PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — In a game featuring two outstanding defenses, Iowa won the turnover battle by a wide margin.
Cooper DeJean scored on a 45-yard interception return and Keavon Merriweather returned a fumble 30 yards for another first-half touchdown as Iowa rode its defense to 27-10 victory over Rutgers on Saturday night.
Leshon Williams scored on a 2-yard run and Drew Stevens kicked two field goals as the Hawkeyes (3-1, 1-0) forced three turnovers and handed Rutgers (3-1, 0-1) its 20th straight Big Ten Conference loss at home.
Evan Simon, the only healthy scholarship quarterback with Noah Vedral and Gavin Wimsatt hurt, threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Aron Cruickshank early in the fourth quarter with Rutgers down 24-3. Jude McAtamney kicked a 28-yard field goal on the opening series for the Scarlet Knights, who were looking for their first 4-0 start since 2012.
Rutgers appeared ready to challenge Iowa on the opening series, but turning the ball over three times against a defense that allowed 13 points in its first three games was not the way to win.
The 23 points allowed by Iowa in the first four games is its fewest points allowed in the last 66 years. The Hawkeyes gave up 20 points in the first four games in 1956.
“That’s pretty impressive, so clearly the guys are playing at a high level right now doing a good job,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And the two defensive touchdowns, it did feel a little bit like the Indiana game (September 2021) because that’s the last time we did that too, so lots to be pleased about there.”
DeJean, who now has interceptions in three straight games, made an over-the-shoulder catch on a deep, hurried pass by Simon with about six minutes left in the opening quarter. He turned, cut across the field, eluded a couple of tacklers and scored for a 7-3 lead.
“I caught the ball on one hash, so I knew everybody would come to that side,” DeJean said. “All the linemen, I don’t want to get into there with those big boys, so I just cut back to the other side of the field and saw there was a lot of grass over there.”
Merriweather, who also had an interception, got the defense’s second touchdown and stretched the lead to 14-3 with 8:28 left in the half. Safety Sebastian Castro forced a fumble by Joshua Youngblood after an 18-yard reception and Merriweather picked up the ball and had a clear path to the end zone.
“Castro did all the work. I got the easy end of the stick. It was a great play,” Merriweather said of his first college TD.
Stevens stretched the lead to 17-3 with a 25-yard field goal just before halftime and Williams tallied on the opening possession of the third quarter. Stevens added a 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter with a goalpost assist.
Rutgers outgained Iowa 361-277 but the Hawkeyes won the turnover battle 3-0.
“We turned the ball over and when you do that, you know, it rewrites the story immediately,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said.
Simon finished 28 of 49 for 300 yards and the touchdown despite being under a lot of pressure.
“Losing is never okay, especially in a program like this,” he said. “You know, we set the standard really high and it’s unacceptable.”
Iowa: The Hawkeyes defense was outstanding for the fourth straight game. However, playing that way next week against one of the top teams in the country will be a major test. Iowa also needs more from its offense to challenge the league.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights showed flashes on offense but the turnovers were the difference. Not having either Noah Vedral or Gavin Wimsatt — both injured — to provide a change of pace at quarterback hurt. The defense seemed to wear with little help from the offense.
The last time Iowa had two defensive TDs in a game was early last season against Indiana when Riley Moss had two pick-6s against Indiana. The Hawkeyes have scored on an interception return in 15 straight seasons and 20 of 22. The defensive touchdowns were the first of the year for Iowa. The unit scored 28 points last season.
Iowa: Hosts No. 4 Michigan on Oct. 1.
Rutgers: Gets the team ahead of the Wolverines, traveling to the Horseshoe to face No. 3 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 8-0 against the Scarlet Knights.