Electricity was in the air Saturday morning as Hawks fans everywhere eagerly anticipated the season opener in Chicago agains the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Entering this 2012 season a lot of questions surrounded the Iowa Hawkeyes and Saturday’s game would provide some of those answers.
The Hawkeyes would receive the opening kick and march right down the field. Damon Bullock carried the ball ten times to accumulate 42 yards. It was a good sign for Hawks fans with all the questions surrounding the running back position.
However, NIU dominated the clock the remainder of the half.
Despite forcing a 3-and-out on NIU’s first possession, the defense showed its inexperience the rest of the half, allowing the Huskies to walk all over them.
On their second drive of Game game, the Huskiemadrone right down the field with an 11 play, 61 yard scoring drive resulting in a 7 yard touchdown run by Keith Harris.
The second quarter felt like more of the same as the NIU offense continued to expose weaknesses in the Hawkeye defense.
After exchanging field goals, the Hawkeyes entered the locker room trailing 10-6.
Entering the 2nd half, the atmosphere felt like that of the 4th pre-season game in the NFL — nobody cared, nobody was into it. That was until the Hawkeyes forced and recovered a NIU fumble deep in their own territory.
Iowa seemed to be in business with first and ten on the Huskie’s 14 yard line. The black and gold faithful were finally into the game. However it wouldn’t be long before the NIU defense took them out of it, forcing the Hawks to settle for another field goal.
The Huskies offense continued to take the wind out of the Hawkeyes sails on the ensuing drive as quarterback Jordan Lynch took the ball 73 yards on 3rd down for a Huskie touchdown.
The rest of the 3rd quarter seemed to drag on, with neither team really accomplishing much. It wouldn’t be until the 4th quarter that things got interesting.
After a 50 yard field goal early in the quarter, the Hawks were able to pin NIU deep in their ownterritory, downing a punt on the 1 yard line.
For the first time in the game, the Hawkeye defense was suffocating, forcing a 3-and-out and the Huskies having to punt from the back of their own end zone.
With 3:41 to go in the game and the Hawks facing yet another 3rd and long, Damon Bullock finally broke through with a 22 yard touchdown run, Iowa’s first of the game. Ferentz and Co. would go for two to extend the lead to 3, but failed to convert. The Huskies offense would have one last shot, trailing 18-17.
Finally, to the delight of Hawks fans everywhere, the defense held strong, allowing NIU to go nowhere and forcing an eventual turnover on downs. Now, with the Hawkeyes in possession and just under 2minutes remaining, all they had to do was run out the clock.
In classic Hawkeye fashion, Iowa found a way to fight back and win a game that they had no business winning. Iowa struggled to move the ball offensively and struggled to stop the NIU run attack on defense.
After the game, quarterback James Vandenberg noted that the Hawks’ struggles in the game were largely self-inflicted: “We get going and kinda shoot ourselves in the foot, we get going and kinda shoot ourselves in the foot, and a lot of that starts with me.” Vandenberg ended the game 21/33 for 129 yards and no touchdowns.
Kicker Mike Meyers and running back Damon Bullock were the saviors of the game for the Hawks. Meyers connected for four field goals, including a 50-yarder, tying a career long. Meyer’s 50 yard field goal just made it over the crossbar and he later admitted to slipping on the kick.
Damon Bullock answered a lot of questions about the running back position carrying the ball 30 times for 150 yards, including the game-winning touchdown late in the 4th quarter. If Bullock can have a game like he did on Saturday in Soldier Field every week, Iowa should feel better about their running back woes.
In the end the Hawks beat a very good NIU Huskie team in a fashion similar to that of the 2009 Orange Bowl season. There are still a lot of things to work out if the Hawkeyes want to contend in the Big Ten, but it’s always good to get that first win of the season.