IOWA CITY | Desmond King likes to say he’s simply in the right place at the right time.
But, there’s a little more to it than that for the Iowa cornerback whose five interceptions through the 22nd-ranked Hawkeyes’ first five games matches the most by any player in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“He’s making it look easy, but it’s not,’’ Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin said. “Seeing how he’s playing, watching him make the plays he’s making, it motivates everybody.’’
The Hawkeyes enjoyed their share of defensive success in last weekend’s 10-6 win at Wisconsin, an effort that saw King grab multiple interceptions for the second time this season.
The junior from Detroit says he was just playing his game.
“I try to put myself in a position to make plays. I try to get a good read, then make a good decision,’’ King said. “You have to play aggressive, take a chance or two, but you have to be smart about it, too.’’
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard likes his current view of King’s work.
“They all look great when you’re standing on the sideline watching it happen,’’ he said. “A pick like that really sparks the entire team.’’
But, Beathard also appreciates the skill it takes for King to do what he has done so far this season, a five-week effort that has been topped over the course of an entire season by only 11 players in Hawkeye history.
“Some guys have a real knack for being able to read a ball and know where it is going almost before it gets there,’’ Beathard said. “It’s a god-given talent and he’s got it. He seems to do a real good job of positioning himself to make a play. He knows when to go get the ball and has great instincts. I’m glad he’s on our side.’’
Making game-changing plays is nothing new for King.
He established a Michigan state high school record by intercepting 29 passes during his career at East English Village Prep in Detroit, where he also holds the school career rushing record.
“I’ve always tried to be aggressive to the ball,’’ King said. “That’s the best defense, to put the ball back in our hands.’’
Interim Illinois coach Bill Cubit, whose 4-1 Illinois team visits Kinnick Stadium at 11 a.m. on Saturday, has watched King work for years.
“I tried to recruit him out of Detroit,’’ said Cubit, who worked as the head coach at Western Michigan until 2012. “He’s really a player, a real ball hawk who is having the kind of career I thought he would. He’s always been a real active player on the back end of a defense.’’
King, who entered this season with three career interceptions at Iowa, said the only passes he has any interest in receiving are those thrown by opposing quarterbacks.
“I’m not looking to become a receiver. I like what I’m doing, going out there and creating a little chaos,’’ he said. “I like playing that way, getting after it, having some fun and quiet the crowd.’’
It’s that silence he appreciated the most last weekend at Camp Randall Stadium, when he returned a Joel Stave pass 15 yards to the Wisconsin 31-yard line in the second quarter to set up the game’s only touchdown drive.
He later picked off a pass at the Iowa 11-yard line to end the Badgers’ opening drive in third quarter.
“That silence sounded great,’’ King said. “It’s what you want to hear on the road.’’
It certainly set the type of tone that Iowa needed to earn its first win over a ranked opponent in its last 10 attempts.
“Beating a ranked team in their environment and getting a ‘W’ – especially in a trophy game – that’s what matters,’’ King said.
King is helping Iowa in other ways as well.
He volunteered to try returning kicks and punts this season and has helped energize those special teams units.
His average of 22.5 yards on 12 kick returns ranks second in the Big Ten, and while King doesn’t have enough returns to qualify for a spot on the conference punt returns list, his average of 18.7 yards on seven returns would rank second in the Big Ten.
“Desmond has given us a little bit of octane as our return guy,’’ coach Kirk Ferentz said.
The Iowa coach also likes what he sees from King at cornerback, where he has recorded 29 tackles and shares the team lead with Mabin with four pass break-ups.
“He got thrown out there two years ago as freshman prior to our first game and he ended up playing well all year. Last year, I wouldn’t say he played poorly but he didn’t take that step forward we thought he might,’’ Ferentz said. “This year, he’s playing at a different level. His experience is showing.’’
King plans to keep it that way.
“We’ve got a big goal this year. We want the Big Ten West and we want the Big Ten championship,’’ King said. “I’m going to keep doing what I can to make it happen.’’