IOWA CITY, Iowa — Anchored inside its 5-yard line late in the second quarter Saturday, Iowa’s defense needed to tighten up or it would fracture.
Leave it to middle linebacker Josey Jewell to take over the game. The best player on the field made the biggest plays at one of the game’s most important junctures in a 14-7 win at Rutgers. As part of a goal-line stand, Jewell was involved in all four tackles to preserve a tie game.
“All those clichés are true for a reason,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s unreasonable to think we’re going to have a good football team if our best guys don’t play their best, and it all starts there.”
Iowa’s mentality, which was collective but best exemplified by Jewell, was to keep the Scarlet Knights from scoring.
“You either get them now or they’re getting in,” Jewell said. “It’s 1 or 2 yards there. They can’t get anything and we knew that. So we needed to be aggressive there.”
A 76-yard pass from quarterback Chris Laviano to wide receiver Janarion Grant put Rutgers at the Iowa 3 with 4 minutes, 21 seconds left in the half. On first down, Rutgers backup quarterback Tylin Oden entered the game. He took the shotgun snap, ran to his left, cut back inside and was met by Jewell at the 2. Play over.
On second down, Oden faked a dive to running back Robert Martin and ran left. Iowa safety Brandon Snyder had contain and forced Oden inside, where Jewell was waiting. Oden gained a yard, setting up third and goal at the 1.
Rutgers re-inserted Laviano and tried to spread out the Hawkeyes. Wide receiver Jawuan Harris motioned from left to right, and Laviano faked both a jet sweep to Harris and a dive by Martin. Laviano pulled down the ball and ran straight into the Iowa defense. Jewell stood up Laviano just inside the 3 for a 1-yard loss.
Rutgers coach Chris Ash called timeout and elected to go for the touchdown. Harris went in motion and lined up in the backfield to Laviano’s left. Iowa cornerback Desmond King followed Harris but still had outside contain. Laviano took the snap and darted left with Harris running parallel on an option. King stretched out the play and stayed outside Laviano’s left shoulder. Laviano kept the ball and cut inside, where King met him head on. Jewell cleaned up the play with a hard hit on Laviano, who was stopped about a half-yard shy of the end zone.
“I kind of anticipated (the option) knowing that it was going to come back on that motion,” King said. “When I felt them running over, I felt him kind of slow down and come back out with this option. So I played it smart and just wanted to stay behind him. Once I saw the option, I kind of leveled it out and made him make a move himself, and I just tried to make a play on the ball.”
“They went to the weak side,” Jewell said. “I wasn’t expecting that, but you just have to react to the plays.”
“(King) was doing a cat-and-mouse with (Laviano),” Ash said. “(Laviano) wasn’t sure if the (King) was playing a quarterback or playing a pitch. At the end of the day, (King) fell in on the quarterback and made the tackle.”
Reviews on the defense’s overall performance were mixed. Iowa gave up 193 rushing yards on the ground but only seven points. The Hawkeyes generated four sacks but allowed six third-down conversions. Grant’s catch-and-run made three Iowa defensive backs look foolish, but King caught him at the 3. Rutgers hit for a handful of big plays, but Snyder forced and recovered a fourth-quarter fumble that led to the winning touchdown.
The takeaway is Iowa has plenty of improvements to make but the goal-line stand displays the possibilities.
“It wasn’t pretty today, but that was an excellent effort by our guys, digging in there and getting the ball back,” Ferentz said.
“Everything’s correctable right now,” Jewell said. “We didn’t play close to what I thought was good defense at all. That’s on us linebackers, specifically, I think. We need to make improvements in our reading, our reading the blocks, and also communication with the D-line.”