By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa defensive tackle Sam Brincks entered the postgame interview room Saturday sporting a badge of honor from his team’s 13-3 Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series victory over Iowa State. There was a small, reddish-purple spot above his left eye, the result of his own loose helmet, he said.
It was Brincks and his Hawkeye defensive mates who delivered a collective black eye to the Cyclone offense, a group that averaged 386 yards and 29 points a game last season. Iowa State scored 40-or-more points five times.
“When one guy makes a play, everybody feeds off it and it allows momentum to keep building for us,” Brincks said.
Iowa held Iowa State to 188 total yards — 122 if you exclude an opening 13-play, 66-yard drive that netted the game’s first points. Even that series was a victory for the Hawkeyes; Iowa State had first-and-goal from Iowa’s 2 and was going for a touchdown on fourth down before a false start penalty moved the ball back to the 6. The Cyclones settled for a 23-yard field goal.
“They got on us early and got a drive going, but we never broke,” said Iowa linebacker Nick Niemann, who made his second collegiate start. “Even when they got down to the 1-yard line, we managed to get out with a field goal. Defensively, I’m proud of how we all played together. It was a great team win.”
Niemann turned in one of the first big defensive plays when he sacked Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt for a nine-yard loss on the Cyclones’ second series. It was the first of four sacks for the Hawkeyes: A.J. Epenesa added two (including a forced fumble) and Matt Nelson delivered a crushing sack right before halftime.
For Nelson, the end product Saturday was sweet redemption for the 2017 game in Ames, when the Cyclones gained 467 yards and scored 41 points, albeit in a losing effort.
“They kind of stuck it to us last year on the defensive side of the ball, so we wanted to go out and make sure we had 11 hats to the ball,” Nelson said. “Our assignments, our communication was tip-top.”
Tip-top to the tune of limiting Iowa State to 19 rushing yards on 25 carries — tied for the fifth-fewest rushing yards allowed in the Kirk Ferentz era.
“On the line of scrimmage, where games are still won in this sport, they dominated,” said Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have the ability to adjust.
Offensively, we could not sustain any consistency, especially up front. It exposed us in some of the most critical times.”
Campbell, in his third season at Iowa State, has never had a team shut out and only twice have the Cyclones been held to a single field goal. The other time? His first exposure to the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series in 2016 — a 42-3 Iowa victory.
After its first series Saturday, Iowa held Iowa State’s offense to drives of minus-eight, 14, seven, 11, six, five, 32, 15, zero, and 20 yards.
“What a difference a year makes,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Last year was a track meet up-and-down the field and this was a great defensive battle by both teams.”
How good can this Iowa defense become? In their first two games, it has allowed one late touchdown and one first-half field goal. Opponents gain less than 200 yards per game.
“I think we’re still building on something, but after two games we have good momentum,” Brincks said.
Making it extra special is the fact that Iowa’s most recent dominant defensive effort came in an in-state rivalry game with more than a trophy at stake. The Hawkeyes have won four in a row in the series and eight of the last 11.
“Three million people and 27 million pigs are involved in this game,” said Iowa defensive lineman Parker Hesse, who had a pass breakup and quarterback hurry. “It’s kind of a state holiday. To win four straight, that’s bragging rights for the rest of our lives, so that is something we’re extremely proud of.”