Hawkeyes Defense Proves Tough Against Wyoming

Story by Levi Thompson

IOWA CITY – Any questions you had about Iowa football entering week one are no longer relevant.

Nate Stanley settled down and the defense went to work as Iowa came away with a convincing 24-3 win over Wyoming on Saturday.

“The only thing we told the team is our goal is to play tough football, to play smart football and play physical, and most importantly, stay together,” said Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz. “I think that really what we witnessed today.”

With three new starters in the secondary, many believed the new guys could get exposed against Wyoming QB Josh Allen, but the new guys didn’t play like new guys.

Iowa held Allen and the Cowboys to 233 yards of total offense, and just 174 through the air with no touchdowns. The experienced front seven of the Hawkeyes defense allowed just 59 rushing yards, and the secondary didn’t break when they were tested.

“This is what we practice for,” said cornerback Josh Jackson, who was making just his second career start. “We communicated well in practice and we communicated well today.”

The secondary in Saturday’s game had combined to make 24 career starts for Iowa. One belonged Jackson, the other 23 were strong safety Miles Taylor. The inexperience did not show as Jackson, Michael Ojemudia, and Jake Gervase held their own.

Iowa’s front seven helped in the process. They made life difficult for Allen, who never fully got into a rhythm. He was flushed form the pocket on numerous occasions and was sacked three times in the game. Josey Jewell had two sacks and true-freshman A.J. Epenesa had one.

“They’re a good defense and a good program and that’s what we expected from them,” Allen said. “That’s probably the best defense we’ll see all year.”

The Hawkeyes defense delivered knockout punches in the fourth quarter with a pair of interceptions. First, Jackson jumped a route and returned it 41 yards to the Wyoming 39, setting up a Miguel Recinos field goal.

The next drive, it was Brady Reiff who sniffed out a screen pass near mid-field, ending Wyoming’s final offensive drive with 4:36 left in the game.

“Our defensive line did really well with our rushes,” said Jackson. “As a whole we did well tackling as well as setting our edges on the parameters to keep them inside.”

Three points, no plays over 23 yards. Yeah, the defense did its job.

The Iowa offense got off to a slow start, which is not all that uncommon for a team with a new quarterback and a new play caller in week one, but the struggles didn’t last.

After going 0-for-4 passing with an interception in the first quarter, Nate Stanley settled into his new starting role just fine.

“He went through some rough times out there,” said Ferentz of his sophomore quarterback. “He didn’t get rattled. I’m sure he was internally, but he stayed strong.”

Stanley connected on a pass to Nick Easley with 11:21 left in the second half. It was Stanley’s first completion of the day and Easley’s first catch as a Hawkeye. After that, the offense had fewer communication errors and Stanley seemed to gain confidence.

Later in the drive, Stanley hit Noah Fant for a two-yard passing touchdown to put the Hawkeyes up 7-3 as the offense responded after a Wyoming field goal.

The duo connected again just before halftime after a strange series of events. Epenesa sacked Allen on third down with less than minute remaining in the half, forcing a Wyoming punt. Punter Tim Zaleski had trouble with the snap and whiffed on the kick, giving the Hawkeyes a chance with 23 seconds left.

Stanley hit Fant on a vertical route for a 27-yard touchdown pass, putting the team up 14-3 at half.

Easley got in on the action again in the third quarter when he hauled in a 45-yard pass from Stanley and muscled his way through a defender for a touchdown. In his Iowa debut, Easley led the team with four receptions and 77 yards.

Stanley is just the third Iowa quarterback since 1999 to throw for three touchdowns in his first career start. The other two were Jon Beutjer (4, at Indiana in 2000) and Ricky Stanzi (3, vs Florida Atlantic in 2008). It was a solid debut, but Stanley knows it was not the greatest.

“I feel like I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I’m a little upset with some stuff that went on with ball security,” said Stanley, who fumbled twice in the game.

Most believed the game was going to be decided on the ground for the Hawkeyes with two featured backs in Akrum Wadley and James Butler, but the Cowboys front held them in check… for the most part.

Wadley was bottled up a lot in the early going, but he did find running room in the second half. He finished with 116 yards, his 10th career 100-yard game. Butler tacked on 47 in his Iowa debut.

Instead of the Wadley and Butler show, fans were treated to Stanley’s up-and-down debut. The offense turned the ball over four times (one interception and three fumbles), but Stanley gained a lot of confidence as the game went on.

With Brian Ferentz calling plays and new guys on the field, I don’t think the turnovers in week one are anything Hawkeye fans should be losing their minds about. If this keeps up in week two, then there might be a deeper problem.

“Obviously our offense has things to improve on so we’re going to get back to the books,” Fant said.

At the end of the day, the Hawkeyes are 1-0 and the defense dominated against a very good quarterback. That’s a good sign moving forward after so many questions guided offseason conversation.

Iowa travels to Ames next week for the game we at Black + Cardinal Divide have been waiting for since the site was launched… The Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series rivalry game!

Game time is 11:00am at Jack Trice Stadium on ESPN Networks. The state of Iowa had better be ready for a shootout.

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