Leistikow's 5 thoughts off Iowa's 51-14 win at Maryland: A historic second quarter, six interceptions

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In the first 9 minutes, 14 seconds of the second quarter here Friday night, Maryland’s offense had run only three plays. 

In that same span, Iowa’s offense had scored four touchdowns.

That was a staggering reflection of how helpless the Terrapins were against the ball-hawking Hawkeyes on Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium.

It was a complete domination of the second quarter, and a complete performance from fifth-ranked Iowa with a 51-14 victory before 45,527 fans. Thousands of those were wearing Hawkeye gold and stayed to the end, with "Let's go Hawks" chants ringing out in an otherwise emptied stadium.

Replay:Iowa football crushes Maryland 51-14 to improve to 5-0

Spencer Petras (7) is congratulated after one of his two quarterback-sneak touchdowns in Iowa's 31-point second quarter. Petras also threw for three TDs.

“We’ve been working really hard at practice. I think you’re just starting to see improvement," quarterback Spencer Petras said. "It’s compound interest. The harder you work over time consistently, the results will show. And I think it showed up today in all three phases.”

To deliver a 31-point second quarter — especially for a slow-paced offense like Iowa’s — is almost unthinkable. But it certainly was set up for success, as Arland Bruce IV’s 8-yard catch on a wide-receiver screen took the football to Maryland’s 1 as the first quarter expired.

Petras — who has taken the baton nicely from Nate Stanley for QB Sneak U. — burrowed into the end zone from 1 yard out, and Iowa had a 10-7 lead just 3 seconds into the second quarter.

Then the defensive avalanche began. A hard special-teams tackle by Sebastian Castro on star Maryland receiver Dontay Demus Jr. — which brought out the medical cart — caused a fumble that Jay Higgins recovered at the Terps’ 10.

Two plays later, Bruce was hauling in his first career touchdown pass (from 8 yards out) on yet another terrific red-zone play call from offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. Bruce ran a long crossing pattern over the middle and simply beat his man, and Petras found him.

Keep in mind those 14 points in 53 seconds were on the heels of an impressive Taulia Tagovailoa-led Maryland drive. That was as important as anything for Iowa, that the talented quarterback stood on the sidelines and watched his team go from a 7-3 lead to a 17-7 deficit. And then on his first chance to do something about it, Tagovailoa was intercepted by Jack Koerner — on a tipped pass by Jack Campbell — on Maryland’s very next play.

How good was it to be a Hawkeye in the second quarter? Koerner fumbled on his return, but teammate Dane Belton emerged from the bottom of a pile of Terps with the football. Six plays later, Petras was again sneaking into the end zone for a 24-7 lead to cap a brisk 26-yard scoring drive.

Still, if you’re Maryland … there was plenty of time to take a breath. The Terps did, but only briefly, by actually calling a run (which went for 11 yards; to that point, they had attempted just three rushes). But on the next snap, Belton snared yet another interception from Tagovailoa, setting up the Hawkeyes at the Terps’ 45.

Iowa punched in its fourth TD of the quarter, seven plays later, with fullback Monte Pottebaum forcing his way in from 2 yards out. After a Maryland punt and another nice drive resulting in a Caleb Shudak field goal with 29 seconds left in the half, Iowa had completed its stunning 31-point quarter with a 34-7 lead.

And just to twist the knife, Tagovailoa’s Hail Mary pass (well short of the end zone) to end the half was picked off by Terry Roberts — giving Iowa a plus-five turnover edge. As the Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine tweeted: "I’m sure there’s a way this first half could have gone worse for Maryland, but I can’t think of one off hand."

Remarkably, Iowa’s 31 points came with just 96 second-quarter yards.

Iowa ran 25 plays and chewed up 12:20 in possession time in the second quarter. Maryland had 28 yards on nine plays with four turnovers.

The 31 points by Iowa were the most since a 37-point first quarter against Akron in 2002; and the most in a Big Ten game since scoring 35 against Illinois in a memorable 1985 rout.

Just saying: Both those seasons were very, very special, too.

Iowa has now won 11 straight games and stands 5-0 this season. It is the third 5-0 start of the Kirk Ferentz era. The others (2009 and 2015) turned out pretty well.

And how about this for a stat: In Ferentz's first season in 1999, Iowa's highest game total for the season was 31.

“I don’t know if I want to call it a dominant performance, but we were playing at a high level," Ferentz said. "That was so good for us to see.”

Spencer Petras built on his best game … with his best game.

Petras was dealing Friday night. I took notice early of a 10-yard pass to Nico Ragaini that might not get much attention, but it was a powerful throw and moved the chains on second-and-10 in a 0-0 game.

Petras’ command of the offense really shined in the third quarter, with a slick 67-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Goodson — whose midfield juke and sprint to paydirt was true highlight-reel material — to push Iowa’s lead to 41-7.

Petras then led Iowa to points for an eighth straight drive with a dime to Charlie Jones up the left sideline for 31 yards. That set up Shudak’s third field goal and a 44-7 advantage.

"Spencer, he’s done a great job and improved tremendously from last year," Goodson said. "He just looks more comfortable. During the week, you can just see how dialed in he is, just from staying after practice and watching extra film to make sure he knows what keys to look at."

For the game, Petras completed 21 of 30 passes (a 70% rate) for 259 yards and three touchdowns, his last toss being a 7-yarder to Tyrone Tracy Jr. for six. Petras led nine straight scoring drives before handing the keys to Alex Padilla (1-for-7, 22 yards) in the fourth quarter.

Even third-stringer Deuce Hogan (1-for-1, 2 yards) got in the game. 

Petras' five-touchdown game overall came on the heels of a 15-of-23, 224-yard game against Colorado State in which he connected on five passes of 25-plus yards and earned a 90-plus rating from Pro Football Focus. 

Petras has now won 11 straight games as Iowa's starting quarterback. His 11-2 career mark ties him with 2002 Heisman Trophy runner-up Brad Banks. That's very notable. 

“I wasn’t on the team last year, and I saw a lot of criticism about him," Bruce said. "But everything I’ve seen has been great, ever since spring when I got here. I have never understood the criticism. Great job by Spencer."

Six, count ‘em, six interceptions for the Iowa defense.

The five usual starters in Iowa’s secondary crossed 100 career collective starts Friday. That’s a sign of a defense that knows what they’re doing, one that won’t be overwhelmed by facing a quarterback that was averaging 335 passing yards a game and had been intercepted just once.

Cornerback Matt Hankins was making his 32nd start; free safety Koerner was making his 24th. Add in Moss (20), Belton (17) and Kaevon Merriweather (8), and that’s 101 starts between them. So it was fitting that six different Hawkeye defensive backs — Moss, Belton, Koerner, Merriweather, Roberts and Quinn Schulte — had interceptions Friday.

The six picks were the most by a Hawkeye team in a game since 1982, when Iowa had seven against Wisconsin. Iowa now has 12 interceptions this season and 76 since the start of the 2017 season, more than any team in the country.

When you know where the ball’s going, it’s easier to pick it off.

“It was kind of like playing at recess,” Moss said. “We were just flying around playing football, no worries in the world.

“We got all these picks because of what we were doing in practice. … It’s really cool to see that pay off.”

Maryland’s undisciplined play was a big factor.

We wrote coming into this one that the Terrapins were a heavily penalized team and not great on special-teams coverage. That stuff might sound trivial, but it can show up in big ways.

On Maryland’s first drive, a false start on fourth-and-1 — with the Terps lined up to go for it — forced a punt. Maryland had a third-and-1 false start on its next drive, making it third-and-6. What happened next? Tagovailoa’s first interception of the game, Riley Moss’ third theft of the year. That pick doesn’t happen without that false start (or the John Waggoner pass pressure). Iowa turned that penalty into three early points.

Later in the second quarter, Maryland nose tackle Ami Finau made a silly, late (and low) tackle on Petras that was a roughing-the-passer call on second-and-20. Iowa got seven points out of that drive. In another instance, a Maryland player slapped the back of Sam LaPorta’s helmet after the play for a foolish unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.

This was one of those games where Hawkeye fans should appreciate their team’s usually well-prepared, disciplined approach to games. In this case, Maryland’s steady meltdowns were a real reason that this game got out of hand early.

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.