AMES, Iowa — The last thing Iowa took out of Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday was the Cy-Hawk Trophy.
It was a day of takeaways for the 10th-ranked Hawkeyes, a 27-17 win over No. 9 Iowa State that was more grand theft for the Iowa defense.
The Hawkeyes had three interceptions — two by cornerback Matt Hankins — and forced a fumble that was turned into a touchdown by linebacker Jack Campbell, Cyclone mistakes that were turned into 20 Iowa points.
“It was opportunistic football,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
So it was fitting that linebacker Seth Benson, who had the other interception, was the first to reach the trophy.
The prize belonged to the defense — players who, Campbell said, call themselves “mutts” because they’ve been underrated in their careers.
“Hard work,” Campbell said, “is always going to beat talent.”
It was Iowa’s sixth consecutive win in the series, the longest for the Hawkeyes since the 15-game streak from 1983-97.
That’s why linebacker Jestin Jacobs held up six fingers as he walked off the field. Jacobs, who poked the ball away from Iowa State running back Breece Hall in the third quarter, leading to Campbell’s touchdown that put Iowa up 21-10, couldn’t resist.
“The emotion comes out, six comes up,” Jacobs said.
Iowa hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 24 points in its last 24 games, a stifling streak.
“That’s just the standard we’ve always set,” Campbell said.
The Hawkeyes are 2-0 with wins over top-25 teams, and it’s been about creating opportunities. Riley Moss returned two interceptions for touchdowns in last week’s 34-6 win over Indiana.
And then there was this, a feast on Cyclone mistakes.
“It’s just the way we play defense,” Campbell said. “We’re always flying around.”
There’s a bond, Jacobs said, a trust that is a comfort to the defense and leads to aggressive play.
“We’re all close,” Jacobs said. “We all want to see each other succeed.”
“There’s no secret formula,” Ferentz said. “We play defense the way we play it.”
It’s the Hawkeyes’ formula though — an opportunistic defense, a steady, mistake-free offense, and special teams that have made fields seem to be chasms for opposing offenses.
But there is an equation for the defense. The standard, Hankins said, was getting four turnovers every day in practice.
“Sometimes,” he said, “we exceed that. … It’s not luck. It’s what we put in during the week.
Hankins’ first interception in the first half set up Iowa’s first touchdown, a 4-yard run by Tyler Goodson in the second quarter. The next two interceptions from Benson and Hankins on back-to-back possessions led to Caleb Shudak field goals.
“You can definitely feel it, the momentum shift,” Hankins said. “You can definitely feel the momentum changing.”
And then there was the fumble, when Hall ran into the extended right arm of Jacobs, in perfect position to knock the ball away. Campbell picked it up and had nothing in front of him.
“It was a great moment,” Campbell said. “I was just blessed to be in a position to pick it up.”
“I didn’t know it was a fumble until I saw Jack running into the end zone,” Ferentz said.
Jacobs called Campbell, who had eight tackles, “a monster.”
“I don’t know about that,” Campbell said, smiling.
“Jack gets us going,” Jacobs said.
Hall, a consensus first-team All-American who was the nation’s leading rusher last season, had just 69 rushing yards. Purdy was 13-of-27 for just 138 yards, eventually being taken out in the fourth quarter.
The Hawkeyes’ offense was good enough. Iowa was outgained, 339-173, and had just 11 first downs, but had no turnovers and a four-minute edge in time of possession, efficient management in a game that twisted with every mistake.
Nothing needed to be flashy. The defense had taken care of the big plays.
“That’s an offense’s dream scenario,” said Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras, who was 11-of-21 passing for 106 yards and one touchdown.
And with Tory Taylor hitting punts with an average of 51 yards, dropping five inside the 20-yard line, the Cyclones were constantly, it seemed, playing with a long field.
“When you can affect field position through the kicking game, it really gives you a good chance, especially if you have a defense that’s opportunistic,” Ferentz said. “It’s a good combination.”
The Hawkeyes could be a top-five team when the polls come out on Monday, something everyone seemed to shrug off in the post-game.
“The best we could be right now is 2-0,” Petras said. “As good as it feels to be 2-0, it doesn’t mean a thing.”
Still, Ferentz said, it’s fun watching what the Hawkeyes have done.
“There’s nothing bad about winning games,” he said. “There’s nothing bad about winning here.”