Of all the football games in the world, this was definitely one of them.
If it's possible to coast to a victory in a game where you trailed at the half, Iowa did just that in a 31-14 home win over North Texas, pushing the Hawkeye record to 3-0 as the Big Ten season is set to begin. Nate Stanley threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns in the victory, Toren Young led the team with 78 rushing yards and true freshman tailback Ivory Kelly-Martin added two fourth-quarter scores.
Ivory Kelly-Martin liked the end zone so much he decided to make a return trip! pic.twitter.com/oOhzG1GnOF— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) September 16, 2017
Of primary concern in the victory is the injury situation. Akrum Wadley left the game in the first half with an ankle injury, though he spent the second half of the game suited up on the sidelines. Primary backup James Butler came down awkwardly on his right arm early in the second half, and if the injury's as bad as it looked, we might be fortunate to see him before the middle of November.
Because of his injury, Wadley ended up being 4th in rushing yards (24) for the Hawkeyes... and first in receiving yards (80), thanks in large part to the 68 yards he was given before his high-stepping drew an unsportsmanlike penalty flag.
The first half was bad. There's no way around that. Nick Easley's fumble out of the end zone negated a touchdown after an easy drive, Wadley's unsportsmanlike penalty took another Hawkeye touchdown off the board and a weird decision not to protect the ball by Keegan Render led to this weird play:
Iowa did recover the ball, but the flipped field eventually gave UNT the opportunity to drive for a go-ahead touchdown right before the half. We'd really rather not speak of that half again.
By contrast, the second half was borderline erotic.
Iowa controlled the ball for nearly 22 minutes of the second half, outgaining UNT 228-78 and grinding the Mean Green defense into a fine pulp by the late fourth quarter. Here's how each drive went:
- UNT 34 yards, PUNT
- IOWA 76 yards, TOUCHDOWN
- UNT 34 yards, PUNT
- IOWA 87 yards, TOUCHDOWN
- UNT 10 yards, PUNT
- IOWA 43 yards, TOUCHDOWN
- UNT 0 yards, INTERCEPTION
- IOWA 22 yards, KNEEL INSIDE THE 5
All that was done with no Wadley and about three minutes of Butler, and yet it was still a primarily ground-based attack. That 87-yard drive took 8:50 of game time and featured 15 runs to one pass. Toren Young was the bell cow with 11 rushes for 39 yards, and Kelly-Martin rushed four times for 40, including the 2-yard score that pushed Iowa's lead into double digits. Yes, it's just North Texas, but the kids looked good. Kelly-Martin, in particular, looks like a future star.
For the third straight game, Stanley was put into position to succeed and took that opportunity, even as his efficiency dipped slightly. 16-for-27, 195 yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions is mighty fine work, even as he's still working on his deep throws (they're getting there) and even as it really should have been three scores. Stanley's got multiple receivers he can trust, including the increasingly reliable T.J. Hockenson at tight end, plus a lethal option out of the backfield in Wadley. Now that Iowa has a coherent offensive plan to put them all together, the end result is a productive, efficient passing offense that still protects the ball to Kirk Ferentz's liking. Well, that's how it is against Wyoming, ISU and North Texas, anyway; maybe things look different against a Power 5 team.
On defense, Josh Jackson proved to be the man of the match, blocking a field goal in the first half and picking off UNT QB Mason Fine late in the fourth quarter; he also added three tackles and two of the Hawkeyes' five passes broken up. Manny Rugamba also reasserted himself with five tackles and two more PBUs. Iowa's linebackers didn't have their greatest game against the Mean Green's receiver-heavy approach, and safety Jake Gervase may have played himself out of the lineup after whiffing on UNT's first touchdown run; Amani Hooker looked downright competent in relief.
Miles Taylor is who he has been.
Last thing: if the officiating seemed subpar, it wasn't just you; the refs threw 19 flags, missed obvious calls and maybe shouldn't have overturned Easley's touchdown; there was no clear angle showing the ball out before he had crossed the plane. Complaining about the referees is generally thought of as a loser's activity, and in a game where UNT drew 13 of the 19 penalties and lost by 17, certainly Iowa doesn't have much to blame the zebras for. But it was often evident that these guys were in over their heads, and it turns out that was to be expected:
This is same crew that blew the Central Michigan-Ok St game last year. Was suspended most of last yr. I worked with Kyle DeBuse at Valmont https://t.co/wBHbBTyWJX— Brock Meis (@bmeis23) September 16, 2017
This game didn't rise to the level of "suspend them all over again," but it was a Ref Show in every way fans dread, and we're glad it didn't turn out to affect Iowa's chances of winning.
Anyway, even with AIRBHG threatening to return, the only things keeping Iowa from covering were a freak fumble and a sense of sportsmanship from three yards away. Pretty decent day, and a great job by the Iowa offense of slamming the door. Repeatedly. On UNT's head.
Go Iowa Awesome.