Defense, special teams push Iowa football past Iowa State in Ames

The Hawkeyes’ defense racked up four takeaways on its way to a 27-17 win over the Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium.

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Jerod Ringwald

Iowa defensive back Matt Hankins breaks up a pass intended for Iowa State wide receiver Joe Skates during a football game between No. 10 Iowa and No. 9 Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cyclones 27-17.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor


AMES — Saturday might be the easiest day of the week for Iowa football’s defense during the season. The Hawkeyes get to play classic 11-on-11 football without any barriers in place to keep them from succeeding.

At practice, the Hawkeyes’ defense occasionally takes on the Iowa offense nine-on-seven. Iowa’s defense tries to force at least four turnovers each practice too. Senior cornerback Matt Hankins claims the Hawkeyes typically exceed their four-turnover goal at practice. Now, they’re starting to force four turnovers or more in games on Saturdays.

In their 27-17 win over then-No. 9 Iowa State Saturday, the then-No. 10 Hawkeyes forced four turnovers. Against Indiana on Sept. 4, Iowa turned the Hoosiers over three times in a 34-6 victory at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

Three of the seven turnovers Iowa’s amassed this year have resulted in scores. Junior linebacker Jack Campbell scooped a Jestin Jacobs-forced fumble up and ran it back six yards for a touchdown against the Cyclones on Saturday, and senior cornerback Riley Moss registered two pick sixes in Iowa’s matchup with Indiana.

“It’s just the way we play defense,” Campbell said following Iowa’s win over Iowa State. “We just fly around. We have a great attitude about everything. Something might go wrong, but that’s why we’re here. We’re here to stop them, get the ball back, get points. I mean, you guys might call it a fluke. You guys might just say we’re playing hard. At the end of the day, it’s just the standard the Hawkeye defense has set.”

Of the seven takeaways the Hawkeyes have accumulated this season, six have come in the air. Iowa defensive backs have intercepted three passes per game so far this season.

Both Indiana and Iowa State benched their starting quarterbacks in their respective games against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are currently on pace to record 36 interceptions this season.

“We definitely can [maintain our pick pace],” said Hankins, who intercepted two of Cyclone quarterback Brock Purdy’s passes on Saturday. “It just comes down to the film work, preparation, and reading the keys. So, it’s not luck. It’s what we putting in during the week.”

Aiding Iowa’s defense, and perhaps helping it force turnovers and score at such a high rate, is sophomore punter Tory Taylor, who has pinned the Hawkeyes’ opponents inside their own 20-yard line on six occasions this season.

“[Taylor] has a great attitude,” Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s an unbelievable young person, but he’s an awfully good punter too. When you can affect field position through the kicking game, it gives you a really good chance [to force turnovers], especially if you have a defense that’s opportunistic. It’s a good combination, and that really played into [Saturday’s Iowa State game].”

Against the Cyclones, Taylor booted five balls inside the Iowa State 20-yard line. Four of those five punts were downed inside the Iowa State 10-yard line.

“It’s not easy punting the ball,” Taylor said. “It can be really difficult, at times, especially in adverse conditions. I honestly owe a lot of credit, especially to guys like [junior Terry Roberts] and my housemate Ivory Kelly-Martin, they’re the guys screaming down the field . . . They’re the guys hustling down the field, and it just makes my job a lot easier, and makes the team a better team. Massive credit to those guys, and I’m really proud of them.”

Ferentz said postgame that he hasn’t seen an Iowa team punt and defend as well as his group has this season since 1981. The 1981 Hawkeyes and then-punter Reggie Roby made the Rose Bowl.

Ferentz isn’t the only one that sees the 2021 Hawkeyes’ potential either. Taylor believes Iowa has big things in store this year following its two season-opening victories over ranked foes.

“I’m really excited for this team moving forward,” Taylor said. “We’re going to be a great team, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year.”

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