Opinion | Iowa’s defense isn’t entirely to blame for surrendering Ferentz era-high 54 points

Thanks in part to nine turnovers from the Hawkeyes’ offense, the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes started nine of their drives at their own 44-yard line or beyond.


Jerod Ringwald

Ohio State tight end Mitch Rossi runs into the end zone for a touchdown during a football game between Iowa and No. 2 Ohio State at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022. Rossi caught one pass for three yards and a touchdown. The Buckeyes defeated the Hawkeyes, 54-10.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Iowa football became the second team this season to hold Ohio State’s offense to fewer than 400 yards in a single game Saturday. Notre Dame was the first to do so in Week 1, limiting the Buckeyes to 395 yards.

The Hawkeyes are also the only team to hold the Buckeyes to fewer than 400 offensive yards twice in a five-year span — Iowa held Ohio State to 360 yards on Saturday and 371 in 2017.

Ohio State beat Notre Dame, 21-10, this season. The Hawkeyes downed the Buckeyes, 55-24, at Kinnick Stadium in 2017.

So, what made the Hawkeyes’ most recent matchup with the Buckeyes different from the two aforementioned contests? A casual viewer might point to Iowa’s red zone defense as the problem. But really, Iowa’s atrocious offense was the difference-maker Saturday.

Thanks in part to nine turnovers, the Buckeyes started six of their drives on Iowa’s half of the field. Nine of Ohio State’s 16 possessions started at the Buckeye 44-yard line or beyond. 

Iowa’s offense turned the ball over on downs three times, threw three interceptions, and lost three of the four balls it fumbled.

“I mean, no, not really,” Iowa defensive lineman Noah Shannon said of whether or not the game’s final score made sense to him. “When I was on the sideline, I sat down and I was looking up at their total yards. At the time I was looking at it, it was like 298 or something like that. I forget the score, they maybe had 32 or something like that. But it just didn’t all align in my head.”

Ohio State scored 23 points on the nine drives it started near or beyond the 50-yard line. Add in starting quarterback Spencer Petras’ pick six, and 30 of the Buckeyes’ 54 points can be put on the poor performance of Iowa’s offense.

Though the short fields Iowa’s offense gave Ohio State did play a role in limiting the Buckeyes’ yardage, Iowa’s defense should still be owed a tip of the cap. 

Subtracting the 30 points Iowa’s offense practically handed Ohio State, the Hawkeyes’ defense relinquished 24 points. Considering the Buckeyes had the No. 2 offense in the nation coming into the game, that’s pretty good. Before their matchup against the Hawkeyes, the Buckeyes were averaging about 544 yards and 49 points per contest.

Iowa’s national defensive rankings will likely drop. The Hawkeyes were seventh and third in the nation in total and scoring defense, respectively, through their first six games of the season.

But Iowa still forced Ohio State to turn the ball over a season-high two times. Rutgers is the only other team that’s forced Ohio State into two turnovers this year.

Iowa’s defense also outscored its offense again. Senior defensive end Joe Evans forced Ohio State starting quarterback C.J. Stroud to fumble two minutes into the game. After the ball hit the ground, Evans scooped it up and ran into the end zone.

“At the moment, I felt so on top of the world,” Evans said. “Like, you saw where all the parents were, and that’s where I ran it in. I just looked at my family. Me and my dad, before every game, we give each other a little chest bump. So, if you can see in the celebration, that’s what I did. I looked at him and did that.”

Iowa’s lone offensive score came via a 49-yard field goal from true freshman kicker Drew Stevens with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.

“That’s how football can play out sometimes,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I’ve got a long history at our school going back to the ‘80s as well. [I’ve] been through all kinds of years where, you know, you’re really strong in one area, and maybe not so strong in another.

“You try to play the hand you’re dealt as well as you can, and you know, try to improve in the areas where you’re not playing at the highest level you’d like.”

The Hawkeyes surrendered the most points during Ferentz’s near-25-year head coaching tenure on Saturday, and it’s easy to put most of the blame for a 54-10 loss on a defense. A quick look at the box score and the game’s highlight reel will help most that didn’t watch Saturday’s game think Iowa didn’t play well on defense.

It seems asinine to say, but Iowa’s defense performed better than any of its other units on Saturday. It certainly didn’t play its best game, but given the circumstances, it performed at a fairly high level.

The poor performance of Iowa’s offense will continue to dominate blog and newspaper headlines, as it deservedly has all season. But this week, I wanted to acknowledge just how solid Iowa’s defense has been this year.

After this column is published, I might be dubbed a Hawkeye fan boy or told I should go write obituaries, but I think Iowa’s defense deserves its due credit.