MAC opponents and Iowa football haven't necessarily been the best combination lately -- the lowlight was the home loss to Central Michigan on a last-second field goal in 2012, but there was also a loss to Northern Illinois in the 2013 season opener (but at least that was a very good NIU team that went on to win 12 games and make the Orange Bowl) and some uncomfortably close calls against NIU in 2012 and Ball State in 2013. (There was also a blowout win over Western Michigan in 2013, so not all of Iowa's recent games against MAC opponents have been ulcer-inducing.)
This was not one of those games -- Iowa jumped out to a 21-0 lead before some fans had even found their seats in the first quarter, thanks to a dominant offense and a pair of fumble recoveries on defense. And from that 21-0 lead Miami never really got close enough to make us sweat -- the closest the game got was 21-7 in the second quarter (Iowa immediately answered with a TD drive) and 35-21 in the fourth quarter. Iowa. The ext three fourth quarter drives went Iowa FG, Miami fumble, Iowa TD. That's Billy Bahlgame -- sorry, RedHawks.
Iowa's offense looked strong pretty much all day -- they racked up 404 yards and punted just three times. The running game was especially nasty, with four Iowa running backs combining for 26 carries, 222 yards, and five touchdowns. Most the damawge was dealt by Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels, who gashed the Miami defense right, left, and center -- Wadley had 121 yards and two scores on 12 carries, while Daniels added 83 yards and two more scores on 10 carries. They were a dynamite 1-2 punch today and Miami had no real answers for them. Wadley also added three catches for 21 yards and looks like he might be an effective option in the passing game for Iowa.
Leshun Daniels with TD number two! pic.twitter.com/9AQjjLJirT— Heavens! (@HeavensHawkeye) September 3, 2016
Touchdown Akrum Wadley! pic.twitter.com/gvynDBXMJY— Heavens! (@HeavensHawkeye) September 3, 2016
Shoeless Akrum Wadley pic.twitter.com/OPC0UWu4Pm— Heavens! (@HeavensHawkeye) September 3, 2016
Which is good because we still have some questions about Iowa's pass-catching options. C.J. Beathard looked solid -- 13/20, 192 yards, 1 TD/0 INT line -- but the receiver options seemed to be limited to Matt VandeBerg, Riley McCarron, and Jerminic Smith. (Jay Scheel missed the game due to what's believed to be a minor quad injury, so #SCHEELAMANIA will one again have to wait.) VandeBerg as usual paced the way for the Iowa passing game with four catches for 99 yards, including one absolute beauty in traffic. Jerminic Smith looked very good as well, with three catches for 51 yards and a nice TD grab on a bullet pass from Beathard. He also added a 10-yard run on an end around and showed some good downfield blocking chops. He did nothing to cost himself a starting job, basically. The tight end position was MIA in the passing game (although George Kittle did drop a potential TD pass in the fourth quarter), which will need to change as the season progresses.
We also have some questions about Iowa's pass-blocking. The Hawkeye offensive line looked just fine in run-blocking, blasting open holes for Wadley and Daniels to run through with impunity, but they had some issues picking up some Miami blitzers and Beathard overall got hit far more than you'd like to see in a game like this. (In fairness to the line, Wadley also deserves a little blame for his role in blitz pick-ups -- as good as he is running the ball, he definitely needs to work on picking up blitzers a bit more.) Iowa will play much better defensive fronts than Miami, so the offensive line will need to tighten up in a hurry.
The other thing that needs to tighten up in a hurry? The Iowa defense. Iowa was outgained by the RedHawks today (424 yards to 404), with Miami picking up 158 yards on the ground and 266 yards through the air. Miami QB Billy Bahl (and one of his favorite targets, James Gardner, who had six grabs for 95 yards and two scores) looked better than advertised and put the ball in some good spots for his receivers. He's no doubt improved since last year, but he went 19/29 for 266 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions (though he did fumble twice). That's not good.
Iowa's pass defense definitely struggled, with the Brandon Snyder-Greg Mabin side of the field especially taking their lumps. Mabin... will not want to watch the film from this game. Iowa's pass rush was decidedly inconsistent. When it was on, it worked brilliantly -- Anthony Nelson had himself a debut for the ages with 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. But when it was off, Bahl picked Iowa's defense apart. And it was off a little more than you would have liked to see today. Iowa was very vanilla today -- there were hardly any blitzes that I can remember -- but if this is what we're going to get with a four-man rush, we're need to see some blitzing in the weeks ahead to generate more of a pass rush.
One thing that didn't help Iowa's front seven was absences -- Josey Jewell was ejected from the game after a targeting penalty (it was legit) on punt coverage early in the game, Parker Hesse missed most of the game with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, and Ben Niemann missed parts of the game due to injury as well (though he did return and play most of the second half). Jewell will be back next week and his leadership and direction on defense will be much appreciated. Hopefully Hesse is able to return as well.
Finally, the other key storyline in the game was the debut of several fresh faces -- it was raining redshirts on Saturday. Among the true freshmen who played were Keith Duncan, Amani Jones, Amani Hooker, Manny Rugamba, Kristian Welch, Devonte Young, Noah Fant, Cedric Lattimore, Toks Akrinbade, and -- oh yeah -- Nathan Stanley. I think that settles the question of whether or not Stanley is QB2 or not -- as well as who the Iowa coaches are definitely looking at to be the quarterback of the future for the Iowa program. Outside of Duncan (who had a nice debut, making a field goal and all six of his extra point attempts), the true freshmen didn't do a whole lot today -- they mostly played on special teams coverage units or in garbage time at the end of the game. Today was just about getting their feet wet -- they'll get thrown in the deep water later.
It's churlish to complain about a 45-21 win, so we're not going to do that. Iowa was never in danger of losing and the Iowa offense largely did what they wanted. The defense certainly has plenty of things to clean up and film study for Phil Parker's charges won't be fun this week, but they did some good things too. Iowa romped and this season is off to a 1-0 start. That'll do.