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IOWA 33, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 7: IT BEGINS

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UNDEFEATED

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

You could not write a more Iowa-like script to start this game. Two dropped passes for Iowa (including one that would have been a 30 yard gain). A blocked punt. Back to back three-and-outs for Iowa and Northern Illinois. A missed chip shot field goal from NIU.

All within in the first two and a half minutes.

Luckily, this is Iowa football, we’ve seen shaky starts before, and this was truly a game of two halves in a 33-7 win for the Hawkeyes — the 144th of Kirk Ferentz’s career, making him the winningest coach in Iowa history.

The first half was really shaky for the Hawks. Nate Stanley connected on 9-18 passes for 90 yards, but also threw an ill-advised interception to a blanketed Brandon Smith. Four drops (by my count) in the first half alone made it tough for the offense to get any momentum.

The offense mustered enough gumption in its first drive of the second quarter, where a nifty catch by Ihmir Smith-Marsette and nice run by Ivory Kelly-Martin set up a 24-yard connection to TJ Hockenson to put Iowa in field goal range. An 11-yard IKM run was called following an illegal touching penalty, forcing Miguel Recinos put one through the middle to give Iowa a 3-0 lead.

Predictably, Iowa’s defense kept the Hawkeyes in the game. Back-to-back sacks by Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse sputtered a Husky drive. Iowa turned the ball over on downs the following drive, and NIU drove the field to Iowa’s 24-yard line. An interception by Amani Hooker kept NIU points off the board, and the teams would go into the locker room with the 3-0 score (not after NIU got the ball back with 30 seconds, missing another field goal attempt.)

Northern Illinois started the second half with a short field after Miguel Recinos’ kick sailed out of bounds. A huge stop by Nick Niemann on third down stopped the NIU drive to give Iowa room to work.

Alas, Iowa went three and out on its first possession of the half. Colten Rastetter booted it 57 yards, however, and I believe punting may be great again (more on this in a moment).

Thereafter, Anthony Nelson caused more problems for NIU quarterback Marcus Childers; Matt Hankins shut down a third down pass to force another punt. A nice return from Kyle Groeneweg set up Iowa’s second possession of the half on its 40 yard line. A 45-yard run by IKM was called back after an illegal block by Ross Reynolds, but a 17-yard catch and a 40-yard run by Toren Young (his first carry of the game) got Iowa on the doorstep.

First and goal from the six-yard line, Iowa called three straight runs to gain 4 yards total. On fourth and goal, Nate Stanley dropped (almost overthrew) a play-action pass to Noah Fant in the endzone to give us our first Hawkeye touchdown of the year. A Recinos PAT made it 10-0 good guys.

Childers was sacked on second down by Parker Hesse and Kristian Welch on third down (Raider package FTW) the following drive, forcing another punt. Groeneweg had another nice return, which was followed up by a nice 24 yard-run by Toren Young. Maybe the coaches kept him out of the first half to save his legs. If that’s the case, they look like geniuses. Or just smart football coaches.

A horse collar tackle on Young gave Iowa the ball on NIU’s 10-yard line, and a really nice run by Ivory Kelly-Martin on third down gave Iowa its second touchdown of the day.

This is where Iowa’s defense got downright nasty.

On third down, AJ Epenesa beat his blocker like a horse, strip-sacked Childers and Chauncey Gholston recovered. That was Iowa’s fifth sack of the day.

This is where Iowa stepped on NIU’s throat.

Working with a short field and after a Nate Stanley overthrow to ISM, Iowa ran it five consecutive times — including a 4-yard first down run by fullback Brady Ross. Toren Young found the end zone on a 6-yard run. 24-0 good guys.

AJ Epenesa kept the heat on the following drive, forcing another Husky three and out.

And then the Cerberus-like rushing attack of Sargent, IKM and Young bled out the clock. Holding penalties (Iowa finished the day with 8 penalties for 66 yards) made their job tougher, but NIU was just outclassed.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Colten Rastetter’s role here. After getting a punt blocked, he helped pin NIU deep, and had a 69-yard punt in the middle of the fourth quarter to put the Huskies in the shadow of their own goalposts.

In fact, that very punt led to a safety, a dual effort by Hesse and Hooker to drag NIU’s Jordan Nettles before he could get out of his endzone.

26-0 good guys.

After the safety, Iowa put in its second team. Peyton Mansell took the field and darted one to Nate Wieting for 30 to complete his first pass as a Hawkeye.

After a 2-yard Sargent run, Mansell kept it up the middle to rack it up and get his first touchdown.

33-0 good guys.

A touchdown pass from Childers to Jauan Wesley ruined the shutout with 2:12 to play, but still, 33-7 is fun.

I think that’s something we can all agree on.

Other notes

  • Sutton who? All-universe NIU defensive Sutton Smith was shut down all game. He ended with just 5 tackles and a sack. Great game plan to contain him by Tim Polasek and the Iowa offensive staff.
  • Stanley ended with a relatively pedestrian stat line: 11-23 for 108 yards, a touchdown and an interception along with a fumble that TJ Hockenson recovered. There will be games where we need Nate Stanley to be sharp, we’re lucky today wasn’t one of them.
  • Hot take courtesy the BHGP slack: we’re already happier with Iowa’s backfield situation than we were at any point last season.
  • Was really, really impressed with Nick Niemann, and to a lesser extent, Kristian Welch. Welch led the team with 11 total tackles, but Niemann was in the right place and made the right play on more than a couple third downs.
  • The middle linebacker position could be up for grabs — Amani Jones split reps in the middle with Jack Hockaday as the game wore on.
  • Ihmir Smith-Marsette was the only Iowa receiver to record a catch from Stanley. He had 3 grabs for 28 yards, and looked pretty dang good doing so. Max Cooper had a reception from Mansell.
  • Predictably, Hesse, Nelson, and Epenesa are ready to make grown men cry all season.
  • Henry Geil is RB4
  • Sucks to suck, Penn State.
  • Brian Ferentz needs a new hairdresser.

And that’s that. See you all next week when we run roughshod over Iowa State.