Iowa wide receiver Nico Ragaini (89) reacts after scoring a touchdown in front of Penn State safety Ji'Ayir Brown (16) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 23-20. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

No 3 Iowa Wins Top-Five Battle Behind Dominant Defense

In a top-five battle, Iowa outlasted Penn State 24-13 on Saturday night. The Hawkeyes’ defense was dominant from the first drive of the game until the end of it, and they didn’t allow more than 13 points to be scored against them in any quarter. It would have been tough for fans to imagine a better way for Iowa’s seniors to go out with an upset victory over a ranked team.

With the win, Iowa moves to 7-4. They’ll be going bowling for a 10th straight season. There’s still a chance they can make it 11 in a row, but they’ll need some help. Because of the way conference tiebreakers would fall, if both Penn State and Michigan win out which is unlikely or if both lose out, then Iowa would be going to a bowl. If one of them loses a game and the Hawkeyes beat Nebraska this weekend, they’ll likely make a bowl as well.

There wasn’t much more you could have asked from the seniors in their last home game with one notable exception Nate Meier. After playing sparingly since the first month of the season, Meier came into Saturday’s game and immediately made a difference. He had four tackles on special teams in the first half alone, including two that forced Penn State to start drives from their 10-yard line. Then, he blocked a field goal with his team-leading 24-13 early in the fourth quarter which proved to be a huge swing in momentum. With a little over nine minutes to go, the Penn State offense started a drive on its own 18 after consecutive Meier special teams tackles and they wound up punting away three plays later.

I didn’t have that feeling [of scoring] so when I scored it was just an amazing feeling, Meier said. I was on the ground for a while. I don’t know how long it took me to get up but once I got up, my teammates came over and picked me up. It was just an amazing feeling.

After Meier’s touchdown, Iowa did their best to give away his special team’s heroics by allowing Penn State to drive down the field and score a couple of minutes later, but those points didn’t feel as important as what Meier had been able to do for the Hawkeyes’ defense.

In addition to Meier’s play, now we can add Donovan Johnson’s big night to one of Iowa’s most memorable Senior Nights in recent memory. Johnson made the senior day memorable from the beginning, with an interception on the game’s first drive which set up another Meier special teams tackle on the ensuing Penn State punt. Johnson would go on to force two fumbles and tally four tackles on defense, but his biggest play of the night was staring everyone right in the face.

The senior defensive back had already forced one fumble, but after seeing his team come up short on the previous play, nothing was going to stop Johnson from getting another chance. Iowa had gained possession at their 18-yard line with just under seven minutes left in the game and they were down 24-13. After two plays went nowhere, quarterback C.J. Beathard tried getting rid of the ball for the third time. Johnson was in the perfect position to intercept it and then he did what came naturally, he ran with it.

Donovan recognized the play quickly and made a good break on the ball, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. He had a nice return there at the end of regulation or whatever it was. The guy made a heck of a play on it. They made some mistakes, not that they were trying to do that but just looking at the tape, if we can clean up one or two things in each area then this game is certainly winnable.

I’ll start by saying how happy I am for Donovan Johnson. I’ve known him since he was a junior in high school, so I’m biased. I can’t imagine anyone playing harder than he did tonight and the physical effort that he put into that game, Ferentz said. He was all over the field; made some huge plays.