Why Hawkeye players aren’t caught off guard by unlikely wins

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MINNEAPOLIS — It could be argued that there have not been two bigger games this football season in Iowa than Deontae Craig’s fumbled recovery and Jack Campbell’s interception in the final five minutes of the Hawkeyes’ 13-10 win over rival Minnesota at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Without either one, it’s almost certain that Iowa will fall to 6-5 and waste its way to the Big Ten Championship Game.

But those plays happened, and the Hawkeyes don’t believe they were accidental. Campbell’s forced fumble by Mohamed Ibrahim at the Iowa 9-yard line with 5:07 left was the first major break, halting an 88-yard drive that lasted nearly nine minutes. Campbell’s interception of a deflection by Riley Moss and a 30-yard runback with 2:06 left thwarted a second potential game-winning march for Minnesota.

After the game, the Hawkeye players took turns touting the culture spearheaded by head coach Kirk Ferentz and the disciplines preached by defensive coordinator Phil Parker as reasons why they could believe those turnovers were coming and why they kept fighting.

Here’s how Campbell put it perfectly.

“If you commit to consistently doing just the little things, it will add up. You might not see it on day 1. You might not see it on day 43,” Campbell said. “But you might see it on day 122. And that’s where I feel like that breakthrough happened.”

Campbell’s words echo the mantra Ferentz preached at press conferences every week. Improve a little every week. Get to work. Eventually it will come together.

“Each game was its own unique challenge, and each week is its own challenge,” said quarterback Spencer Petras. “…Four straight wins is never easy, especially in November’s Big Ten.”

Saturday’s win was almost a perfect encapsulation for Iowa, who has overcome problematic issues in previous games.

Leistikow’s thoughts after the game:How the last five minutes went in Iowa’s favor

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Jack Campbell was waiting for his chance to pounce against Minnesota

Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell forced a fumble and recorded an interception in the last five minutes of a 13-10 win.

Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

The offensive line. Embarrassed by a 54-10 loss at Ohio State, the first five had three solid games of four. Last week’s regression against Wisconsin (six sacks allowed, 146 total yards) worried Ferentz, but with Nick DeJong at right guard for the injured Beau Stephens, Iowa was averaging a solid 5.4 yards per game in Minnesota and Petras was only fired once 26 dropbacks.

“You stick with it. I think it started three weeks ago,” Ferentz said. “I took a step back last week but the boys got back to work. I’m proud of these guys because you worry about it. … They trained well last week and went out and competed.”

Punish. Remember the losses in Michigan and Illinois? Some untimely (sometimes controversial) flags against Michigan were costly in a 27-14 loss, and eight penalties for 67 yards directly cost Iowa points in a 9-6 loss to the Illini. But on Saturday, Iowa did not commit penalties against Mississippi State for the first time since the 2019 Outback Bowl. (Minnesota hasn’t committed either.)

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Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras describes the final sequence in the win over Minnesota

Iowa’s win over Minnesota gives Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras a chance to win back-to-back division titles next Friday on Seniors Day.

Kennington Lloyd Smith III, Hawk Central

quarterback game. Petras was downright terrible against South Dakota State and Iowa State, and he had perhaps his worst game at Ohio State. But since that day in Columbus, Petras has played the best football of his Iowa career. On Saturday, Petras carried the Hawkeye offense on a brutally cold, windy day with a 15-for-24 pass for 221 yards. He made several strong clutch shots at key moments, including the 33-yarder for Luke Lachey to set up the winning field goal.

Petras received the nod over Alex Padilla after a quarterback contest after Ohio State and has been great ever since: 63-for-100 for 727 yards. And no interceptions were thrown in 16 quarters.

“For us, that is crucial. That’s how we’re built and wired,” Ferentz said. “I think we know who we are. He deserves a lot of credit for that.”

The kick game. If Drew Stevens had been named field kicker before Week 3, Iowa might have gone into overtime against Iowa State in Week 2 instead of losing 10-7. Stevens has turned a preseason question mark into a reliable staple. Stevens improved to 15:17 on field goals with his game-winning 21-yarder with 28 seconds remaining. His 15 field goals is a program record for a freshman. (Not even Nate Kaeding did that.) And hey, Minnesota missed a field goal attempt on Saturday; Iowa not. The final lead was three points.

Overall, Iowa’s special teams have been critical to trophy wins over the past two weeks. Tory Taylor, who punted too many touchbacks for his liking, was outstanding as four of his five punts on Saturday were knocked down within the 20, including two at the 3-yard line. This is how you (partially) keep a team on 10 points despite 312 rushing yards.

sales. Iowa signed six in Ohio State. It has since committed one and forced at least two turnovers in all three November games (Purdue, Wisconsin, Northwestern). A plus-2 turnover margin helped gloss over a 119-yard deficit on Saturday.

“We wanted to win the game, and we did everything but win the game,” said Minnesota coach PJ Fleck. “But if you miss a field goal; you’re down 10-0 against Iowa very early; give up two explosive games in the first half; you fumble when you go in, throw an interception when you go in. I won’t beat Iowa.

“Remember, we always talk about Iowa not beating itself. There you have it. They force you to hit yourself. We happen to be another victim today.”

As such, constant and steady improvement was imperative to Iowa’s postseason push. That doesn’t mean Iowa dominates. But it does mean the Hawkeyes are getting better every week. And now it’s time to get even better against Nebraska.

A win Friday against the 3-8 Cornhuskers and the Hawkeyes (7-4, 5-3) will win the Big Ten West division (either directly or via a tiebreaker against Purdue) for the second straight year. Since switching to morning practice and moving the day off to Thursday (instead of Monday) following the 2014 season, Iowa has been 7-0 against Nebraska in those short weeks of prep.

No, a win against the Cornhuskers, who have played by one touchdown against Iowa in the last four games, won’t be easy. Nothing is easy for Iowa.

But rest assured, this team will fight (and believe) for 60 minutes.

One win, and Iowa gets a rematch against either No. 3 Michigan or No. 2 Ohio State on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis in the Big Ten’s title game.

“I’m pretty happy with how this week is going to go… what we have to do, how we have to plan the game and how quickly this game is going to come,” said Iowa security guard Kaevon Merriweather. “… It is certainly an incredible opportunity and opportunity that we have before us.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered esports for The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen for 28 years. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter

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