Back in late September, Iowa was disappointed but not demoralized after losing its Big Ten opener at home to Wisconsin.
The Hawkeyes knew there was plenty of football left to play.
Since then, the Hawkeyes won back-to-back games on the road the past two weeks that put them right back in the Big Ten West Division mix and into the Top 25 for the first time this season at No. 19.
On Saturday, Iowa plays (5-1, 2-1) host to Maryland (4-2, 2-1) in a homecoming game at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes are one of four teams with one loss in the division and now have a chance to be a contender.
“The best thing that our team has done going forward is one week at a time,” Iowa center Keegan Render said. “The only way it’s going to happen is us winning. It doesn’t matter what other things happen outside of us. As long as we win, we know there’s going to be a chance at the end, no matter what else happens in our division.”
Iowa’s offense appears to have found a groove. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley threw six touchdown passes last week in a 42-16 win at Indiana. He has exceeded 300 yards passing in each of the past two games.
Tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson have combined with 45 receptions, 692 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Each had more than 100 yards receiving last week.
The Iowa offensive line has given up a conference-low six sacks.
“We knew it was just a matter of time and us going out there and doing it,” Render said. “Obviously, we’ve done it for a couple of weeks. Now it’s keep doing it. We can’t go back. Keep pushing.
“We know things are going to get stickier and stickier as the games go on. It’s going out the and recognizing that every game is going to be a close game. It’s just going out there on that first drive and realizing to take every drive like that. We’ve been here before.”
Iowa’s level of performance on defense is right there with the offense. The Hawkeyes are ranked No. 3 nationally in rushing defense (81.5 yards per game), fifth in total defense (282.0 ypg) and 13th in points allowed (16.5 per game).
“We’re going to get tested the next six weeks,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’re only halfway through the season. There are going to be more bumps in the road, more adversity to face, those types of things. We’ll find out more about the team.”
Maryland has won two of its last three games, with the loss coming at Michgian on Oct. 6. The Terrapins opened the season with an upset of Texas.
“We can take away that we played hard and I have to coach better,” Maryland interim coach Matt Canada said. “You have to go play and beat those teams. The Michigan game, we didn’t do that.”
No one quite knew what to expect from Maryland this season. Coach D.J. Durkin was placed on administrative leave in August after offensive lineman Jordan McNair died of heatstroke following a summer workout.
“I don’t know all the details of what’s going on there,” Ferentz said. “I just know it had to be a really challenging time for everybody there, their entire staff and football team. The way they’re playing, you have to give everybody credit.
“It starts with (Canada). He’s certainly been the one that pulled them all together, kept everybody going in the right direction. When you watch film, you would never know there was any turbulence there. That’s impressive.”
Under Canada, who was beginning his first year as offensive coordinator when he was thrust into the job as interim head coach, Maryland has already matched last season’s win total with six games remaining.
“We are very proud of our players for the way they are doing it, and the way they’re playing hard,” Canada said. “It’s never going to be whatever we all want it to be, but it is going to be the best we can make it today. Do the best you can with what you’ve got and where you are.”
Two of the key factors to Maryland’s success can be traced to turnovers and its running game.
The Terrapins lead the Big Ten in turnover margin at at plus-9 and they also have the most interceptions in the conference with 12. Five of those interceptions came last week in a 34-7 win over Rutgers.
“We’re trying to be around the ball,” Canada said. “We’re trying to get takeaways. We’re trying to strip the ball. We’re trying to be ballhawks when the ball is in the air and act like it’s our ball and not theirs.”
Maryland ranks third in the conference in rushing offense at 245.2 yards per game. Running back Ty Johnson is 19th nationally in all-purpose yards (132.33 per game) and has rushed for 435 yards and three touchdowns on 54 carries.
“They’re run heavy, under center,” Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse said. “They try to do a lot of stuff pre-snap to get you out of position. It still comes down to each guy doing his job.”