Iowa City, Ia. — Tanner Miller ended up seated out of bounds with the football in his lap.
Christian Kirksey wound up clutching the ball all the way into the end zone.
Iowa did a lot of things well in between those two plays Saturday, but the interceptions provided the perfect bookends to a 31-13 victory over Minnesota that allowed the Hawkeyes to Restore the Boar.
“We were stressing that all week — we had to come out fast. Luckily, we did that, started off on that first possession we got a takeaway,” Miller said after he wrestled an underthrown pass away from a Gophers receiver, landed on his rear and then waited for an official review to determine he was inbounds. “I think that just kind of ignited it, and we rallied as a defense from there on, and had a lot more energy.”
Iowa had allowed its previous three opponents to march for touchdowns on their opening drives, losing two of those games. So when Minnesota picked up 21 yards on its first three plays after the Hawkeyes had grabbed a 3-0 lead, there was cause for concern.
Miller erased that with one terrific play, while also planting a little doubt in the mind of Minnesota quarterback Max Shortell, a sophomore making his first start on the road.
“Any time you can put pressure and get into the head of a quarterback that hasn’t had too much experience, that’s huge,” Miller said. “I think it kind of showed for him a little bit. And we were able to rattle him a little bit there as the game went on. And I think that’s what kind of got more of those takeaways.”
Iowa forced four turnovers in all, and built a 24-0 halftime lead during which it allowed Minnesota to convert just one third down while never crossing into Hawkeye territory.
“This was the first game on the road and in an environment like this, did the kids handle it as well as they could have?” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “Evidently not, or we would have played better, but I give Iowa credit for that.
“They came out and executed better than we did.”
Iowa’s offense sputtered in the second half while nursing its largest lead of the season. So it was left to Kirksey to seal the victory and plant the Floyd of Rosedale trophy back in Iowa City for the first time in three years.
With the Gophers trailing 24-7 and facing a fourth-and-6 at Iowa’s 37-yard line with 5:15 remaining, Kirksey darted in front of a Shortell pass and raced past a pair of would-be tacklers down the far sideline for a 68-yard touchdown. It was the third-longest interception return for a score in school history.
Coupled with an earlier Kirksey fumble recovery and a third-quarter interception by Greg Castillo, it was the most dominant defensive performance of the season for the Hawkeyes (3-2). The Gophers entered the game with a 4-0 record and plus-6 in turnover margin.
“The receiver, he came hard inside, so I just jumped for the ball. It was just an instinct thing. I was thinking of making a play for our defense,” said Kirksey, a junior linebacker who couldn’t remember the last time he took an interception to the end zone.
“I was just thinking, just keep going, keep going till you get tired, and hopefully don’t get tired.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football