Instant analysis: Iowa football's defense has its way with Indiana in season-opening 34-6 win
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. rolled to his left early in Saturday’s game against Iowa, dropped the football, picked it up and bounced it awkwardly toward his sideline.
It was an act of desperation and futility.
And it wasn’t even the worst play the talented junior made against a Hawkeye defense that had him flummoxed and jittery throughout Iowa's season-opening 34-6 victory before a delighted crowd of 68,166 at Kinnick Stadium.
Immediately after Penix was caught trying to dribble the football, he drilled a pass through his receiver’s hands and into the arms of Iowa cornerback Riley Moss, who returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
Late in the first half, after Indiana’s defense had recovered a fumble near midfield, Penix reared back and hit Moss in stride, this time for a 55-yard pick-six that put the No. 18 Hawkeyes ahead 28-3.
Seconds later, Penix hurried a pass into traffic, where Iowa’s Dane Belton snared it for his first career interception to set up a field goal.
Penix and the Hoosiers entered the game ranked 17th in the nation, with a trio of skill players on offense that were generating national buzz.
Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker is a proven buzz-buster. He has a veteran group of defensive backs, including the senior Moss, and a young group of defensive linemen scurrying to curry his favor.
On Saturday, Parker had Penix just where he wanted him: Staring into a group of athletes wearing black shirts who always seemed to know what he was planning to do before the ball was even snapped. Once it was, Hawkeye defenders were more likely to carry it into the end zone than Hoosier offensive stars like wide receiver Ty Fryfogle and running back Stephen Carr.
Fryfogle had five catches for 84 yards, which is why Indiana was able to even muster two field goals through three quarters. Carr, the USC transfer, picked up only 53 yards on his first 16 carries, rendered a non-factor by an Iowa defensive front that was the biggest unknown entering play but held up well in its first test.
And Penix never looked settled. He is coming off of ACL surgery and still wearing a brace as evidence. But Indiana coach Tom Allen pronounced him fully healthy, which is certainly why the pollsters were so bullish on the Hoosiers.
Iowa’s defense immediately called that into question. In addition to the three interceptions, Penix had another five passes that could have been picked off. He was finally replaced in the fourth quarter after going 14-for-31 for 156 yards and being kept out of the end zone.
For a Parker-coached defense, this was nothing new. Iowa has now returned an interception for a touchdown in 14 consecutive seasons. The Hawkeyes have held opponents under 25 points for 23 games in a row.
Iowa next plays at No. 8 Iowa State on Saturday.
Mark Emmert is the editor of the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Burlington Hawk Eye. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.