Opinion | Charting the defining moments on Iowa’s road to Indianapolis

Take a look back at the moments that stood out from Iowa’s season ahead of the Big Ten Championship Game.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa defensive back Henry Marchese blocks a punt during a football game between No. 16 Iowa and Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 28-21.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Indianapolis, here come the Hawkeyes.

It’s tough to imagine saying that after Iowa lost to Wisconsin, or when the Hawkeyes trailed the Cornhuskers by 15 points in the second half of the regular season finale. Or at about a dozen other points this season. But here we are. It took a comeback win against Nebraska and a Wisconsin loss, but the Hawkeyes are officially going for their first Big Ten title since 2004 and first outright conference championship since 1985 to get there.

Iowa’s 12-game season was full of its ups and downs. I went back and picked out a defining moment from each one of them on Iowa’s path to Indianapolis:

Riley Moss takes two picks to the house against Indiana: I’m still in disbelief at how that Indiana game started out. That’s mostly because of Riley Moss’ two interception returns for touchdowns off of Michael Penix Jr. This was an early indication of how opportunistic Iowa’s defense was going to be. Oh, and this game definitely won Moss the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year honor.

Jack Campbell’s scoop and score helped Iowa pull away from Iowa State: Iowa’s third defensive touchdown through two games was a killer for the Cyclones. Campbell picked up a Breece Hall fumble and returned it six yards for a score to put Iowa up double-digits in a top-10 Cy-Hawk showdown.

Jestin Jacobs’ forced fumble turns momentum against Kent State: Rinse and repeat. Iowa’s defense made another timely play. Jacobs forced a fumble at Iowa’s goal line when Kent State was approaching cutting into Iowa’s lead in the second half and the Hawkeyes led by nine. I’m sensing a theme here.

Keagan Johnson goes deep against Colorado State: I could go with Campbell forcing a fumble at Colorado State’s 6-yard line when the Rams led by seven points in the second half. But I think the memorable play from this game is Johnson catching a 43-yard touchdown on his first college reception. It was an early sign that he needed to be included more in the offense.

Special teams play sparks scoring rampage against Maryland: There’s a lot to choose from here. Iowa scored six touchdowns and forced seven turnovers in this game. The one that got things going was Sebastian Castro forcing a Maryland fumble on a kickoff when Iowa led by three. The Hawkeyes quickly scored again, and again, and again…

Nico Ragaini’s game-winning touchdown stuns Penn State: Yeah, you know what play I’m talking about. It was offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s best play call of the season and resulted in a play-action Spencer Petras dime to Ragaini for a win over Penn State in a top-five matchup.

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Purdue’s David Bell terrorizes Iowa: Throw in any Bell reception you want here. There are a lot to choose from. This game started Iowa on its downward two-game spiral after the Hawkeyes reached No. 2 in the nation.

A disastrous offense and a QB injury late vs. Wisconsin: Iowa didn’t pick up a first down against Wisconsin until the final minute of the first half. The Hawkeyes turned the ball over three times, allowed six sacks, and only gained 24 rushing yards on the day. I could go on. Oh, and Petras hurt his shoulder, a storyline that has carried through the rest of the season. Winning the West seemed basically impossible at this point.

A QB change against Northwestern: Alex Padilla trotted onto the field late in the first quarter against the Wildcats and quickly led the Hawkeyes on two scoring drives. This was the start of Iowa’s current winning streak, and its QB controversy.

Two big-play touchdowns keep momentum going against Minnesota: A 72-yard bomb to receiver Charlie Jones and an incredible catch and run to Keagan Johnson for 27 yards showed that Iowa’s offense still had some signs of life.

Jones strikes again on special teams against Illinois: Another big play from Jones, this time a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Illinois when Iowa trailed 10-0. The play propelled Iowa to the comeback win it needed to stay alive in the West.

The blocked punt that won the West: Speaking of sparking a comeback, look no further than Henry Marchese’s punt block that was returned for a touchdown. That was the start of Iowa scoring 22 consecutive points to defeat Nebraska, 28-21. It was the biggest play of Iowa’s season so far and set up the biggest game of Iowa’s season so far.

Iowa (10-2 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) faces Michigan (11-1, 8-1) in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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