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 pulls off a comeback win against Michigan State thanks to strong performance by Cooper DeJean and defense

The junior cornerback caught an interception and returned a punt 70 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Grace Smith
Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean runs toward the end zone for a touchdown after a punt return during a football game between Iowa and Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Spartans, 26-16. DeJean’s touchdown on the punt return was 70 yards.

If one were near Kinnick Stadium around the six-minute mark of the Iowa-Michigan State football game Saturday night, they may have been confused why fans seemed to boo after the Hawkeyes got a turnover on defense. 

But most of the over 69,000 fans at Kinnick were not booing. Instead, they were shouting in unison, “Cooooop,” after Hawkeye cornerback Cooper DeJean picked off Michigan State’s Noah Kim in the end zone, saving the Hawkeyes from a deficit in the second quarter. 

The Iowa faithful’s antics toward DeJean started last season, and the junior admitted that some of his family members thought the crowd was booing him. During Saturday’s 26-16 win over the Spartans, DeJean and the defense were showered with plenty of praise, as the unit stepped up in the turnover department after being relatively quiet earlier in the season. 

After recording only four turnovers in the first four games, Iowa’s defense matched that production against the Spartans, recording three interceptions in the secondary and a forced fumble by linebacker Nick Jackson, which was recovered by Iowa. 

After this slow start, DeJean said the turnovers on Saturday will feel good for Iowa’s defensive back unit. 

“We haven’t gotten many opportunities, and we finally got those opportunities and took advantage of them,” he said in his postgame press conference. “Hopefully we can keep that momentum rolling on from the defensive side.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said coming up with turnovers happens best when it comes naturally. 

“When guys started thinking more about getting the pick, it’s usually when bad things end up happening,” he said. “So the ones that came tonight we’re just the product of the way we’re doing things and guys making good plays.”

Though it wasn’t on the field as long as last week’s game at Penn State, the defense was still asked to play big in this game after Iowa lost starting quarterback Cade McNamara early in the first quarter due to a left leg injury.

Michigan State won in nearly every department statistically for the game, including 100 more total yards, five more first downs, and over seven more minutes of possession. 

But costly penalties and turnovers hurt the Spartans, and big plays on special teams for Iowa turned the tide for the Hawkeyes at the end. 

“We want to get off the field a little quicker at times, but I thought [the defense]  showed resiliency and kept our opponents out of the end zone,” Ferentz said. “That was certainly a big, big deal.” 

DeJean was also only the second Hawkeye to score a touchdown in Saturday’s game, returning a punt 70 yards for the game-winning touchdown with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. 

“My eyes lit up because I knew there was a chance for at least a good 15-20 yard return, but then you see guys fighting to lay blocks out there, and that just sprung me into the end zone,” DeJean said. 

This was DeJean’s first and only return for the night as Spartans’ punter Ryan Eckley was consistently booting the ball over DeJean’s head and pinning the pigskin within the 10-yard line. 

“It’s a little frustrating when they go over your head and bounce like that, but you just got to stay patient with it, and we’ve been close on a few punt returns all year and we finally broke one through,” DeJean said. 

After the go-ahead score from DeJean, the defense answered in kind with a forced fumble on the Spartans’ following drive that was recovered by Iowa. This then led to a field goal from Drew Stevens to put Iowa even further ahead. On Michigan State’s final drive of the game, Iowa cornerback Jermari Harris put the nail in the coffin with an interception. 

“If you’re a defensive player, that’s why you come to Iowa, for moments like that,” Hawkeye linebacker Jay Higgins said. 

Higgins, who led both teams in tackles with 12, said DeJean is a special player for the Hawkeyes. 

“Anytime No. 3 gets the ball, I mean, you don’t want to see him in space,” he said. “Coop in space equals good for the Hawkeyes.” 

Ferentz likened DeJean as an athlete to fictional baseball player Roy Hobbs of the movie, “The Natural,” explaining how both showcase uncanny play-making abilities. 

“Really good players don’t look like they’re grinding or working that hard out there, but they are, and everything he does, it just seems to be almost instinctive or natural to him,” Ferentz said of DeJean. “He just has a good knack for knowing how to read things, and he finds a place to be at the intersection of the ball.”

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About the Contributors
Cooper Worth, Pregame reporter
Cooper Worth is a Pregame Reporter for The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication. He is also earning a minor in communication studies and an entrepreneurial management certificate. This is his third year at the DI, previously serving as a News Editor and as a News Reporter covering local government in Johnson County for the DI. Cooper interned for the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa during the summer of 2023 as a general news reporter.
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.