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IOWA 31, UNI 23: TIME TO EXHALE

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Iowa wins in Iowa-y fashion, because Iowa.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't easy.  Of course it wasn't easy.  UNI is a very good team, FCS or not, and Iowa... well, Iowa doesn't often make it easy on themselves when they have the chance.  UNI didn't give them too many chances to make it easy, either.

Without question, there's a lot that Iowa needs to work on, whether or not you think UNI is better than Iowa's next two opponents (and I do).  The offense struggled to create big plays (at least until the game-clinching drive) and the defense struggled hugely in coverage in the middle of the field.  I'm gonna have a few nightmares about David Johnson running free down the middle of the field.  But the defense also stiffened in some key moments in the second half, forcing a few turnovers and getting much-needed pressure on UNI's Sawyer Kollmorgen.

Iowa opened the game with a bang, with up-back Mark Weisman unexpectedly returning the opening kickoff past midfield.  Iowa followed that up with a quick drive that ended with LeShun Daniels tip-toeing down the sideline and into the end zone.  Early on, Iowa rotated running backs ruthlessly; I think five different backs had a carry before the second quarter was even underway.  And for the most part, it was working.  After UNI responded Iowa's opening touchdown drive with a field goal, Iowa responded with another good drive -- until it stalled out on a failed fourth down conversion (a quick snap QB sneak by Jake Rudock was unsuccessful).  Unfortunately, Iowa's offense looked labored for much of the game after that; the highlight in the second quarter was a 17-play, 79 yard, 7:13 drive that gave Iowa a 14-10 lead.  UNI and Iowa traded field goals after that and Iowa went into halftime with a 17-13 lead.

After astop by the Iowa defense to open the second half, Iowa expanded their lead on a drive that we'll just call The Tevaun Smith Show.  You can see his insane and athletic touchdown catch here, but the nutty, field-crossing 35-yard run that he busted off to set up that touchdown catch might have been even more impressive.  At that point Iowa had a 24-13 lead, some breathing room, and that fickle mistress, momentum, on their side.  Or not.  A 70-yard TD pass to Johnson later and Iowa's lead was hacked to 24-20.

Another Iowa drive was halted by a Jacob Hillyer fumble, but Iowa got the ball with an athletic Bo Bower interception a few plays later.  Their drive stalled out, though, and a Marshall Koehn field goal attempt went wide, leaving Iowa clinging to a slim lead.  A good UNI drive ended in a hail of penalties (a recurring theme for the Panthers all day), but they were still able to convert a field goal to make Iowa's lead just 24-23.  If you weren't getting a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach at that point... well, I commend you on your sudden-onset amnesia.  That sounds like a very handy condition to have as an Iowa sports fan.

But UNI got no closer than that all game.  Iowa eventually responded with a game-icing drive, a drive that featured the Hawkeyes suddenly remembering that wide receivers can be key playmakers, too.  Iowa's three biggest plays all involved wide receivers: Tevaun Smith (on a big pass interference penalty), Derrick Willies (a huge 46-yard grab to set up the TD), and Damond Powell (scoring the TD on a good ol' inside screen route).  Iowa went up 31-23 with just under seven minutes to go and immediately got perhaps their best defensive series of the game (a quick three-and-out for the Panthers).  Unfortunately, Iowa couldn't play keep-away from UNI for the rest of the game and they were forced to punt the ball back to UNI.  UNI's last drive ended with a Greg Mabin interception, allowing Iowa to take a knee and run out of the final minute of the game.  And there was much exhaling throughout the land...

We'll break down the good and the bad from the game a little bit later; for now, just bask in the glow of Iowa's first win of 2014.  Go Hawks.

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