had the football knocked away by linebacker Jack Campbell — his second straight week with a game-changing defensive play — and Moss recovered in the end zone for a harmless touchback.
In summary: Iowa got a terrible break, then a great break (that it helped create).
The Hawkeyes turned their first created turnover into seven points, as the offense marched 80 yards in 11 plays to paydirt on Goodson's 35-yard touchdown sprint on third-and-9 to push Iowa's lead to 23-7. Iowa has scored off all eight turnovers it had forced this season for a total of 44 points.
There may be a new No. 2 running back for the Hawkeyes.
If there’s one thing that Kirk Ferentz won’t have patience about, it’s fumbling the football. After Ivory Kelly-Martin fumbled twice in Saturday’s first half, former Dowling Catholic/Southeast Polk running back Gavin Williams was inserted into the game. Williams caught a key 11-yard pass on Iowa’s 20-play, 95-yard drive that essentially closed out the first half.
Kelly-Martin has officially fumbled three times on 24 touches this season, two of them going for turnovers — including one in the first quarter Saturday at the Kent State 22 to kill an Iowa drive. Ferentz showed loyalty to Kelly-Martin, a fifth-year senior in the program, by putting him back out there in the second quarter. But on a check-down reception (also on that 20-play drive), Kelly-Martin gained yardage before coughing up the ball again. Luckily for Iowa, a heady recovery by Sam LaPorta — who eventually closed the drive with a 5-yard touchdown grab — saved a possible turnover.
Kelly-Martin also lost a fumble against Indiana in Week 1. He lost control of the ball once last week at Iowa State, but he was (correctly) ruled down on a bang-bang play.
Ferentz said he told Kelly-Martin, who was voted a captain this week, to "keep his chin up ... and just hang in there; you're going to be fine. He's a top-quality guy. ... He does so much for our team beyond running the football."
Williams is a 6-foot, 211-pound redshirt freshman who runs with vigor. Running back, according to Ferentz on multiple occasions this season, is a position of strength for Iowa. The coach feels good about Williams and fellow redshirt freshman Leshon Williams (5-10, 205; no relation). A lot more Williams could be (and should be) in Iowa’s running-back future.
Two odd and fun items about Iowa’s special teams …
If you were wondering who the guy wearing No. 39 was last week snapping balls on field-goal and PAT attempts, here is the answer. His name is Luke Elkin, and he’s a true freshman from Neenah, Wisconsin, which is about 40 miles southwest of Green Bay. He was his high school team’s quarterback, long snapper and played linebacker and safety, too.
His coach was quoted in an April 2021 WeAreGreenBay.com article as saying, “He could (also) punt the ball, but he can’t snap the ball to himself.”
Maybe the Hawkeyes are onto something in having a trained quarterback snapping balls to holders and punters. Accuracy is the name of the game. Elkin is listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds. He didn’t have a name on the back of his jersey in Ames, but he does now. Elkin handled the long snaps Saturday. He replaced sixth-year senior Austin Spiewak last week after a high snap on a 50-yard field-goal try.
Also in the special teams department, it must be somewhat anticlimactic to be a member of Iowa’s kickoff-coverage team. Caleb Shudak’s first 14 kickoffs of the season went for touchbacks. His 15th, late in the third quarter, was actually returned — but only to the Kent State 16.
Just so these guys don’t go unnoticed, the 10 usual players on the kickoff team: Sebastian Castro, Reggie Bracy, Jay Higgins, Logan Klemp, Monte Pottebaum, Terry Roberts, Kyler Fisher, Henry Marchese, Ivory Kelly-Martin and Jermari Harris. I noticed Dallas Craddieth and Xavior Williams mixing into the coverage team Saturday, too. Not that they’ve had anything to cover.
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.