Iowa defensive line proves pivotal in win over Michigan State

Spartan quarterback Rocky Lombardi didn’t have the homecoming he wanted in part because of the Hawkeye defensive line.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston pursues the running back during a football game between Iowa and Michigan State on November 7, 2020.

Isaac Goffin, Assistant Sports Editor

Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi had his homecoming game at Iowa on Saturday. The Clive, Iowa, native was set to follow up on his winning performance against Michigan the week before.

The Iowa pass rush was having no part of that and spoiled Lombardi’s Kinnick Stadium debut in a 49-7 Hawkeye victory.

On the first drive of the game, the Spartans faced a third-and-six from their own 40-yard line. Lombardi only had a couple seconds in the pocket before Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston got close to him, causing Lombardi to roll out.

When Lombardi set up to throw, defensive end Joe Evans put pressure on him and took Lombardi to the ground as he got a throw off. The pass was launched way down field, where defensive back Jack Koerner was the only player in the picture and made an interception.

“Earlier this week in film, the d-linemen, we were talking about when [Lombardi] sees pressure, you can see it, he flinches,” Golston said. “So, we knew if we got pressure early and consistent, he would get high passes and stuff like that.”

That wouldn’t be the last time where the pass rush forced Lombardi to make a pass he didn’t want to make.

On a second-and-one, the Spartans ran a play action toward the beginning of the second quarter. Lombardi turned around and saw defensive end Zach VanValkenburg rushing right at him, so he proceeded to throw into the flat.

But Iowa linebacker Barrington Wade caught the pass for another Hawkeye interception.

Unfortunately for Lombardi, that wouldn’t be his last interception of the day. Once again, he was rushed and forced out of the pocket by the defensive line, though when he threw there wasn’t immediate pressure on him. The pass looked almost as if it was targeting Iowa cornerback Riley Moss, who took it in for a pick six from 54 yards out.

Moss thanked the defensive line postgame for its performance throughout the day.

“It was huge,” Moss said. “It makes our job in the secondary a lot much easier. So, props to those guys, they did a great job this week in practice. Our preparation this week probably the best we’ve had this year so far. So, as long as we keep building off that I think we’ll be doing pretty well.”

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Interceptions are huge, but sacks are also crucial. After Moss’ interception, Lombardi was sacked by VanValkenburg and Golston. On the first drive of the second half, Lombardi was sacked again by Golston that turned into an intentional grounding.

The pass rush had shown signs of success in the previous two games. The Hawkeyes recorded five sacks in their first two games, including two from defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon.

“We’ve been building week-by-week,” Golston said. “So, I guess we’re building toward the last game. It’s not just one game, we’re trying to get better than where we were last week. We’re building toward every game.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said he was impressed by what he saw from the team’s front four, including its backups like Evans and defensive tackle Noah Shannon.

“Seeing those guys involved, it’s got to be a group effort,” Ferentz said. “So, if everybody is moving forward, maybe we’ve got a chance to become a good team.”