Vulnerability. It's okay to have felt uneasy in the second half of Iowa's 31-15 victory, as the Hawkeyes' lone scoring drive went all of 14 yards and the Hawkeyes gained just 53 yards after halftime. The third quarter wasn't all played on Iowa's side of the field, but it certainly felt like it. And when Iowa punted the ball back to Maryland with 5:11 left and a two-possession lead, there might not have been much fear of losing, but certainly one could have gotten a sense that the game wasn't quite over.
And yet it was. Because while Iowa had spent virtually all of the fourth quarter on defense, the defense spent that quarter leveling Perry Hills repeatedly, and he had nothing left in the tank to put together a rally. Maryland's two drives in those last five minutes both ended in punts after virtually non-existent attempts to conserve time or work a meaningful passing game. The Terps tapped out.
More than that, Kirk Ferentz just wasn't especially motivated to run the score up. Iowa went with a roughly 50-50 run-pass playcall mix in the first half (it ended up 19 passes and 23 rushes, but four of those rushing attempts were C.J. Beathard's and if three of those were called passes, we're at 20-20), and after the break only eight of the 28 calls were passes.
Some of that is self-preservation, obviously; Beathard wasn't 100% to begin with and Maryland's talented pass rush gained a sack on two of those eight plays, so y'know, that's a thing you don't want. What Ferentz was really most interested in, though, was keeping the clock moving, and Iowa still accomplished that. Even with Maryland sustaining drives and even with Iowa gaining five first downs and even with a zero-play touchdown (thanks Desmond King you golden god), Iowa still held the ball for a hair over 14 minutes in the second half. It's not flashy, it doesn't endear itself to voters and it won't win you any money if you're wagering on the Hawkeyes, but with a 21-point cushion and a gimpy QB, it's probably the right call.
The more disconcerting part of the second half, though, was Maryland's dual-threat run game successfully carving up the Iowa defense. Hills and his cohorts in the backfield logged 6.7 yards per rush after halftime, and all of a sudden Iowa's linebacking corps looked like the one-step-too-slow unit we grew accustomed to watching last season. That hadn't happened in Iowa's first three Big Ten wins; indeed, the one thing Hawkeye fans could depend on was knowing the defense would always be available to shut the door, especially on the ground. This performance was fine... but it wasn't that.
Of course, this is the same feeling of consternation as after Iowa allowed 183 rushing yards to North Texas in that cruise of a win, so maybe there's not too much to read into this. And of Iowa's last four regular season opponents, the only truly fearsome dual-threat QB is Tommy Armstrong Jr. (yes, we see what Purdue's David Blough did to Nebraska, but as always, consider the opponent). Minnesota is happy to call Mitch Leidner's number in the ground game too, but he's not about to outrun any of Iowa's defenders to the edge. And Nate Sudfeld is easily the most dangerous passer in the Big Ten (I SAID IT) but by no means does Iowa have to account for his mobility, and that makes the defense's job considerably easier.
Plus, y'know, if Iowa finishes the job that at 4-0 is now half-done, you know who'll probably be waiting:
He knows a thing or two about fast, mobile quarterbacks.
But we just watched the Kansas City Royals win a World Series, so you can't tell me wild dreams don't come true in sports. If KC can win it all, damn it, Iowa can win it all. It won't get much easier, and the Hawkeyes are quite imperfectly perfect. That's fine. Most champions are. Let's go.