BLOOMINGTON, Ind., — Christian Kirksey is a junior and he’s been through more than his share of these.
The Iowa linebacker could’ve treated Saturday’s postgame like a coronation. He picked off a pass and returned it 18 yards for his second interception return of the season. He stopped the bleeding on an Indiana drive to Iowa’s 19 with a fumble recovery that began with him lying face up with the ball under his back.
Yes, that hurt as much as it looked.
“You can’t think about the pain,” Kirksey said. “You have to make the play.”
He had a “Big Ten player of the week” kind of day, but there was one problem.
Iowa suffered its third straight loss, 24-21, Saturday at Memorial Stadium and the defense allowed 473 yards of offense against the Hoosiers.
Individually, it was a nice day for the outside linebacker. Big picture, Iowa is in a world of hurt. Kirksey knows this and so he didn’t exactly trumpet his triumphs in the postgame.
“I can say the defense played hard,” Kirksey said. “We just slipped up on a couple of plays and that got the best of us. Things didn’t go our way. Indiana’s offense made plays when it was time to make them.”
But, yes, Kirksey did good things and his teammates did note the effort.
“He’s doing a great job,” linebacker James Morris said. “He’s been a great player for us the last two years. I’ve known that, the coaches have known that and now you guys are seeing little bit more of him. He was in great position and finished the play, which is what he does.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz mentioned running back Mark Weisman (groin) and fullback Brad Rogers (undisclosed injury) when asked about defensive players who are obviously playing hurt.
Morris played against the Hoosiers with a giant brace on his right arm after suffering an elbow injury last week. Cornerback Micah Hyde left Saturday’s game with a leg problem, but returned. Cornerback B.J. Lowery has fought through an ankle injury. Defensive end Dominic Alvis has an inch-deep divot in his forehead.
“Everybody in the country, whether you’re playing college football, pro football or high school football, that’s October and November football,” Ferentz said. “Everybody has problems. The teams that handle those the best are the ones that come out on top.”
Iowa is milking everything it can out of able bodies like Kirksey. Iowa had one personnel package Saturday with three cornerbackers, three linebackers and one safety.
“For us, we feel that package gives us a chance to be successful,” Morris said. “It’s worked well for us the last two weeks. We’ve also had some breakdowns and issues.”
Kirksey’s pick six was a brilliant play on many levels. He showed IU quarterback Nate Sudfeld blitz before backing out and dropping into the throwing lane. He fought off wide receiver Shane Wynn for the ball and ran into the end zone untouched.
It was a brilliant play. The rest of the day? Not so much for Iowa, and it didn’t end particularly well for the defense, either.
Kirksey hit the right note.
“I wouldn’t say our back is against the wall,” he said. “We have to face the challenges that come our way. We have three games left. We’re going to play our best, we’re going to give it our all. We have to continue to move.”