IOWA CITY, Iowa – The message was clear literally from the opening coin flip. Playing before a stadium full of fans at Kinnick Stadium for the first time in 650 days, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes wanted to place immediate pressure on an unsure Indiana team that was ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1969.
Iowa won the toss and elected to take the ball instead of deferring. They scored a touchdown on a 56-yard run by Tyler Goodson and then cornerback Riley Moss intercepted a Michael Penix Jr. pass returned it 30 yards for a score. Iowa led 14-0 just 2 minutes and 15 seconds into the game.
The Hawkeyes never let up and rolled to an easy 34-6 victory on Saturday, opening the Big Ten season with a huge crossover win against an Indiana team that went 6-2 a year ago and had lofty aspirations coming into the game.
"It was super important (to get off to a hot start),'' Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said. "We preached that all week, and how we need to start fast, because those games usually end pretty well for us.
"There have been examples in the past of us not playing great at first, getting off to slow starts. You always want to coming out firing like we did and the beauty of it, I think, is that it was all three phases. We scored pretty quickly and then got a pick-six. You can't write a better start than that.''
With that fast start, this outcome was never in doubt. Iowa never took their collective cleats off Indiana's throat. Beating another ranked team inside Kinnick is nothing new. Iowa beat No. 8 Minnesota in 2019, No. 6 Ohio State in 2017 and No. 3 Michigan in 2016.
It was a rough day for Penix, who has rehabbed a November ACL injury diligently to be ready for the opener. He was harassed constantly by Iowa's veteran defense and threw three interceptions for the first time in his career. He had only four total interceptions in each of the previous two season, and had just eight interceptions in 414 career attempts.
"I think it's hard to come back from some things mentally, and it takes time,'' Indiana coach Tom Allen said of Penix. "Unfortunately, we had to play a high-caliber team right out of the gate so there was no ramp-up time. He didn't have a chance to get that, but that's what you've got to do. That's the nature of how the game is played.
"He definitely looked out of sync to me and he didn't look comfortable in the pocket. We'll get that fixed. Like I said, we got knocked down. but we'll get up and keep swinging.''
Penix finished the game with just 14 completions in 31 attempts for 156 yards. He was replaced by Jack Tuttle midway through the fourth quarter. Iowa's defense was difficult to break, especially inside the 20, holding Indiana to just two field goals – and scoring two touchdowns on defense themselves.
"Our game plan coming in was to stop the big plays, and that's what we did'' said Moss, the senior from Ankeny, Iowa who had his first two-touchdown day with the Hawkeyes. "We made them work hard for their yards and their points. It was preached to stay on top, do your job, read your keys, and I think everyone throughout our defense did that well.''
Iowa went ahead 21-3 on a Spencer Petras 9-yard run and Moss picked off another Penix pass and returned it 55 yards for another score. The Hawkeyes added a field goal on the final play of the half to take a 31-3 lead to the locker room.
Indiana moved the ball on a few drives in the second half, but each drive was stalled either by penalties or missed connections on passes. They added just one more field goal from Charles Campbell. Indiana's offense hadn't been held to single digits since a 17-9 loss to Michigan State in 2017.
Petras, starting his second season as Iowa's starting quarterback was just 13-for-27 passing for 145 yards for Iowa. Starting the season with a win over a ranked team was a big deal, especially after starting 0-2 last year before reeling off six straight wins.
"From January on, this team has been fully committed and fully invested in the process every step of the way,'' Petras said. "This team has run the race pretty well to this point, and if we want to achieve our goals, we have to play like this every week. I'm proud of this team. This was really fun, and with all those plays, the crowd was really into it. There's not a better atmosphere in the country than Kinnick. It was a ton of fun.
Goodson had 99 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Iowa travels to No. 8 Iowa State next week. Indiana will be home against Idaho, and will have to lick their wounds quickly and make improvements. After Idaho, No. 8 Cincinnati – a 49-14 winner over Miami of Ohio – comes to town.
"Yeah, I didn't expect this to happen,'' Allen said. "I thought it was going to be a great football game that would come down to the finish. That's what I thought. We'll just have to get back to work now. We said it all week that Iowa was a very good team that doesn't beat themselves. They didn't. They played very well and we made too many mistakes.''