Iowa takeaways: Hesse's huge play, Boettger's bad injury, a new punt returner
AMES, Ia. — The Iowa defense had its obvious struggles Saturday against Iowa State, and that comes from its fearless leader.
“A lot of the defensive guys were down on themselves,” middle linebacker Josey Jewell said. “I should be down on myself for what I did today. It was pretty dang bad. But we have to understand, we got the victory.”
Indeed they did — a 44-41, overtime thriller in a shootout at Jack Trice Stadium.
But the win might not have been possible without some big defensive stops when it seemed like Iowa had let momentum slip away.
And maybe the biggest was the play made by defensive end Parker Hesse.
His team down 31-28 with just over 6 minutes to play, the Waukon native got his mitts in the way of Jacob Park’s first-down pass.
“It was coming right at my head,” Hesse said. “I just stuck my hands up.”
Hesse had dropped off into coverage, and his interception — reminiscent of his thank-you-very-much pick-six against Nebraska in 2015 — counted as the day’s lone turnover.
It was a big one. He returned it 13 yards to the Iowa State 5, setting up a tying field goal.
“Anytime you get your hands on the ball as a defensive lineman, it’s a special thing,” Hesse said. “It’s kind of a shock, so you just try to do the most with it.”
Tough luck for Ike
Iowa may be without its starting right tackle for the rest of the season.
Ike Boettger suffered what sounds like a serious injury to his right Achilles tendon during the third quarter.
“Done for the season, if that’s the case,” Kirk Ferentz said afterward. “… I’m not optimistic. It’s just not good.”
That stinks for Iowa and for the player.
Boettger, a fifth-year senior from Cedar Falls, has 20 career starts and is one of Iowa’s most reliable offensive linemen. His departure sent Iowa coaches into a variety of offensive-line combinations Saturday.
The one that they settled on: Alaric Jackson at left tackle, Boone Myers at left guard, James Daniels at center, Keegan Render at right guard and Sean Welsh at right tackle.
Daniels missed last week’s game, and Myers has been hobbled.
“It doesn’t help. And we’re starting to do more of (rotating) than we like, certainly,” Ferentz said. “The good news is, it looked like Boone was cranking pretty good right there.”
If Boettger is indeed done for the year, that could lead to two things.
One, he would certainly be eligible for a sixth year of eligibility via medical hardshiop should he pursue it.
Two, that might take the redshirt from true freshman Tristan Wirfs. The impressive product from Mount Vernon has been a second-team tackle in warmups the first two weeks but has yet to play.
Also on the injury front, Jewell confirmed that he rolled his left ankle on David Montgomery’s 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The reigning Big Ten Conference defensive player of the week returned to the game.
“Just twisted it up there a little bit there when I got trucked,” said Jewell, who had seven tackles. “Had to fix it up. It was unfortunate. I think I’ll be good for next week (against North Texas), yeah.”
The new Desmond?
In the past two seasons, Iowa has used its lock-down cornerback as its primary punt returner.
So does that make Joshua Jackson this year’s Desmond King?
Jackson, the talented junior, was back as Iowa’s punt returner Saturday after sure-handed Matt VandeBerg handled that role in last week’s season opener.
“It was a great opportunity and challenge to be back there,” Jackson said.
Jackson had a solid game at cornerback, too, with a career-high six tackles. He also seemed to be Iowa’s best guy in pass coverage. At the other corner spot, Manny Rugamba got benched in favor of Michael Ojemudia in the second quarter.
It was thought Rugamba was Iowa’s so-called “No. 1” corner coming into the season. It seems like Jackson’s the guy now, in more ways than one.
As a return man, he let a few punts bounce that he probably should’ve caught or scooped. One almost resulted in a turnover. He’ll learn.
“I’ve got to be better in my calls back there, tell them to get away from the ball,” Jackson said. “I’ll take that. That’s on me, I’ve got to get better in communicating.”
Odds and ends
Brandon Smith, a 6-foot-3 receiver, became the seven true freshman to play for Iowa this season. He wasn’t targeted. He and fellow freshman Ihmir Smith-Marsette seem to be emerging as Iowa's third and fourth receivers, with Devonte Young playing sparingly Saturday. …
Matt VandeBerg, who had three catches for 42 yards, became the only player in the Ferentz era to score a receiving touchdown in three different Cy-Hawk games. He hauled in a 17-yard TD from Nate Stanley in the second quarter. …
Akrum Wadley rushed for 118 yards on 28 carries, giving him 1,997 for his career. He might get become the 15th back in Iowa history to reach 2,000 on his first carry next week. …
Ferentz is now over .500 for the first time in the Cy-Hawk rivalry. After an 0-4 start from 1999 to 2002, he is now 10-9 overall against the Cyclones.
The final word
Around the interview room Saturday afternoon, Hawkeye seniors emerged with smiles — knowing they didn’t end their careers with a loss to the Cyclones.
Iowa has now won eight of its past nine trophy games (3-0 vs. Iowa State, 2-0 vs. Minnesota, 2-0 vs. Nebraska, 1-1 vs. Wisconsin) after going 0-4 in 2014.
This one was just a little more harrowing than the others.
“Part of me thinks I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. But the other part of me wishes it wasn’t so close,” fifth-year offensive lineman Sean Welsh said. “It was just a great day. Great day for the program. Great day for a lot of our younger guys, who really stepped up and made a difference for us.”