I hope you brought some cold water to Kinnick on this hot September day. You’ll need it to stay cool and to possibly temper expectations for the offense once again.
The first quarter was just what the Iowa Hawkeyes were looking for to start 2023. Kaleb Johnson took the opening kickoff all the way down to the Utah State 39 yard line. We would finally get to see Cade McNamara in action and we were not disappointed. On the second play of the game he got great protection from his offensive line and threw a strike to Seth Anderson for a 36-yard touchdown. The #Driveto325 was officially underway with only 318 left to go. It wasn’t just a great start to the game, it was historic as well.
The last time that Iowa threw a TD pass on the opening drive of the season opener was in 1991 vs Hawaii.— Matt Benson (@mbenson6) September 2, 2023
The defense picked up right were the 2022 squad left off and held Utah State to a three and out and the offense picked up where they left off just ten minutes earlier with a beautiful second drive of the day. A screen to Jaizun Patterson went for 18 yards and tight ends Luke Lachey and Erick All Jr. made great blocks to spring Kaden Wetjen (!) for a 14 yard run. Kaleb Johnson got in on the fun with a great run of his own that was extended by a defensive block below the waist. Don’t see that every day. The Michigan Connection of McNamara and All came through for a touchdown on third down. Two drives, two touchdowns, 14-0 good guys. These must be those “passing touchdowns” people keep talking about. They’re fun.
Utah State’s second drive didn’t go any better than the first. Anther three and out with some good pressure by Iowa’s DE’s to force a bad pass on third down. After a commercial break that lasted an ice age, Iowa took over at their own 29. The offensive line continued to provide good protection for Cade and running lanes for Johnson and Leshon Williams. A facemask on the Aggies gives Iowa a fresh set of downs but Johnson fumbles the subsequent run. Thankfully, Solon Beef Days Hay Bale Toss champion Gennings Dunker was there to recover. It’s at this point the offense’s momentum started to run out. Utah State held Iowa to a 4th and 1 and after MORE commercials, Williams is stopped short and Iowa turns it over on downs. It was a questionable play on a short yardage situation, a slow developing handoff when a simple sneak would’ve been more effective, or a quick hit up the middle.
Iowa has a chance at two interceptions on USU’s next drive, but Cooper DeJean can’t corral a tipped pass and Deshaun Lee’s actual pick is negated by an offsides penalty. That’ll do it for the first quarter, time to wave!
Utah State starts moving the ball nicely to start the second quarter but a sack by Deontae Craig ends the threat of a touchdown. The Aggies kick a field goal to make it 14-3.
We can forget Iowa’s fourth drive of the game. Iowa ends up facing 3rd and medium and McNamara tries to scramble up the middle but doesn’t go anywhere. But hey, at least we get to see Tory Taylor again and...his punt is partially blocked. But Tory Taylor being Tory Taylor his punt still rolls forward for decent yardage. Even his blocked punts are better than some punters’ clean ones.
The next Aggie drive goes nowhere and neither does Iowa’s. McNamara is sacked by a blitzing defender but Taylor gets a beautiful punt to put Utah State in a tough spot. Thankfully, the #Doughboys finally come up with a turnover as Xavier Nwankpa picks up Iowa’s first interception of the season. Iowa is able to move the ball into field goal range, and a leaping penalty keeps the chains moving, but the Hawks can’t put the ball in the end zone and settle for a field goal to go into halftime up 17-3.
Utah State gets the ball to start the second half and QB Legas makes a beautiful throw to receiver Terrell Vaughn for 39 yards into Iowa territory. The Iowa defense is able to stiffen and, thanks to a snap infraction, hold the Aggies to a field goal where USU kicker Nimrod (not to be confused with the biblical son of Cush, great-grandson of Noah) just barely makes it over the cross bar to cut the lead to 17-6.
Iowa’s seventh possession begins at their own 25 and McNamara remains in the game. Kaleb Johnson has a few nice runs to pick up the first down. Cade’s next two passes fall incomplete, one to All over the middle (despite Lachey being more open downfield) and the next broken up by the defender. Taylor gets off a line drive punt to the USU 16. The first quarter seems like eons ago.
On Utah State’s next drive the cameraman is faked out of his shoes on first down so I actually have no idea what happened on that play. Some missed sacks on Legas allow him to find his receiver for a first down. A hard hit by DeJean brings up fourth down and the Aggies punt it into the endzone. Of note: Nwankpa left the field after the second down incompletion.
Cade McNamara breaks his six incompletion streak with a fantastic throw to Ragaini who catches it over the head of the defender. Iowa is in business at the USU 48. Cade looks to be favoring his injured leg and that’s the last thing we need right now. Nor do we need a false start on 3rd down, but that’s what we get. We also get a dump to Patterson for a gain of two on 3rd and 15. I’m no “mathemagician” but that’s not enough to get a first down. This offense just has not been in sync since the first quarter.
After getting a full eight hours of sleep during the next commercial break, Utah State picks up another first down with some shifty runs by Booth and missed tackle by Castro. However, he soon makes up for it by fighting through two blockers to make a tackle for loss on a later 3rd down. The third quarter ends by Deshaun Lee jumping on the punt after it deflected off a Hawkeye helmet. Heads up play by Lee (pun intended).
Iowa’s offense shows flashes of the first quarter thanks to some clutch catches by Lachey to keep the chains moving, including one very strange Catch/No Catch/Delay of Game/Timeout craziness. Hands to the face on USU gets Iowa just outside the red zone, and a Wetjen jet sweep goes for 25 and sets up a 4-yard Johnson touchdown run. In his few touches Wetjen has impressed. That boy has some wheels on him. It’s Iowa’s first touchdown since the first quarter and it was a long time coming. Iowa has really had to work out some struggles to get back to pay dirt.
The Iowa defense comes up with its first three and out in a long while. Sebastian Castro does a great job of holding up a receiver on the boundary to let his teammates swarm for the tackle. On third down Lagas’ pass falls incomplete. He wisely gets rid of the ball before being murdered by Joe Evans.
McNamara’s day is done to start Iowa’s next series as Deacon Hill comes in at QB. He is what scientists call “a very large man” at 6’3” 258 lbs. Seth Anderson grabs his second catch of the day, his first since his touchdown two plays into the game. But an overthrow to Ragaini leads to a three and out. Iowa sits on a 24-6 lead with under seven minutes to play. Tick tock, Brian, tick tock.
It takes Utah State four plays to go from their own 25 to Iowa’s 24, thanks in large part to two back-to-back runs of 15+ yards. Iowa’s best defensive plays are two false start penalties to bring up 3rd and 11 and Graves stuffs the RB at the line of scrimmage. A fourth down pass falls incomplete as Legas was pressured from two sides.
Three and out for Iowa on their next series and Fox is showing the requirements of Brian’s contract, requirements he is currently not meeting. Utah State’s next play goes for a big gain, aided by a late hit call. Vaughn finds the void in the secondary and catches an easy touchdown against the Hawkeye backups. A two point conversion makes it 24-14 Iowa.
Luke Lachey recovers the onside kick and the offense goes backwards. Three and out. The Aggies get one last series but can’t make anything out of it. An emptying Kinnick Stadium sees the 2023 season start with a 24-14 Iowa victory.
McNamara finishes 17/30 for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns. The first quarter was everything Iowa fans wanted but it looks like fools gold compared to the rest of the game. Things seemed to be harder than they should have been for the offense and there are issues to fix before they travel to Ames. It the first quarter offense shows up there could be big things in store. If not it’ll be another season of frustration in Iowa City.
But a win is a win. Iowa starts the season 1-0. Crack open a cold one and stay hydrated, Hawkeye fans.