Iowa football's secondary powers Hawkeyes to road win at Rutgers. Next up: Michigan
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Last season, Iowa football's secondary recorded seven interceptions in the team's first Big Ten game of the season: a 51-14 road win at Maryland. That game featured a Hawkeye team going into a sold-out stadium against an undefeated team looking for a marquee win.
Nearly one year to the date, Iowa's secondary produced another dominant performance under similar circumstances and led the way to a blowout win.
Iowa defeated Rutgers 27-10 on Saturday for its second straight win. The Hawkeyes' secondary accounted for two touchdowns, leading another stellar defensive effort. Rutgers managed 361 total yards and scored a season-low in points.
The Hawkeye secondary is affectionately known to fans as the Doughboyz, referring to the football as money. Midway through the first quarter, sophomore Cooper DeJean was the first defensive back to cash in an opportunity. He intercepted a Rutgers pass and returned it 40-plus yards for a touchdown, giving Iowa a 7-3 lead. One quarter later, an unexpected starter and a senior leader combined for the team's second score.
Junior safety Sebastian Castro got the start at the "Cash" position after starting defensive back Terry Roberts was a late scratch. As a Rutgers receiver turned upfield after a catch, Castro delivered a hard hit that forced a fumble. Senior Kaevon Merriweather scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. Iowa went up 14-3 and never looked back.
Merriweather, a multi-year starter and team captain, had his signature game as a Hawkeye on Saturday night. On Rutgers' first drive of the second half he intercepted a pass for Iowa's third forced turnover of the game and erased a possible scoring drive in the process. It was his second career interception; his first came last year at Maryland.
Despite the loss of Roberts and limited action from linebacker Jestin Jacobs, Iowa's defense, which entered Saturday ranked second nationally in scoring defense, recorded its third straight game holding an opponent to less than 14 points. And with two touchdowns on Saturday, the Hawkeye defense has scored 16 points (two touchdowns, two safeties) this season.
On the offensive end, Iowa's offense showed progress against a legitimate Big Ten defense. Rutgers entered Saturday as the nation's top rushing defense, allowing only 32.3 yards per game. The Hawkeye offense quadrupled that number with 129 yards, led by the trio of sophomores Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams and true freshman Kaleb Johnson.
Iowa's offensive line had its best performance of the season by far, opening holes for the running backs and protecting quarterback Spencer Petras, who completed 65% of his throws (11 for 17).
And like last year's rout of Maryland, Saturday night's win sets up a matchup next weekend at home against a top-5 opponent: Michigan, which blasted Iowa in last year's Big Ten championship by a 42-3 margin.
The Hawkeyes passed their first Big Ten test on Saturday. Are they ready to face one of the nation's best teams? We'll find out soon, but Saturday's result was the best-case scenario for building momentum ahead of the biggest game of the season.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.