The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa football defeats Michigan State, 26-16, with late-game heroics of Cooper DeJean

After starting quarterback Cade McNamara went down due to injury in the first quarter, the Hawkeye defense and special teams proved the difference.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean returns a punt for a touchdown during a football game between Iowa and Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Spartans, 26-16. DeJean’s touchdown on the punt return was 70 yards.

Iowa football defeated Michigan State, 26-16, Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium, a game where adversity struck early but jubilation prevailed. 

After starting quarterback Cade McNamara went down due to injury, the Hawkeye offense, led by backup QB Deacon Hill, mustered just one touchdown, but the defense and special teams picked up the slack. 

“I think this just speaks to the resilience of this team,” Hill said in his postgame media availability. “The, ‘No stop, always go,’ mentality we always have … We’re a very tough team and all those guys, they won’t stop fighting till the last second has gone.”

Learn more here:

After electing to receive the ball first, the Hawkeyes turned heads by marching upfield to the Michigan State 30-yard line. The eight-play drive started with two consecutive first-down completions and included multiple plays in empty set formations. The Iowa offense eventually stalled after a short run by back Kamari Moulton and two incompletions and instead had to settle for a 40-yard field goal to take an early lead. 

The Iowa defense responded in kind by allowing just one first down on the Spartans’ first drive, only to have Michigan State punter Ryan Eckley boot a 61-yard punt to pin the Hawkeyes within the five-yard line. Then, two plays into the drive, the sold-out Kinnick crowd went silent as Iowa quarterback Cade McNamara went down with an injury. 

On second down, the Michigan transfer scrambled up the pocket but took a non-contact fall near the goal line after attempting to make a cut. He was helped off the field by trainers but couldn’t put any pressure on his left leg. After visiting the medical tent, McNamara was carted off the field. He did later return to the sidelines in street clothes and crutches.

At halftime, Iowa tight end Erick All spotted McNamara in the trainers’ room.

“I told him I had his back and was praying for him,” All said of the interaction. “[I told him] I was praying for him, and to keep his head up and keep fighting.”

Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game that he would know more about McNamara’s status next week but clarified that it was concerning to see his starter be carted off the field. As for who would be the starter in McNamara’s stead, Ferentz said Hill would be first in line, followed by backup Joey Labas.

With Wisconsin transfer Hill in at quarterback for the Hawkeyes, the offense mustered four more yards before having to punt. Starting at its own 38-yard line, Michigan State quarterback Noah Kim led the Spartans to the Iowa 14-yard line but fell short of first down and tied the contest with a 31-yard field goal. 

After a three-and-out in which the Iowa offense gained a total of three yards, Michigan State mounted a 61-yard drive, complete with four first downs to take the lead with another field goal. The Iowa “D” had a chance to stop the drive on fourth down, but was penalized for offsides to continue the drive. 

On the following Iowa drive, Hill through three straight incompletions, and the Spartans drove the ball downfield once again, highlighted by two straight Kim runs of 10-plus yards. With Michigan State in the red zone, Kim’s pass for Spartan receiver Jaron Glover was intercepted in the end zone by Iowa corner Cooper DeJean. 

DeJean’s turnover, his first of the season, seemed to spark the Hawkeye offense. Hill threw his first completion of the game, a 32-yard play-action toss to Erick All. The Michigan transfer tight end caught another pass for 17 yards before taking a screen pass 13 yards into the end zone for an Iowa score. 

“On that play, I just couldn’t believe that I scored,” All said. “At first, I thought I was stuck, but then I saw all the blockers come, and I just hit the hole and somehow stayed on my feet … Then I saw the goal line right there and I was like, ‘screw it,’ so I reached out and put the ball over the goal line.”

With just 35 seconds remaining in the half, the Spartans played some timely football with two 16-yard completions from Kim to Montorie Foster Jr. After another 8-yard pass to Foster Jr., Spartan kicker Jonathan Kim nailed a 58-yard field goal to close out the half – a Kinnick Stadium record. 

Iowa appeared to regain momentum at the start of the second half, as Hawkeye defensive back Sebastian Castro picked off Kim on the Spartans’ fourth play of the half. Yet such progress was fleeting, as the Hawkeyes’ first play following the turnover resulted in yet another takeaway. On first down, Iowa running back Leshon Williams fumbled, and the loose ball was scooped up by Spartan Cal Haladay and returned 42 yards for a score. Less than two minutes into the half, the Hawkeyes found themselves down, 16-10. 

The turnovers continued for the Hawkeyes on their following drive, as Hill threw his first interception in the Black and Gold. Michigan State couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity however, as the Spartans fourth-and-one attempt was stuffed by Hawkeye linebacker Jay Higgins and defensive end Deonte Craig for no gain. 

Starting with the ball in Spartan territory, the Iowa offense gained five yards, as Hill was sacked for a loss of nine on third down. Spartan defensive back Chester Kimbrough blitzed on the play and went untouched on his path to the quarterback. Hawkeye kicker Drew Stevens nailed a 53-yard field goal to bring the Hawkeyes within three. 

Even though Iowa forced another punt on the Spartans’ following drive, Eckley continued his stellar performance on the evening his a 52-yard boot. Iowa went three-and-out, opting to run the ball on third-and-five. This choice elicited cries of “Fire [Iowa offensive coordinator] Brian [Ferentz]” from the Iowa faithful. 

“Three-and-out is hardly fun for anybody, so I get that,” Kirk Ferentz said when asked about the scene.

Michigan State’s following drive went only 28 yards, and Jonathan Kim’s 50-yard field goal try smacked off the right upright and into the end zone. Starting in a more favorable field position, Hill threw three straight incompletions once again to force another punt. 

Iowa’s defense proved stout yet again by forcing a three-and-out, resulting in an Eckley punt of 67 yards. After both teams traded punts, Eckley had his first error of the night, shanking a punt for just 15 yards. With 7:47 left to go in the game, Iowa had the ball in enemy territory looking to take the lead. Hill’s QB sneak up the middle on third down gave the Hawkeyes a first down. After two straight incompletions, Williams’ nine-yard run put the Hawkeyes in easy field goal range, and Stevens hit a 36-yarder to knot the contest at 16 apiece. 

On Michigan State’s following drive, the Black and Gold faithful proved valuable, as Spartans had two straight false starts on third down to turn third-and-three into 3rd-and-13.

“It’s our job to make sure we get a third-and-long at Kinnick,” Higgins said of the defense. “I feel like if you can get a team [in] third-and-long in Kinnick, in any end zone honestly, it’s going to be very hard for them to convert … When you can’t hear the guy next to you, it’s hard to play football.”

After failing to convert, the Spartans were forced to punt.

Eckley’s offering wound up in the hands of DeJean, and the All-American corner made magic happen.

“As soon as the ball’s in the air, I’m looking at [DeJean] and there’s nobody around,” Hill remembered. “I was screaming, ‘Run. Run, Coop, run.’ He makes guys miss and my eyes start getting wider and wider. He breaks through, and I’m going nuts down the sideline.”

Assisted by two key blocks, the Iowa native hit the left sideline and dashed 70 yards for the score to put Iowa ahead. The Hawkeye defense would later seal the victory, as Iowa linebacker Nick Jackson forced a fumble from Spartan receiver Tre Mosley to once again set up the Hawkeyes within enemy territory. 

Stevens nailed another field goal to put the contest away. In a game where the Hawkeyes were outgained by more than 100 yards, they still prevailed in a Blackout game that many fans won’t soon forget.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.