IOWA CITY, Ia. — The way Saturday played out, it feels appropriate to dust off an old, often true adage: defense wins championships.
Tenth-ranked Iowa didn’t clinch anything at Kinnick Stadium, unless of course you count the second 8-0 start to a season in program history. But the Hawkeyes came out flying on defense and never gave Maryland a chance to pull a college-football shocker, delivering a 31-15 win before 62,667 fans.
“Iowa football is built around a tradition of having a good defense,” safety Jordan Lomax said. “Whenever Iowa football is going really well defensively, the team is also doing well.”
The Hawkeyes shut out Maryland for three quarters in a 31-15 win.
Here was Maryland’s first-half drive chart:
Four plays, lost fumble.
Three plays, interception.
Three plays, punt.
Four plays, punt.
Six plays, punt.
Three plays, (blocked) punt.
It’s no wonder Iowa led 21-0 at halftime, and there was a feeling the margin could have been bigger.
Sophomore Miles Taylor, who lived just 9 miles from College Park, was a beast against his home-state team. Taylor recovered a fumble forced by Greg Mabin on the Terrapins’ opening drive, and Iowa converted that turnover into LeShun Daniels’ 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
Taylor and Lomax, another Marylander, had interceptions Saturday as the Hawkeyes shut out the Terrapins — the same team that was tied 21-21 with Ohio State in the third quarter and battled Penn State to a 31-30 loss last week — for three quarters. That extended the defense’s streak to five shutout quarters, dating to a 40-10 win at Northwestern on Oct. 17.
“Our defense is playing out of their minds,” wide receiver Matt VandeBerg said.
And after Maryland found some fourth-quarter life, there was Desmond King to snuff it out. King recorded his seventh interception of the season and raced 88 yards — tied for the seventh-longest return in Iowa history — for a touchdown and a 31-7 lead with 7 minutes, 26 seconds remaining.
He had figured that one out in film study, and when Perry Hills — played by Drew Cook earlier in the week — threw the ball, King was right there.
“Once I saw the formation, everything just played in my hands,” King said. “I just went straight to the reception area.”
King’s pick-six improved Iowa’s turnover margin to plus-9 during its 4-0 Big Ten start.
“One of the best defenses in the country, one of the best defenses in the league,” King said. “It just gives us an advantage, knowing we can make anything happen for our team and get the ball back for us.”
The Iowa junior cornerback recorded his seventh interception of the season.
Maryland’s only offensive touchdown, a 7-yard pass from Hills to Taivon Jacobs with 14:37 left, came at the end of the drive that was assisted by two 15-yard face mask penalties on the Hawkeyes.
A good defense can compensate for a hobbled quarterback, which Iowa has in C.J. Beathard. After a bye week to rest his injured right groin, Beathard still wasn’t himself — unable to scramble for first downs as he had early in the season. He was sacked four times, but said he didn’t suffer any setbacks.
A good defense can overcome iffy play-calling, which fans had plenty of gripes with Saturday. After rolling up 240 first-half yards, the Hawkeyes stalled with 53 in the second half — 27 in the third quarter, 26 in the fourth.
A good defense can sometimes offset shoddy special-teams play, although Maryland’s 100-yard kickoff return for a fourth-quarter touchdown was much about the guy who ran it back, William Likely.
And a good defense packs for November. After the Hawkeyes set their clocks back and review film Sunday (there’s a lot to review, even in a double-digit win) they’ll have four Big Ten Conference games left. Win three of them, and they’re guaranteed to play in the league championship game Dec. 5.
Win all four, and they’re playing for more than that.
“8-0, it feels real good actually,” King said. “We’re just going to go to the next week and keep the train rolling.”