Iowa’s comeback victory extends team’s winning streak to five games

Iowa once trailed 14-0 but won 35-21, and the once 0-2 Hawkeyes have now won five straight.


Katie Goodale-Daily Iowan via Im

Illinois running back Chase Brown (2) is tackled by Iowa defenders during the first quarter of the Iowa v. Illinois football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday Dec. 5, 2020. Iowa defeated Illinois with a final score of 35-21.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Much like dropping two games to start the season has turned into a lengthy winning streak, falling behind by two scores early against Illinois didn’t derail the No. 19 Iowa football team.

After trailing 14-0 toward the start of the second quarter, the Hawkeyes responded with 35 consecutive points in their 35-21 victory, the team’s fifth in a row.

“I think maybe we thought it was going to start at 3:30,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said, referring to the game’s 2:40 p.m. start time. “That was a rough 15-20 minutes to watch, that’s for sure. But the guys stuck together. I’m happy for the way they responded.

“Fortunately how you start is not as important as how you finish.”

In Iowa’s case, it’s very fortunate.

The Hawkeyes opened the game with the ball. On the second play of their first offensive drive, quarterback Spencer Petras was sacked. Ahead of the third down play, Iowa used a timeout because it did not have enough players on the field.

Iowa then punted, and Illinois didn’t share Iowa’s early struggles. The Fighting Illini capped a nine-play opening drive with a touchdown to secure the early lead, a lead they added on to early in the second quarter. Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters threw his second touchdown of the day with 13:30 remaining in the first half to extend Illinois’ lead to 14-0.

“You can either fold or you can fight,” said defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, who finished with five tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. “We’re going to continue to fight.”

Between that second Illini scoring drive and a garbage time touchdown with 24 seconds left in the game, the Hawkeye defense forced six punts and a turnover on downs. In that span, Iowa held Illinois scoreless, allowing only 110 total yards.

Postgame, multiple Iowa defenders said there weren’t any strategical adjustments following the early deficit.

“We got better at the basics, Nixon said. “Beforehand we were just out there trying to make plays. When we play together and come together as a defense, and actually play the Iowa way, we’re unstoppable.”

While the Iowa defense returned to form, the team’s offense emerged.

The Hawkeyes punted on their first four drives against Illinois. After that, Iowa scored on six of its next seven drives.

Quarterback Spencer Petras — who threw a career-best three touchdowns against Illinois — found Sam LaPorta running down the seam against a cover one defense in the red zone and connected with the sophomore tight end for a score — the first of LaPorta’s career. The touchdown put Iowa on the board with 6:18 remaining in the first half.

By the time Iowa’s second tight end, senior Shaun Beyer, caught the first touchdown of his career early in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes led 28-14. With only minutes left in the game, wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette scampered into the end zone for his second score of the night.

And the Hawkeyes, who remained energized on the sideline when they were down, were rowdy on the field when the victory was secured.

“When we’re playing complementary football, we’re all feeding off of each other,” LaPorta said. “If we go three and out and Tory Taylor puts one down inside the five, we’re going to be hootin’ and hollerin’. If we play complementary football and we’re always hyped up on the sideline and getting each other going, it’s going to be a good one for the Hawkeyes.”

It was a final three quarters worth hollering about for Iowa.

The Hawkeyes are 5-2 after they were 0-2. They won 35-14 after trailing 14-0. That’s the type of season 2020 is turning out to be.

“The guys were having fun,” Ferentz said. “The guys enjoy each other. The team has a good vibe… They’re having fun right now. I think they’re really proud of what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished the past five weeks.”