Iowa football report card: Hawkeyes' defense shakes off run struggles to force crucial turnovers
The latest chapter in a season that’s turned positive as of late, despite plenty of early turbulence, came Saturday in Minneapolis, where the Hawkeyes squeezed out a 13-10 win over Minnesota. Pair the victory with Illinois’ loss earlier in the day, and the Hawkeyes have the help they need to reach Indianapolis once again.
Jack Campbell was legendary. Drew Stevens was clutch. Spencer Petras at least saved his biggest throw of the night for winning time.
Let’s check the report card.
Offense: How would Iowa’s offensive production have looked without Sam LaPorta’s injury?
The Hawkeyes were probably not going to light up the scoreboard regardless of if their offensive weapons were all healthy. But Sam LaPorta exiting the game with a leg injury after a monster first quarter put a significant dent in Iowa’s offensive flow.
LaPorta finished with four grabs for 95 yards, including a huge 58-yard catch and run on a tunnel screen that set up Iowa’s initial field goal. The Hawkeyes had 106 passing yards in the first quarter and 115 over the final three quarters.
The usual suspects showed up again. Iowa’s offensive line was manhandled most of the day and never allowed the ground game to get flowing. Kaleb Johnson and Leshon Williams needed 19 carries to account for 81 yards.
Petras, for all his struggles Saturday and beyond, did save his best throw for the most pivotal moment of the game. A 33-yard hookup with tight end Luke Lachey came right after the Campbell interception and set Iowa up at the Minnesota 12-yard line with barely a minute remaining. Petras delivered a perfect ball up the seam that only Lachey could grab.
At this point, an Iowa win offensively is not wasting the golden opportunities presented by the defense. The Hawkeyes get a passing grade in that department.
Defense: Two late turnovers overshadow a porous run effort
Minnesota workhorse Mohamed Ibrahim has made plenty of defenses look silly over the years, but Saturday’s effort was even more impressive given who was on the other side.
Ibrahim rumbled for a career-high 263 yards on 39 carries with one touchdown. He had Iowa’s defense seemingly worn down late with one powerful run after another, until a costly fumble ignited the Hawkeyes’ late defensive flurry that made all the difference.
Credit Phil Parker’s unit for hanging tough and not losing focus in the fourth quarter, despite Ibrahim’s massive contributions. That focus allowed Campbell to haul in a Riley Moss pass breakup that caromed right to him as Minnesota was driving for the potential game-winning field goal.
It should’ve been another defensive touchdown after Campbell scampered to the end zone, but was incorrectly ruled out of bounds on the return. Iowa, though, will gladly accept the effort regardless.
It’s the sixth time this season Iowa has surrendered 10 points or fewer, including the last three games. Even with Ibrahim running wild, the Hawkeyes' defense has earned a favorable assessment.
Special teams: Drew Stevens' field goals come at crucial junctures
Although the distances on Stevens’ field goals don’t jump off the page — 38 and 21 yards — the kicks came at two very important stages of the game.
The second scenario is obvious. There’s still plenty of pressure on a game-winning kick, no matter how far away, and Stevens did his job despite Iowa having to call a desperation timeout before his initial attempt.
The first field goal arrived with a tick over nine minutes left in the first quarter, handing the Hawkeyes a 3-0 lead. This boot came following LaPorta’s big grab and ensured Iowa’s offense wouldn’t waste the rare splash play.
Coaching: The heat lessens a little more after Iowa’s fourth straight win
The identity of this Iowa team hasn’t changed during its four-game winning streak, but wins tend to keep the chatter down even if they aren’t pretty.
This wasn’t a narrative-changing performance for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. This wasn’t a narrative-changing performance for Parker and his elite unit. This wasn’t a narrative-changing win for head coach Kirk Ferentz, either.
However, having the Hawkeyes one manageable win away from back-to-back division titles is a credit to Iowa’s coaches, who didn’t let things completely spiral when they easily could’ve.
One win away from Indianapolis seemed like a pipe dream a month ago. Now? Not so much.
Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.