Late in its a slog of a first half Saturday, the Maryland football team had a chance to enter halftime at Kinnick Stadium down just two scores. On the road against a top-10 team, the Terps were still within striking distance and would have the chance to catch their breath and regroup before the second half.
But when a punt left Nicolas Pritchard's foot, Iowa linebacker Aaron Mends got a piece of it with his outstretched hands and sent it spinning into the air, eventually settling at the Maryland 19-yard line. Five plays later, Hawkeyes running back Derrick Mitchell plunged into the end zone from 2 yards out.
The three-score hole proved too much for Maryland (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten Conference) against Iowa. The No. 10 Hawkeyes (8-0, 4-0) remained undefeated by using their tough defense and ball-controlling offense to throw the Terps out of rhythm, handing the visitors their fifth straight defeat, 31-15, before an announced 62,667.
"It's a momentum swing," interim coach Mike Locksley said. "We were pinned back down in there, and we let them come through inside. We should have got it off a little quicker. But that was definitely a critical play for us because it was a momentum play that allowed them to score some points there right before the half, when I thought, for the most part, we had fought through the adversity of them controlling the pace of the game."
After just 23 plays and 68 yards of offense in the first half, the Terps came on strong in the second half — Maryland outgained Iowa 173-53 — but by then, the damage had been done. The Hawkeyes scored 14 points off four Terps turnovers and forced errors at critical points to halt any momentum.
Quarterback Perry Hills threw three interceptions, including one that Iowa cornerback Desmond King returned 88 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and running back Brandon Ross fumbled in Iowa territory on Maryland's opening drive. Those miscues overshadowed Hills' 104 rushing yards — he became the first Terp since Lance Ball, in 2005, to rush for 100 yards in three straight games — and the defense's solid second half.
"If we had played the second half how we played the first, it probably would have been a different ball game," said defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, who finished with four tackles, three tackles for losses and a sack. "We got to play a complete game. I feel like a lot of these past games, we either play a half or we didn't finish. We have to come out and play a full ballgame, put a full ballgame together in order to compete and win. It's tough when you only play a half of football."
Iowa used a three-headed rushing attack to slow the game in the first half. With leading rusher Jordan Canzeri out with an injury, running backs Akrum Wadley (67 yards), LeShun Daniels (60 yards) and Mitchell (26 total yards) each scored first-half touchdowns while the Hawkeyes controlled the ball for almost two-thirds of the half.
Maryland couldn't muster any response. After Ross' fumble, safety Miles Taylor intercepted a pass by Hills on the next possession. Taylor fumbled and the Terps got the ball back, but their four other drives ended in punts.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, though the Terps held the ball for more than nine minutes. An 11-play drive to open the half stalled in Iowa territory when Maryland was penalized for delay of game on fourth down, and it had to punt.
Finally, Maryland broke through early in the fourth quarter when Hills threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Taivon Jacobs to cut the lead to 21-7. Iowa responded with a field goal, and Hills marched Maryland back into Hawkeyes territory. But his inside-screen pass sailed into the teeth of the defense, and King emerged, sprinting the other way to make it 31-7.
"I tried to chase him down," Hills said. "Couldn't get him."
Cornerback Will Likely returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown — the eighth score of his career — and Hills converted the 2-point attempt to make it a two-score game. But Maryland couldn't muster any sort of threat late in the quarter.
During the week, Maryland players talked about the chance they had to play spoiler against Iowa, to earn their first win against a top-10 team since 2007. But once again, the Terps couldn't put together a complete game. By the time the offense clicked and the defense stiffened, it was too late.
"It was a great opportunity for us," Hills said. "We just let this one slip away."