By Adam Jacobi on September 15, 2018 at 10:19 pm
Mekhi Sargent touchdown
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa played its easiest non-conference opponent of the season, and it showed.

Another Saturday, another physical mismatch. Iowa's defense overwhelmed another opponent as the Hawkeyes cruised to a 38-14 victory under the lights at Kinnick Stadium, moving to 3-0 on the season heading into Big Ten play. Nate Stanley had his first 300-yard game of the season (and his first since Iowa State in 2017), going 23-for-28 for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He didn't look perfect, but he looked good.

With Iowa racking up 545 yards of total offense, there was plenty of success to go around. Tailback Mekhi Sargent led all skill position players with 120 yards from scrimmage and two scores, and Noah Fant added five catches for 99 yards and a score—all in the first quarter. Even wide receiver Nick Easley had the game of his life, logging 10 catches for 103 yards and a second-half touchdown.

This game was never, ever close. Northern Iowa had 20 total yards of offense at the half. It rushed for 6 yards for the entire game. The Panthers didn't reach Iowa territory until after the six-minute mark of the third quarter. As with NIU in Week 1, the only points came in the fourth quarter, with the game totally out of reach. And then this from Chad Leistikow, from the end of the third quarter:

That's... [checks notes] [plugs formulas into TI-85 calculator] [fiddles with abacus for 45 minutes] ...good.

Iowa was missing starting running back Ivory Kelly-Martin and wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette; both were dinged up from the Iowa State game. They were counted out late, so they're probably close enough that they should be good to go for Wisconsin next week. What's more, Iowa clearly didn't need either player to beat the decals off UNI's helmets; best to let them get as close to 100% as possible before sending them back out.

What's more, it's not totally clear that Kelly-Martin is Iowa's best running back. Yes, it's just UNI, but Sargent was slippery in traffic and showed an uncanny ability to keep plays moving forward. Toren Young actually led the team in rushing, with 82 yards and a nifty, tightrope score on just 14 carries. Iowa has three tailbacks that, when healthy, can be trusted to take the carry on any given play. That's a remarkable luxury heading into the grind of the Big Ten schedule.

Last, let's zoom out a bit. Wisconsin just lost to BYU at Camp Randall. Nebraska's still winless, having dropped a result to Troy. So's Purdue, victim of unfriendly visitor Missouri. Northwestern has dropped consecutive games to MAC foes. We're not saying Iowa should be *the favorite* in the Big Ten West, but with such a ferocious defense and an occasionally competent offense, that path is incrementally more plausible now, isn't it?

So yes, it'll never be this easy again this season, but this was the win Iowa should have had. Exactly what you want to see from Iowa facing an FCS team—especially UNI, who had a nasty habit of playing the Hawkeyes close. Big boy ball starts... now.

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