IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa has taken a resounding two-game lead in the Big Ten West Division standings by blanking Rutgers 22-0 at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Hawkeyes (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) were in a four-way tie for first barely a week ago. But a pair of losses by Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota coupled with two consecutive Iowa wins has the Hawkeyes clinching at least a share of the West Division title. The Hawkeyes could win it outright next week in their home finale against Illinois. The Illini, Badgers, Huskers, Gophers and Northwestern all are tied for second at 3-4. Only Minnesota, which beat Iowa 12-10, or potentially Illinois holds a tiebreaker on Iowa.
Here are a few other takeaways.
Masterful job on defense
Iowa traditionally leans on its defense and that unit has risen to the occasion in almost every situation. That was the case yet again on Saturday.
The Hawkeyes bottled up Kyle Monangai, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, for almost the entire game. Monangai ran for 159 yards on Ohio State but had 39 against Iowa. Rutgers finished with 127 total yards.
It marked the Hawkeyes’ first shutout this season and first since blanking Kentucky 21-0 in the Music City Bowl. Iowa’s defense has allowed just one touchdown combined in the last four games.
Hill did his job
It’s easy to pile on quarterback Deacon Hill but the sophomore played his best game at Iowa. Hill completed 20 of 31 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown on a 10-yard pass to Kaleb Brown. He also threw an interception.
Hill was solid when the Hawkeyes needed him most. He wasn’t spectacular, but he engineered victory. Perhaps that’s why he’s in that seat.
Stevens connected on three of four field goal attempts, which was important, of course. But just as pivotal was his kickoff prowess. All six kickoffs went for touchbacks against Rutgers, which led the country in average yards per kickoff return.
A major tease
With 1:23 left in the first half, Iowa took over at its 26. Often that’s when Iowa shuts it down with a couple of running plays to go into halftime. This time, Iowa elected to make a move and for a brief moment, the Hawkeyes looked like a competent offense.
Hill completed 5-for-8 passes on the drive. The Hawkeyes picked up 62 yards and moved down to the Rutgers’ 12-yard line with 14 seconds left. On the next snap, Hill threw to his right, short and inside of receiver Seth Anderson. Luckily for Hill, Rutgers cornerback Max Melton bobbled the ball before he caught it; otherwise, it would have been a 95-yard interception return.
Red zone mistakes are something Iowa’s offense cannot afford. Last week it was an end zone interception. This one was inside the 5-yard line. Perhaps the Hawkeyes can survive against mid-tier teams but they must convert those opportunities into points. Otherwise, it puts way too much pressure on the defense. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. But the Hawkeyes are lucky.
(Photo: Jeffrey Becker / USA Today)