PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Josey Jewell refused to let it happen.
Brandon Snyder executed his own plan to prevent it.
The Iowa defense stood between Rutgers and the Scarlet Knights’ upset plans Saturday, positioning the Hawkeyes for a 14-7 escape in their first-ever visit to High Point Solutions Stadium.
“You have to be willing to step up and make plays when the game is on the line and we did that today,’’ Jewell said. “We all got that done.’’
Still a little ragged around the edges, Iowa’s offense answered the defense’s biggest plays of the game with enough points to let the Hawkeyes win their Big Ten opener for the seventh time in eight years.
“Whenever you get a chance to win one on the road, you take it and run,’’ quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we won’t apologize for winning any game.’’
Two game-changing moments allowed the Hawkeyes to earn that victory.
Jewell’s hands were all over the first.
He recorded tackles on the final three plays of a goal-line stand late in the first half, keeping Rutgers out of the end zone after it gained a first-and-goal from the Iowa 3-yard line.
The Hawkeyes answered with an eight-play, 99-yard drive in the final minutes of the opening half to take a 7-0 lead into the locker room at the break.
Snyder delivered the second critical moment, putting the ball back in Hawkeye hands after Rutgers tied the punt-filled game early in the fourth quarter.
“I thought I would have a chance to make a play,’’ Snyder said. “It worked out just the way I thought it would. The ball was right where I thought it would be and I went for it.’’
Snyder’s strip and fumble recovery of an Andre Patton reception at the Scarlet Knights’ 21-yard line with 3:42 remaining gave Akrum Wadley a chance to score on a 26-yard carry after a false start penalty, quick points after the takeaway that proved to be the difference in the game.
“The best thing our football team did today was the fight it showed at the end of both halves,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“There were plenty of things that happened out there that were not pretty, but to dig in the way we did and get the ball back and for the offense to respond the way it did, that’s good team football.’’
The Hawkeyes’ early-season struggles with consistency continued against the Scarlet Knights.
Iowa surrendered 193 rushing yards, a total the Hawkeyes matched with their own improved running effort, but seven penalties made it challenging for Iowa to move the chains.
The teams combined for 13 punts and Iowa converted on just 3-of-11 third-down opportunities, while Rutgers advanced on just 6-of-16 tries.
Iowa did convert on its final third-down chance, putting the ball in LeShun Daniels’ hands for a 12-yard gain on a third-and-seven play with 1:43 left that allowed the Hawkeyes to run out the clock against an opponent which used its final timeout with 12:50 remaining in the game.
“We did just enough to win, but we need to take the good things we did and build on them,’’ Daniels said. “We know we have to get a whole lot better than we played.’’
Ferentz sees flashes as well.
“The big thing is to build off of the good things we’re doing,’’ he said.
Both teams squandered early opportunities before Beathard got Rutgers to bite on a fake bubble screen, hitting an open George Kittle on a wheel route at the 20-yard line where the tight end sprinted into the end zone to finish off a 99-yard drive that started from the Iowa one-yard line with Beathard gaining 13 yards on a naked bootleg on first down.
“It was good to pick up some yards after the catch and finish a good drive like that,’’ Kittle said. “It was the way you want to reward a defensive stand like that.’’
The Scarlet Knights (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) opened the game with a 16-play drive and penetrated as deep as the Iowa eight-yard line before a pass interference call and a Parker Hesse sack of Chris Laviano forced Rutgers to punt.
The Hawkeyes marched 13 plays themselves midway through the second quarter, setting up a fourth-and-five play from the Rutgers’ 10 and an incompletion by Beathard, who completed 12-of-23 passes for 162 yards.
Janarion Grant, the Scarlet Knights’ receiving leader and top return man, left the game with an ankle injury after completing a 76-yard pass play that preceded Iowa’s goal-line stand.
Tylin Oden gained one yard on the first-and-goal play from the three, stacked up by Anthony Nelson and Jaleel Johnson, before Jewell stopped him for no gain on second down.
Laviano returned and was dropped for a one-yard loss on third down at the three by Jewell and Hesse. On fourth down, Desmond King’s read on an option play strung Laviano out wide enough for Jewell to bring him down at the one and finish off the defensive stand by the Hawkeyes (3-1, 1-0).
“When you get a stop over four downs like that at the goal line, it changes momentum,’’ King said. “It was a tough day out there on both sides, but that gave us all a lift we needed. It was something good that kept us going.’’