IOWA CITY — Showing up at Kinnick Stadium with a full deck of cards proved advantageous Saturday night for the Iowa football team.
Regaining the services of receivers Nico Ragaini and Keagan Johnson, a healthier helping of starting running back Gavin Williams and the emergence of true freshman back Kaleb Johnson helped the Hawkeyes move closer to full strength in a 27-0 victory over Nevada.
That full deck of cards came in handy as well in allowing Iowa to navigate through three weather delays that kept the teams off the field for a total of 3 hours, 56 minutes because of lightning in the vicinity.
The delays were the second ever at Kinnick Stadium — the first since the 2011 season opener against Tennessee Tech — and the first for Iowa since play was halted in a 2019 game at Iowa State.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said his team spent the breaks in a variety of ways.
“Somebody brought some cards, I’m sure they had them in the hotel from (Friday) night, so a couple of card games were going, guys were doing all sorts of things," Ferentz said. “It was kind of interesting, kind of unusual in a football locker room, that’s for sure."
Hawkeye players were offered sandwiches during the longest of three breaks in play — lasting 1 hour, 50 minutes — and while some talked and joked with each other to keep things together, others stretched to keep loose and others talked shop to be ready once play resumed.
“The big thing was to be ready when we got back on the field," Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean said.
With the stoppages that sent teams into the locker room and forced the evacuation of fans seated in outdoor areas, Saturday’s night game stretched into Sunday morning. The game ended at 1:39 a.m., one minute shy of seven hours from when Iowa kicked off its final tune-up for the start of Big Ten play.
By then, a maligned Iowa offense led by senior quarterback Spencer Petras showed some cohesion, gaining 337 yards, and the Hawkeye defense had recorded its first shutout since a 20-0 win at Northwestern in 2019.
“You go 60 minutes broken down over seven hours, not easy to do," Ferentz said, praising his team’s focus and resiliency on a different night of competition than most had ever experienced.
It also proved to be a breakthrough night for Iowa, which had totaled just one touchdown and 14 total points in its first two games of the season.
“It was great to see all the guys in the huddle again," Petras said. "To get Nico back, to get Keagan back, Brody (Brecht), it was good to have them all out there."
Petras finished the game completing 14-of-26 passes for a season-high 175 yards and one touchdown.
Kaleb Johnson, taking on an expanded role as Leshon Williams was away from the team following the death of his father a week earlier, responded with the first 100-yard rushing effort of his college career.
The 6-foot, 212-pound freshman from Hamilton, Ohio, ran for 103 yards on seven carries including touchdown runs of 40 and 55 yards in the first and final quarters.
“He’s been in the other games, but hasn’t really looked great," Ferentz said. "It was good to see him run with confidence. He got a little bit of daylight and knew what to do with that."
Iowa, which gained more than 20 yards on plays from scrimmage just twice in its first two games, doubled that number before taking a 17-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Finding an offensive rhythm that had been missing during the Hawkeyes’ two seven-point efforts to open the season, Petras completed 9-of-16 passes for 104 yards in the first half.
With experienced receivers Keagan Johnson and Ragaini in uniform for the first time this season, Iowa extended its passing attack downfield a porous Wolf Pack defense which had allowed 404.3 yards on average in its first three games.
Petras hit Arland Bruce over the middle for a 21-yard gain midway through the opening drive of the game.
And while it didn’t lead to points, it demonstrated the offensive impact created by additional options in the passing attack.
“Getting guys back helped us open things up a little more in the passing game and that really helped things for the whole offense," said Bruce, who caught three passes for 50 yards.
Kaleb Johnson busted through the core of the Nevada defense for a 40-yard sprint into the end zone.
“Green grass was all I saw. I was able to make a couple of moves and use my speed," Johnson said.
The extra-point kick by Drew Stevens, stepping into a role filled by Aaron Blom in Iowa’s first two games, gave Iowa a 7-0 lead with 4 minutes, 36 seconds to go in the opening quarter.
DeJean’s second interception of the season set up the Hawkeyes’ second touchdown of the game, giving Iowa the ball at the Nevada 41-yard line.
Four snaps later, Petras found Bruce open on the right side of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown strike with :23 to go in the first.
“It felt good to get things going," Bruce said.
Nevada, limited to three first-half first downs, went three and out on the ensuing possession and the Hawkeyes manufactured an 11-play, 69-yard scoring drive that included a 32-yard reception by Keagan Johnson.
Stevens collected the final points of the half on his first collegiate field goal attempt, hitting from 43 yards with 9:42 remaining in the first half.
He later added a 33-yard field goal with 2:40 remaining, the only points of the second half until Kaleb Johnson busted loose for his 55-yard run.
Iowa’s defense held Nevada (2-2) to 151 total yards, an effort led by 33 yards on ground from Devonte Lee and 21 receiving yards on three catches by Dalevon Campbell, a graduate transfer from Illinois.
“To get a shutout is always gratifying," Ferentz said. "It’s representative of the kind of work the guys have been doing. They were aggressive, played well and did a lot of good things."
The Wolf Pack missed their only scoring opportunity, a 57-yard field goal try by Brandon Talton that went wide right with 5:18 left in the third quarter.