The night before Iowa took on the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium, senior safety Jake Gervase shared some road-roomie insight with freshman cornerback Riley Moss.
“Hey, you’re out there for a reason. We have trust in you, confidence in you,’’ Gervase told Moss. “Have trust in your play. Go out there and play loose, play confident, and you’ll be fine.”
Those encouraging words helped Moss to a breakout game in Iowa’s 48-31 victory Saturday. The Ankeny, Iowa, native contributed five tackles — including four solo — and intercepted Gophers freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad twice.
Moss was one of two freshman starters at corner, along with Julius Brents. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said starters Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins were both limited by injuries, though Ojemudia did play a bit on special teams. Ferentz said “unnerving would be a good word” to describe that risky decision. But he felt the two freshmen’s play encapsulated the game, as the two persevered and improved throughout the game despite the Gophers picking on them.
Moss’ first interception was in the end zone with a little more than a minute left in the first half. About halfway through the fourth quarter he returned his second interception 36 yards and eventually set up an Iowa field goal, which boosted the Hawkeye lead to 41-24.
Ferentz called Moss “sneaky good,” and Gervase said Moss is already a loose, confident and goofy kid who didn’t seem to display any nerves ahead of his first career start.
“We knew they were going to attack him,” Gervase said. “I might play a little bit deeper, back up a little bit knowing they’re going to take some shots and go at him. But at the same time, I’ve got to trust that he’s going to do his job. Riley gave up that big fade ball toward the middle of the first quarter, I think it was. I just pulled him aside and said, ‘Hey, you were right there. Just finish it next time.’ And he ended up doing that later down the game.”
Per team policy, Moss was unavailable for comment since he’s a freshman
Moss, who also gave up a 15-yard pass interference penalty in the second quarter, also embodied Iowa’s overall defensive display, which had big plays mixed in with frustrating mistakes. Heading into Saturday’s game against the Gophers, Iowa’s 3.3 sacks per game ranked second in the Big Ten and 260.5 yards per game ranked third in the country. The Hawkeyes had five sacks for 31 yards in losses in addition to four interceptions. But they did allow the Gophers to amass 320 yards in total offense.
Junior defensive end Anthony Nelson tracked down Annexstad three times while junior linebacker Amani Jones led the way with nine tackles — including five solo and two for a loss — as well as a sack. But the referees called Jones for targeting with less than a minute to play, ejecting him from the game and forcing him to miss the first half of the next game.
“We gave up, I think it was 31 points, and we obviously didn’t want to give up that many points in a game,” said Amani Hooker, a Brooklyn Park native and Park Center grad who played linebacker for Iowa. “I know we had some misalignments here and there and that caused the big plays and caused them to get touchdowns. So I mean you’ve got to go back to the basics.”