IOWA CITY, Iowa - They were drives that can suck the life out of an opposing defense.
They were also a sign that Iowa’s offense has some life to it.
The No. 5 Hawkeyes’ 30-7 win over Kent State on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium was built by its offense and sealed by its defense, a converse of what Iowa had done in its first two games.
Iowa had 418 yards of offense — 206 rushing, 212 passing — but what silenced the Golden Flashes were two drives that ended in touchdowns.
The 20-play, 95-yard drive to end the first half — an 8 minute, 38-second grind that left just 19 seconds on the clock — that ended when quarterback Spencer Petras threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Sam LaPorta.
And there was the 11-play, 80-yard drive in the third quarter, after Iowa’s defense forced a Kent State fumble at the goal line. Tyler Goodson’s second touchdown run of the day, a 35-yarder, extinguished whatever the Golden Flashes had left.
Iowa is 3-0, in rare air at the top of the national polls — the ranking is the program’s best since the end of the 2015 regular season, when the Hawkeyes are 12-0.
This was one of those wins to endure in September, but one the Hawkeyes relished.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of things that we can clean up for sure, especially on the defensive side,” said cornerback Riley Moss, who had a fumble recovery in the end zone when Kent State had a chance to get within two points in the third quarter. “We still haven’t, and we talked about this after the game, we still haven’t played a perfect 60-minute game.”
Those kinds of games are elusive, so a win is a win, and the Hawkeyes — who have won nine consecutive games dating back to last season — will take this one and move on.
“The bottom line is that we came here to get the win,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That's the best you can do. Week to week we're just trying to win the games in front of us and got that done.”
The Hawkeyes’ offense still doesn’t have the hum that Ferentz wants. Petras was 25-of-36 passing for 209 yards, but some of his misses drew rumblings from the crowd of 61,932 who came for what turned into Iowa’s 300th win at Kinnick Stadium.
“We still have a lot of things to work on,” Ferentz said. “The execution is still not there. But yeah, there were some good things going on, kind of subtly.”
But Ferentz appreciated the long drives, especially the 95-yarder. Those kinds of things, he said, can make a difference in not just a game, but a season.
“That was really good, and we made some tough plays during that possession, as well,” Ferentz said. “Even Sam's touchdown catch was ... that wasn't a big window right there, but Spencer got the ball in there and he made the catch. So that was really good. Those are the kinds of things that will help build a team if we take advantage of it. They're going to see the kind of execution we had there versus some of the other possessions, and hopefully that's how you learn.”
Iowa’s offense may have had subtle improvement, but Goodson certainly was loud. He finished with a career-high 153 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
There was the 46-yarder early in the first quarter, when he envisioned nothing in front of him — “Pre-snap, I saw it,” Goodson said — and then saw everything come together.
The pitch from Petras wasn’t perfect — “Which I almost dropped, by the way,” Goodson said, smiling — but Goodson hauled it in and raced through the wide opening to give Iowa a 9-0 lead.
“We liked that play going into the game, but I didn’t know that was going to be a touchdown,” Petras said. “That was a heck of a job by Tyler to use his speed to get to the end zone.”
Then there was Goodson’s 35-yarder in the third quarter, after Moss recovered Bryan Bradford’s fumble in the end zone when Kent State had the ball at the Iowa 1-yard line with a chance to get the score to 16-14.
That second touchdown had nearly the same space, and Goodson took advantage.
“Both (linebackers) were in the ‘A’ gap and there was a (cornerback) on that side of the play,” Goodson said. “From there it was take the ball and be patient and make sure the linemen get to the box. They did and from there it was pick my feet up and take it to the house.”
The final touchdown, a 2-yard run in the fourth, provided the final margin.
Goodson had just 154 rushing yards in Iowa’s wins over Indiana and Iowa State.
“You know, I think the first week, I had a pretty good run game,” Goodson said. “And against Iowa State, not so much, they had a pretty good defense. But we handled (Kent State’s) defense — they had some pretty good athletes. The guys up front did a pretty good job making sure the running backs had a split second to get the open field.”
Iowa’s defense had just the one turnover after forcing seven in the first two games, and added a safety in the first quarter.
“You know, we played as a team today and I’m proud that we were able to get the win,” Moss said.
Two wins over ranked teams, one win in a game where the script was flipped.
So far, so good, for the Hawkeyes.
“During the course of the season you've got to face all that stuff,” Ferentz said. “You're going to be underdogs, you're going to be on the road and then playing against a team that, quote-unquote, that you're supposed to beat. Somehow, someway you've got to stay focused and improve.
That's really probably the biggest thing I think all of us as coaches are concerned about — how can we grow, how can we improve. Hopefully we'll grow from this experience, and we should.”