IOWA CITY — The ball floated over Desmond King’s head and into Julian Burton’s wide-open arms. This put Missouri State on the board and, in a way, served as King’s baptism into the major-college football.
King was in the fourth quarter of his first start as a cornerback for the Iowa Hawkeyes. The 5-11, 185-pounder was called into the lineup after sophomore Jordan Lomax suffered a hamstring strain in week 1. Lomax is iffy for Iowa’s trip to Iowa State (0-1) on Saturday night, so the Hawkeyes (1-1) face the prospect of a true freshman corner holding down one side of the field in a hostile environment.
As far as Lomax’s status, coach Kirk Ferentz said Iowa likely wouldn’t know for sure until late in the week.
This didn’t seem to bother anyone Iowa. Plus, King has had a taste of getting beat for a touchdown. This happens to all corners. You live, you learn, you come back the next week and try not to let it happen.
Senior cornerback B.J. Lowery had a simple message for King.
“The first thing I said to him after he got beat was, ‘Hey, welcome to college football,’” said Lowery, who played as a true freshman in 2010. “It’s going to happen. It happened to me. It’s going to happen.”
King is from Crockett High School in Detroit, Mich. He played in the Public School League, which isn’t a league known for fireworks in the passing game. He finished his high school career with 29 interceptions, a Michigan state record. Yes, 29 interceptions. He committed to Central Michigan and then to Ball State before signing with the Hawkeyes in February.
“That league [PSL] doesn’t throw the ball around the field like a lot of other leagues,” Rivals.com midwest recruiting coordinator Josh Helmholdt said. “You can’t fake 29 interceptions. That’s an outstanding number. It really speaks to just his feel for the position, his knack in pass coverage.”
In a recent interview with Hawkeyesports.com, the UI’s official athletics communications site, said, heck yeah, it was tense playing in Iowa’s opener against Northern Illinois, which featured quarterback Jordan Lynch, the seventh-place finisher in Heisman voting last season. (Ferentz has a long-standing policy of not allowing true freshmen and first-year players to be interviewed by media that isn’t employed by the University of Iowa.)
“I was nervous when I first heard my name called, ‘King,’” he said. “And then I saw Lomax coming off the field. Coach [defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Phil Parker] told me to rush and get out there now, so, I was kind of nervous, just a little bit,” he told Hawkeyesports.com. “Then, once that first play went on, I was like, ‘OK, I can handle this.’ Just block out the crowd and stay focused.”
Parker must have total trust in King. On the play he lost to Burton last week, Iowa’s corners were in man coverage. With a true freshman on the field, Iowa ran its normal defense and didn’t cushion things for the first-year player.
“We have full confidence putting him into the fire,” free safety Tanner Miller said. “Coach Parker wouldn’t call those defenses if he didn’t believe he [King] was capable of doing those things. He’s got to move him along. There are going to be growing pains with a true freshman in there. Every guy goes through it.”
Pitchers blow saves. Basketball players miss shots. Golfers miss putts. Defensive backs get beat. The trick is wiping it off and moving to the next opportunity.
“Coach Parker is putting a lot of faith in Desmond King,” Lowery said. “That says a lot about both.”
The Iowa secondary obviously needs to cut down on big plays. In the opener, Northern Illinois scored on TD passes of 21, 33 and 40 yards. Last week, Missouri State had two completions of 20-plus yards. It’s early and overall stats don’t tell much of a story after two weeks, but Iowa is 89th in the nation with four TD passes allowed (with one interception).
It’s too early for panic-button pressing, even with a true freshman at cornerback going into Jack Trice Stadium, where Iowa has had mixed results in its last two appearances. In ’11, a 44-41 Cyclones’ victory in triple overtime, ISU connected on four TD passes. In ’09, a 35-3 Iowa win, the Hawkeyes picked off five passes.
“Every deep ball we’ve given up has been a technique thing,” said Miller, whose fifth career interception calmed the waters last week when MSU reached Iowa’s 14-yard line trailing 28-14 with 6:50 left in the fourth quarter. “Every thing we’ve seen from the deep-ball perspective is something we can clean up and fix. It all comes down to making a split-second decision a bit differently.”