After an exciting overtime victory over instate rival Iowa State last week, Iowa took on North Texas in Kinnick Stadium Saturday in the final non-conference game before Big Ten play begins. The Hawkeyes (3-0) found themselves unexpectedly trailing the Mean Green (1-2) at halftime, but the defense pitched a shutout in the second half and the offense did enough to push Iowa to a 31-14 victory. Let’s take a look back and grade the Hawkeyes’ performance.
With a breakout performance in his first road test, Nate Stanley had quite the act to follow. While it wasn’t statistically as strong as his outing in week two, Stanley nonetheless played well against North Texas. He was poised in the pocket, was accurate for the most part and didn’t force anything that wasn’t there. On the negative side, he again missed on a couple of deep throws, but part of the blame for those can be shared with their intended targets. He also tended to release the ball just a touch late sometimes, but that wasn’t a glaring issue on Saturday.
Overall, Stanley was 16 of 27 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He also lost a fumble when he was hit while winding up to throw, but Iowa recovered a fumble of its own on the ensuring runback to negate the loss. Grade: B+
Heading into the game, many expected Iowa’s duo of freshmen running backs to receive carries against North Texas. That ended up being the case on Saturday, but not for the reason many thought.
With another standout performance in the rearview, Akrum Wadley was expected to run all over North Texas. Instead, he found the yards difficult to come by, as he finished with just 24 yards on eight carries before leaving the game due to an ankle injury. That’s not to say he didn’t make an impact, though, as he still proved dangerous as a receiver, hauling in two passes for 80 yards, including a 68-yard catch and run that he turned into a TD… only it wasn’t. While heading into the end zone, Wadley high-stepped a little, earning a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, thus negating the TD. While it was a legitimate penalty by rule, it was actually pretty tame and much worse has been let go in the past. Wadley sat out a couple of series after that before reentering the game and subsequently getting injured.
James Butler initially was the benefactor of Wadley’s absence and ran well, finishing with 74 yards on 16 carries. He also forced the aforementioned fumble by North Texas that followed Stanley’s fumble, helping to keep the UNT offense from gaining possession in Iowa’s red zone. Butler went on to injure his elbow, however, and Kirk Ferentz later said Butler wouldn’t be back until Iowa’s first game after the bye (Oct. 21).
With both senior backs out, into the game stepped Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. To say the two freshmen played well would be under selling it a bit. The duo essentially carried the load in the second half as Iowa rode the running game to victory. Young was the power half of the duo, as he bowled over North Texas defenders to the tune of 78 yards on 19 carries. Kelly-Martin was the shiftier of the two and finished with 11 carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Grade: A
Wide Receiver/Tight End
It was a pretty good day for the Iowa receivers on Saturday. Gaining separation doesn’t seem to be an issue this season like it was in 2016, as the receivers were able to get open fairly consistently. They also blocked well for the running backs and caught everything they should have, though they were at least partly responsible for the two missed deep balls from Stanley.
Once again, Nick Easley led the group in receptions, finishing with a team-leading five for 37 yards. He was originally credited with a TD on Iowa’s opening drive but a review subsequently showed he fumbled and lost the ball out of the end zone before he crossed the goal line, wiping out the score. After disappearing for games at a time in previous seasons, the tight ends have once again become a big part of the offense and that continued on Saturday. T.J. Hockenson caught three passes for 29 yards and a TD, while Noah Fant had two for 30 yards and a score. Matt VandeBerg caught two passes for 19 yards and true freshman Brandon Smith caught his first collegiate pass for 2 yards. Grade: B+
For the most part, the revamped offensive line played well against North Texas. There were some issues in the first half, but overall, the run blocking was strong. They were able to wear down the Mean Green defense and pave the way to a dominant second-half performance on the ground. Pass protection was less effective, as Stanley was forced to move outside the pocket on several occasions, but that also improved as the game wore on. Next week will provide a much bigger test, but for now, solid job by the O-line. Grade: B
Overall Offensive Grade: B
It wasn’t exactly a smooth outing by the offense, but they did enough to overcome a scare from North Texas. Although they only had 10 points at halftime, it could have been 17 had they not lost a fumble while going for the goal line. Disregarding the ugliness at times, the final stats look more in line with what you would expect when playing a non-power five team: 435 yards of total offense, including 238 rushing, 28 first downs and a 40:45 to 19:15 advantage in time of possession.
One of the presumed strengths heading into this season was that Iowa returned the majority of the front seven on the defense. Included among that was three players on the defensive line with a stable of young guys who could rotate in to continue the pressure. Three games into the season and Iowa is still struggling to generate constant pressure on the quarterback. All too often on Saturday, North Texas quarterback Mason Fine had ample time to find his receivers, facing little pressure for much of the afternoon. The D-line wasn’t much better in helping to stop the run, as running back Jeffery Wilson ended his day with 95 yards on 12 carries.
Parker Hesse led the group with four tackles, including Iowa’s lone sack, and a forced fumble. Cedric Lattimore, Nathan Bazata and Matt Nelson had two tackles each. Grade: D+
The linebacker corps improved upon its performance from last week, though there were still some issues against North Texas. Overall, the tackling was better but there were still a few that were missed as well as some poorly taken angles to the ball carrier. They also got eaten up a bit in the first half against the run, but that improved in the second half.
Josey Jewell paced the linebackers with five tackles. Ben Niemann added three stops, while Bo Bower had one. Grade: C-
It wasn’t a strong start for the defensive backs, with the back half of the defense looking bad as North Texas took its opening drive for an easy 80-yard TD drive. On that opening possession, there was poor coverage, blown assignments and missed tackles, including one that led to a 41-yard touchdown run. As was the case with the rest of the defense, though, things improved after halftime.
Josh Jackson had what was arguably his best game as a Hawkeye, finishing with three tackles to go along with an interception and two broken up passes. Miles Taylor led the defensive backs with six tackles, while Manny Rugamba added five to go with two pass breakups. Jake Gervase had one tackle before being replaced by Amani Hooker, who had three tackles. Grade: C
Overall Defensive Grade: C-
The final stats look good for the defense: 14 points on 305 yards of total offense. The stats don’t tell the whole story, however, and the fact is the defense looked rough at times on Saturday. While the Hawkeyes looked much better in the second half, that just underscores that the only thing consistent about the defense so far this season is its inconsistency.
One unit that didn’t have any issues on Saturday was the special teams. Miguel Recinos is excelling as the No. 1 kicker, as he connected on his lone field goal attempt (42 yards) while also having four of his six kickoffs go for touchbacks. Colten Rastetter punted once for 47 yards, while the coverage units continue to do a great job limiting returns from the opposition. On the return side, Kelly-Martin was solid on kick returns, while Jackson had a nice gain of 17 yards on his lone punt return. Jackson’s big play on special teams, however, came in the second quarter when he blocked a North Texas field goal attempt that would have given the Mean Green the lead. Grade: A
Overall Grade: C
It wasn’t pretty and the Hawkeyes didn’t emerge from the game unscathed, but they got the win to end the non-conference portion of the schedule undefeated, the fifth time in Ferentz’s 19 years that has happened. The inconsistencies on both sides of the ball will need to improve, as the competition is about to take a big step up.
Stat of the Game: 19 for 182
The flags were flying early and often on Saturday, with the two teams combining for 19 penalties for 182 yards. While complaining about the officials is standard in fandom, it may have been justified in this case. In addition to the penalties (some of which were questionable), there were also several stoppages of play for reviews by the mixed group of officials from the Big Ten, Mid-American and Missouri Valley Conferences.