Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Compared to fellow defensive back Jake Gervase, Joshua Jackson was a grizzled veteran heading into the University of Iowa’s football season opener against Wyoming.
Jackson’s only previous start was at cornerback in the 2017 Outback Bowl, where he made three solo tackles with a tackle for loss. Gervase’s first start came against the Cowboys.
Gervase and Jackson were half of Iowa’s starting secondary that was attempting to slow Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, an NFL Draft first-round-pick-in-waiting, who averaged 228.8 passing yards a game last season.
Gervase and Jackson came through with critical plays during Iowa’s 24-3 victory as the Hawkeyes held Wyoming out of the end zone for the first time in 16 games. Allen threw for 174 yards — 31 coming on the final drive with the Hawkeyes ahead by three touchdowns.
“They played our quick (passing) game well,” said Allen, who was limited to his lowest passing total in the last eight games. “They knew their safeties would be able to make plays over the top.”
Gervase, a free safety, was the first to be tested. On the Cowboys’ opening possession, the junior former walk-on from Davenport, Iowa, batted a pass away from receiver John Okwoli on third-and-6. Two drives later, on third-and-1, the Cowboys ran Nico Evans wide to the left side of the field. Gervase stepped up and made the tackle for a 3-yard loss.
“It wasn’t about me, it was about the game plan,” Gervase said. “It was all 11 of us flying to the ball, having fun, and holding them to three points.”
Gervase has been on the radar of Hawkeye fans since the spring game in April when he compiled three interceptions. At that point he was relatively new to first-team reps since returning starter Barndon Snyder had torn an ACL a few weeks earlier.
“That was a lot of fun, but that was the spring game,” Gervase said. “It is a totally different thing out here in front of 70,000 fans. I try to take it one day at a time, work as hard as I can, and get the defense in position and compete day-in and day-out.”
Gervase finished with four tackles and a tackle for loss in his first college start. Prior to the Wyoming game, he had seen limited action with the defensive unit.
“I was on all special teams (in 2016), but I only had about 30 total (defensive reps) and those were end-of-game situations when we were up big, so they didn’t mean a lot,” Gervase said. “These were my first meaningful snaps.”
As for Jackson, he broke up a pass in the end zone early in third quarter and intercepted Allen in the fourth quarter — returning it 41 yards into Wyoming territory.
“I saw (Wyoming receiver C.J. Johnson) run a post and I tried to stay on his up-field shoulder,” Jackson said. “I saw the ball come out and made a play on it. I try to come out and make the plays I can and not try to overdo anything.”
Jackson had five tackles; the starting secondary of Gervase, Jackson, senior Miles Taylor, and sophomore Michael Ojemudia, combined for 19 stops.
“We played good team defense,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “When you’re playing a quarterback (who will be a first round draft pick), that is a big concern. Outside of Miles, nobody really had much starting experience. We had a lot of guys on the field who hadn’t played, so this is invaluable.”
The Hawkeye secondary will be tested again Sept. 9 by Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. On Saturday night, Park completed 27 of 35 passes for 271 yards as the Cyclones defeated Northern Iowa, 42-24.
But Iowa grew up in its opener and the Hawkeyes will have reinforcement next week when cornerback Manny Rugamba, who started three games in 2016 as a true freshman, returns.
The annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series battle begins at 11 a.m. (CT). Iowa has won three of the last four meetings, including 31-17 the last time the teams met in Ames in 2015.