By Jack Brandsgard (email@example.com) 10/21/18
IOWA CITY—Iowa reached bowl eligibility for the 17th time in the last 18 seasons with a dominating 23-0 win over the Maryland Terrapins to improve to 6-1 (3-1 B1G) on the year. But the Hawkeyes have their sights set much higher.
This is the fourth time Iowa has started 6-1 (or better) under Kirk Ferentz. The last three times, the Hawkeyes won at least 11 games and played in the Orange Bowl (twice) and the Rose Bowl. Even so, Ferentz hesitated before touting this year’s team as “championship-level.”
“We’ve got a lot of race in front of us right now,” Ferentz said. “There’s nothing guaranteed out there, nothing easy, and you just keep trying to put positive steps in front of each other. If you can do that, then maybe. But it’s way too early.”
There’s still a lot to like, starting with a defense that pitched its first shutout since 2016.
Maryland entered the game 16th nationally in rushing yards per game (245.2) and 6th in yards per attempt (6.03). Iowa limited the Terrapins to 68 yards on 23 attempts for an average of 3.0. Maryland mustered only 115 total yards, which is the fewest Iowa has ever allowed to a Big Ten opponent and the fourth-fewest in any game under Ferentz. The Terrapins became Iowa’s fourth opponent in seven games to register a season low in points.
Iowa ranks in the top-five nationally in total defense (258.1 yards per game), rush defense (79.6 YPG), and scoring defense (14.1 points per game). Parker Hesse anchored the unit with 5 tackles, two for loss, and a sack.
“I can’t say enough about Parker,” Ferentz said. “Everything he does is quality and first class. He’s a guy everybody in our program looks up to, whether it’s a player, coaching staff, support staff. It’s hard to find a flaw with him.”
Hesse’s defensive line-mate Anthony Nelson also had himself a day. Maryland’s jet sweep action backfired as backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome collided with a motioning receiver. The ball squirted into the end zone, where Nelson secured Iowa’s 11th-straight season with a defensive touchdown.
Punter Colten Rastetter should’ve gotten an assist on the play as his punt was downed inside the 10-yard line to set up the score. Kicker Miguel Recinos added to Iowa’s special teams success by knocking through a career-high three field goals despite windy conditions.
The weather clearly affected Iowa’s offensive game plan and the unit as a whole, particularly Nate Stanley. The quarterback completed 11-of-22 passes for only 86 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Stanley’s pick came as a result of a poor decision, which is the primary reason he has thrown an interception in five-straight games.
Stanley’s best throw of the day came on a one-on-one fade route to Brandon Smith, who made a dazzling one-handed catch despite being interfered with to score the first touchdown of his career.
Iowa leaned on its run game to carry the load and the running backs responded with a season-high in yards (224). Ivory Kelly-Martin received the lion’s share of the workload with 24 carries for a career-best 98 yards. The success was two-fold: 1) Iowa improved to 34-2 over the last four seasons when rushing for at least 100 yards, and 2) the Hawkeyes created a monopoly on time of possession.
Iowa possessed the ball for 40:55, the second-most under Ferentz, which limited Maryland to 39 offensive snaps, the fewest by any FBS team this season and the fewest in the Ferentz era.
Each of the Hawkeyes’ four scoring drives (not counting Nelson’s touchdown) was 10 plays or more, including a season-long 17-play drive for the first score of the game. That level of consistent pressure is demoralizing for an opposing defense.
To use a wrestling analogy, Iowa took Maryland down early and rode them out until the finish.
The Hawkeyes will need to continue their strong play as they travel to Penn State next week for a top-25 showdown in Happy Valley.