Coming into a season of high expectations, the Iowa football team knew that every game was going to be a battle.
That lesson has proven to be true more times than not in recent years.
After all, it was only five years ago when Iowa had to block two field goals in order to come with a 17-16 win against UNI.
There are questions coming into this season, especially about the back seven on defense after losing all three linebackers to the NFL and who would replace the roles of B.J. Lowery and company in the secondary. Also, there were some concerns about the special teams group with veteran placekicker Mike Meyer graduated and incumbent punter Connor Kornbrath not having the best season a year ago. Junior Marshall Koehn won the placekicker job, and junior college transfer Dillon Kidd won the punting job coming out of camp.
After the heartbreaking loss to Northern Illinois to open the 2013-2014 season, the Hawkeyes knew it was imperative to start this campaign on the right foot.
While not the prettiest game Iowa has played, the Hawkeyes did come out on top against the Panthers by a score of 31-23 inside historic Kinnick Stadium.
The game started out a little unusual as senior running back Mark Weisman took the opening kickoff 50 yards to give the Hawkeyes excellent field position for their first drive of the season. Weisman said after the game that he was not expecting the ball to come his way after the kickoff.
“I don’t know if I expected the ball to come my way, but the return guys blocked well for me when I got it. If I was a little faster, I probably could have taken it all the way,” Weisman said.
The Hawkeyes wasted no time getting the ball into the end zone for the first points of the season as LeShun Daniels, Jr punched it in from 13 yards to cap a 3 play, 41 yard drive that took 1:16.
UNI scored next, however, briefly taking a 10-7 lead over the Hawkeyes with a field goal in the first quarter and a 23-yard touchdown from Sawyer Kollmorgen to Kevin Vereen early in the second quarter.
Iowa would take back the lead on the ensuing drive after the Vereen touchdown, as Weisman bulldozed his way into the end zone on a one yard run to put an end to an excellent 17 play, 79 yard drive that took over seven minutes to complete. After that drive the teams exchanged field goals to make the score 17-13 Iowa going into halftime.
After halftime, it was the Tevaun Smith human highlight reel. The junior wide receiver made some noise in the rushing department with a sideline-to-sideline run that almost ended up being a touchdown and made virtually the entire Panther defense miss. Smith also finished a 4 play, 47 yard drive that took just under 2 minutes to complete with a beautiful one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone from Jake Rudock to give Iowa their biggest lead of the game at 24-13.
“Coach really gave me the confidence to run the reverse play,” Smith said after the game. “The offensive line really did a nice job of giving me holes to run through and in that situation I just did what I could to do to help this team move forward and get a victory,” he added.
Rudock finished the day 31-41 for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns. The junior looked comfortable in the pocket and the offensive line gave him plenty of time to get the ball loose and find open receivers. He also completed passes to 13 different Hawkeyes, including eight to senior receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. Martin-Manley also moved into ninth place all-time on Iowa’s career reception list passing Marv Cook. Redshirt freshman Derrick Willies also made quite the first impression on Hawkeye fans catching a ball that Rudock overthrew by at least a few yards for a 46 yard gain and led to a 12 yard pass from Rudock to Damon Powell to put the icing on the cake for the Hawkeyes offensively. The offense also took advantage of 16 UNI penalties totaling 128 yards, including some crucial holding and pass interference calls to further extend drives.
Defensively, there is still much to be desired for Iowa. UNI running back David Johnson torched the Hawkeye back seven consistently to the tune of over 200 yards receiving, highlighted by a 70 yard touchdown from Kollmorgen, who finished with 380 yards passing along with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The back seven were burned on a consistent basis by basically the same play up the middle, which resulted in big yardage plays all over the field. The defensive line looked very good in the contest totaling 5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
The special teams play was solid with a minor hiccup. Dillon Kidd averaged over 35 yards a punt with his longest being a 42 yarder in his Hawkeye debut. Marshall Koehn converted all four of his PAT opportunities, but he only made one of his two attempted field goals. He made a 40-yard field goal late in the first half, but shot his 37-yard attempt late in the third quarter wide left. Koehn and Kidd will both need to be more consistent for Iowa to make some noise in the Big Ten this season.
Coach Kirk Ferentz was proud of his team’s effort across the board, but he knows that there is still much work to be done.
“UNI has a very good football team. They executed very well and we made some mistakes on defense that we need to clean up before next week. I am very proud of the team. They battled exceptionally hard, especially in the fourth quarter with the game on the line,” Ferentz said. “There were some teachable moments that can be cleaned up, but all in all I can’t say enough about how our team grinded and came out with the victory,” he added.
The Iowa football team resumes action next Saturday afternoon against the Ball State Cardinals. Kickoff is set for 2:30 central time from Kinnick Stadium. We will have that game here on 89.7 KRUI and live online on krui.fm.