There were three things that I had to ask myself after Iowa’s opening game against Northern Illinois:
1. Did Iowa look good? I would have to say not really.
2. Can the Hawkeyes get better? Oh yeah…a lot better.
3. Did they win? Barely, 19-18 but a win is a win.
For 57 minutes and 35 seconds, Iowa seemed to be behind the eight ball. They trailed 17-12 but the Hawks’ final drive, aided by a great punt and great defense, finished off the Huskies with Damon Bullock’s 23-yard touchdown with 2:15 left in the game.
There were some good plays on offense, defense and special teams– they came through when they needed to, but I have to start with the defense.
The Hawkeye defenders gave up only 201 total yards and 12 first downs. They gave up one big play, a 73-yard touchdown run in the second half.
“I thought we really grew up in the second half,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. “Things were better. There is still a lot we will get better at and have to work on. It was encouraging to see the team grow a little bit. They can feel good about that.”
Northern Illinois had a net total of 68 yards in the second half. Take out that 73 yard run and that is a minus 5 yards.
Joe Gaglione and Dominic Alvis each had a sack while Joe, Dominic, James Morris, Tanner Miller, Micah Hyde and Christian Kirksey all had tackles for losses… Joe had three.
Jordan Lynch, the Huskies’ quarterback, completed only 6-16 passes for 54 yards.
“That was a really hard fought ball game and we expected that,” said coach Ferentz. “Once they got through their first five games last year they have been playing well. They gave us all we wanted. I was just really proud of our guys’ effort. They fought, played the full 60 and gave us a chance to win at the end.”
Outside of a missed field goal by Mike Meyers, the special teams came through big time.
Mike did hit 4-5 field goals including a 50-yard kick in the fourth quarter that closed the lead to 17-12.
“I don’t know how he got that one through,” said coach Ferentz. “Obviously those were huge points. Mike did a good job.”
Connor Kornbrath, the true freshman kicker, averaged 41.3 yards on three punts.
You have to give it up to senior John Wienke, who came to Iowa as a top quarterback. John has been working at punter since last spring, was beat out by Connor but he still came through with a huge punt that was downed on the Huskies 1-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Greg Castillo, another senior, who came in at cornerback when B.J. Lowery was hurt, was the one that downed John’s punt on the 1.
“This is what you live for, moments like this,” said Greg. “I’m a fifth-year senior, I’ve been around here. I was ready.”
Kickoff and punt coverage was good and Mike Meyers had three touchbacks. He only had five last year although this year he is kicking off from the 35 instead on the 30.
The offense didn’t look as sharp as I thought it could, but then again, I totally underestimated Northern Illinois’ defense.
The Huskies had nine starters back from last year, plus a starter who sat out last year with an injury.
They were fast and had some depth, especially on the D-line and Ed Podolak, Iowa’s radio color man, said this will be one of the better defenses Iowa plays all year.
The Hawks did do some good things on offense and you have to start with Damon Bullock.
Damon picked up 150 yards on 30 carries and might silent the doubters that wondered if he could carry the load. Last Saturday, he did and scored the winning touchdown.
I thought Greg Garman would play more, but he had only four carries for 8 yards.
James Vandenberg wasn’t bad going 21-33, but only totaled 129 yards.
James didn’t throw long much, but that might be because he was rushed hard all afternoon and sacked six times.
Kevonte Martin-Manley and Keenan Davis combined for 11 receptions and 72 yards while Don Shumpert made his first two catches as a Hawkeye but gained no yards.
The Hawkeyes also controlled the ball with over 38 minutes of possession, 23 first downs and 8-18 on third down conversions.
Iowa also took the opening drive, Mike Meyers kicked a 34-yard field goal and the Hawks led 3-0.
I was a little disappointed with the offensive line play, but then again that was the first start at tackle for Brandon Scherff and Bret Van Sloten plus redshirt freshman Austin Blythe made his first start at guard and it was his first time on the field.
I believe Brian Ferentz, the O-line coach, will get them ready for next week.
I also think the Hawks didn’t show a lot on offense. Hopefully they will loosen up against the Cyclones next Saturday.
A lot of people think this was a home game since there were over 35,000 Iowa fans at Soldier Field. It was still a road game and the Hawks had a lot of new faces on the field.
Iowa has won its last 12 opening games under Kirk Ferentz which ties a record.
You have to go back to 1919-1930 to find 12 in a row on opening day.
It’s always been said that you improve the most between your first and second games.
Colleges don’t play preseason games like the NFL, so this is usually the case. The Hawks will need to improve a lot if they are going to knock off the ‘Clones this Saturday.
Iowa State rolled over Tulsa last 38-23. The ‘Clones were 1-point underdogs.
I’m glad the game is at Kinnick.