Iowa football forces five turnovers, wins Big Ten-opener against Rutgers

The Hawkeyes scored two defensive touchdowns on their way to a 27-10 victory over the Scarlet Knights.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Rutgers tight end Johnny Langan dives forward as Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell and company attempt to push him back during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. The Hawkeyes lead the Rutgers 17-3 at halftime.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The Iowa football team downed Rutgers, 27-10, in front of a sellout crowd at SHI Stadium Saturday night. The Scarlet Knights and Hawkeyes are now both 3-1.

Iowa picked up the win thanks in part to two defensive touchdowns from sophomore Cooper DeJean and senior Kaevon Merriweather. DeJean struck first, intercepting an errant pass from Rutgers quarterback Evan Simon during the first quarter. The defensive back caught the ball over his left shoulder, turned around, and made his way from the Scarlet Knight 45-yard line to the end zone. DeJean has now picked off two passes this season.

Merriweather’s score came with 8:28 remaining in the second quarter. The strong safety scooped a fumble at the Rutgers 30-yard line and ran it back for a touchdown. The fumble was forced by junior Sebastian Castro.

Counting DeJean and Merriweather’s heroics, the Hawkeyes forced five turnovers on the game — including two on downs. Merriweather recorded his first interception of the 2022 season at the 5:42 mark of the third quarter. He picked off Simon at the Iowa 22-yard line and returned it to the Rutgers 45.

“Every single week at practice, we’re always making sure we’re practicing at full speed,” Merriweather said postgame. “We’re making sure we’re always in the right spot … I think that’s what makes our defense so good. We’re always making sure that we’re all in tune with what we’re seeing. I think that starts in practices. I think that starts with [defensive coordinator Phil Parker].”

Despite the 17-point win, Rutgers outgained Iowa offensively, 361-277. Scarlet Knights quarterback Evan Simon went 28-of-49 for 300 yards, while Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras had 148 passing yards on an 11-of-17 game.

Iowa’s offense shows signs of life

If it weren’t for a 25-yard field goal from true freshman Drew Stevens with 25 seconds left in the second quarter, the Hawkeye offense wouldn’t have scored in the first half. Iowa’s defense put on 14 of the Hawkeyes’ 17 first-half points.

In the second half, the Hawkeyes flipped the switch, driving down the field for a touchdown on their first drive of the third quarter. Nine plays into the possession, running back Leshon Williams punched in a 2-yard touchdown with at the 10:09 mark in the third period.

The score was Williams’ second of the year and the Hawkeyes’ fifth on offense.

Kaleb Johnson continues to impress

True freshman running back Kaleb Johnson had another breakout performance Saturday night, carrying the ball 15 times for 58 yards. He also picked up 77 yards via kick return.

Johnson had never played kick returner in college before Saturday. On his first career return, he gained 42 yards.

Johnson’s increased workload comes on the heels of his 103-yard, two-touchdown performance in Iowa’s 27-0, Week 3 win over Nevada. Johnson scored one touchdown on a 40-yard run and another on a 55-yard rush against the Wolf Pack.

Gavin and Leshon Williams, who were the top two runnings backs listed on Iowa’s preseason depth charts had 18 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown combined.

‘Kaleb’s different,” Leshon Williams said. “I know ya’ll see his size. The man’s blessed. [6-foot-1, 220-pounds], six pack abs, good cuts, he’s blessed.”

Jestin Jacobs returns to the field

Junior linebacker Jestin Jacobs returned to the field after a two-week hiatus Saturday night. Jacobs made one tackle.

He missed Iowa’s matchup with Iowa State and Nevada with what Iowa head coach Ferentz called a “soft tissue injury.” Jacobs sustained the injury during the Hawkeyes’ Week 1 matchup with South Dakota State.

Postgame, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said the limited action Jacobs saw Saturday doesn’t indicate the starting linebacker will be healthy going forward.

“I don’t think it’s good,” Ferentz said of Jacobs’ injury status. “I’ll let you know on Tuesday, but it didn’t seem good in the initial report. So, we’ll see where it goes.”

Noah Shannon, who played limited snaps against Nevada, was also active for Saturday’s Iowa-Rutgers game.

Wideout Keagan Johnson did not participate in the contest. He’s missed three of Iowa’s first four games with an undisclosed injury. He played about half of the Iowa-Nevada game. But three lightning delays prevented Johnson from “getting loose,” per Ferentz. So, Johnson was shut down shortly after halftime.

Big picture

With the win against Rutgers, Iowa starts Big Ten play 1-0. The Hawkeyes are tied with the Northwestern Wildcats and the Minnesota Golden Gophers for first place in the Big Ten West.

Minnesota picked up its first league win against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. The Golden Gophers downed the Spartans, 34-7.

Northwestern’s conference win came during Week 0 of the college football season. The Wildcats beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 31-28, in Ireland.

The Hawkeyes narrowly edged the Gophers in the race to Big Ten West title in 2021.

Up next

The Hawkeyes will return to Kinnick Stadium for a matchup with the undefeated, No.4 Michigan Wolverines next Saturday. The bout will begin at 11 a.m. and air on FOX.

Big Noon Kickoff, FOX’s traveling pregame show, will make a stop in Iowa City next week. The program’s festivities will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday.