Iowa football’s Deontae Craig enjoys career game in victory over Wisconsin

The Hawkeye sophomore defensive end recorded five total tackles and 1 ½ sacks in Iowa’s 24-10 win.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa defensive lineman Deontae Craig and defensive lineman Logan Lee tackle Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz during a football game between Iowa and Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. The Iowa defense sacked Mertz four times and forced a fumble. The Hawkeyes defeated the Badgers, 24-10.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

Iowa defensive end Deontae Craig did not play against Wisconsin as a true freshman.

Craig was dressed during the Hawkeyes’ 28-7 win over the Badgers on Dec. 12, 2020. But he didn’t see the field.

During his redshirt freshman season in 2021, the Fort Wayne, Indiana, product missed Iowa’s 27-7 loss to Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison with an injury.

On Saturday afternoon, Craig finally got his chance to play against the Badgers. The 6-foot-3, 266-pounder helped Iowa pick up a 24-10 win over Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium by recording five total tackles and 1 1/2 sacks — both of which are career-highs.

Craig also blocked a punt at the Wisconsin 19-yard line. After Craig batted the punt off the foot of Badger Andy Vujnovich, Hawkeye linebacker Jay Higgins scooped the ball up at the 20-yard line and returned it to the Wisconsin 17.

“All week, [special teams coach LeVar Woods] had been pulling older clips of pro-style protection,” Craig said of his punt block postgame. “The first couple of times on the rushes, I saw [my blocker] kind of duck his head inside a little bit, so, third time, you know, coach gave me the freedom all week to take it up the field or duck it off inside, and I saw an opening, reached out, and was able to get a piece of the ball.”

It turns out, however, Craig didn’t just get a piece of the ball —  he got the whole thing.

“I’m feeling it a little bit right here on my forearm right now, but a W takes all the pain away,” Craig said with a smile.

During his near-five-minute meeting with reporters, Craig never stopped grinning. The sophomore had good reason to smile postgame, as his team won its third consecutive game.

Before Saturday’s contest, Craig had been trending upward, recording three and five total tackles in each of the Hawkeyes’ last two games, respectively. Craig also racked up 2 1/2 tackles for loss, 1 1/2 sacks, and a forced fumble over that span.

Craig credited his recent success to his teammates and the Hawkeyes’ coaching staff. 

“It’s not just me, if it wasn’t for my teammates, you know, pushing me like they do, holding me accountable every day in practice, I mean, we wouldn’t be here today,” Craig said. “It just goes back to trusting the work. The coaches do a great job of always putting together great schemes, and we get out there and execute at a high level.”

Craig’s teammates said he has been ready to take advantage of his opportunities to make plays.

Craig’s 13 tackles, four tackles for loss, and three sacks over the last three games are more than he had in any of those categories during the season’s first seven games combined. 

“Any given Saturday, anybody on the defense can have a crazy career game like that,” senior defensive back Kaevon Merriweather said. “I think we do a great job preparing, and our coaches always say, “When the play comes your way, make sure you’re there to make it.” And I think he always does a great job being where he needs to be, like everybody else on this defense, you know, we have a really sound defense, I think we all know what we need to do. 

“He was just where he needed to be every single time during the game today, and he made huge plays on the field, so kudos to him for being prepared.”

Craig’s impressive performance was part of another stellar outing from Iowa’s defense as a whole. 

The Hawkeyes racked up three takeaways — two interceptions and a fumble — held Badger sophomore running back Braelon Allen to 40 yards rushing, and kept Wisconsin scoreless in the second half. 

Prior to Saturday’s game, Allen had averaged 110 yards per game and had tallied over 85 yards on the ground in all but one contest. 

Although Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz threw for 176 yards, his two interceptions tied a season-high. His 45.7 percent completion percentage marked his second-lowest of the year.  

Mertz completed 16 of 35 attempts on the day and was sacked four times. 

“I think the coaches came up with a great game plan this week, and then it just comes down to putting it on the field on Saturday,” Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean said. “You know, we really played well,  there’s obviously still some things we can clean up. Defensive line played well, then the linebackers, then the DBs. It was a collective effort, everybody doing their job.”