IOWA CITY – Week three was supposed to be a tune-up game. Instead, the Hawkeyes got a serious test form the North Texas Mean Green.
After taking a lead into halftime, North Texas was unable to hold up on the road as the Hawkeyes rallied for a 31-14 win.
In the first quarter, it looked as though the Hawkeyes were going to take a touchdown lead, but Nick Easley fumbled at the one-yard line before crossing the goal line. The play resulted in a touchback.
On the ensuring drive, North Texas went 80 yards to take an early 7-0 lead. Jeffery Wilson’s 41-yard rushing touchdown capped off the Mean Green drive.
Iowa responded with a 75-yard touchdown to tie the game with 5:34 left in the first quarter. T.J. Hockenson scored his first career touchdown on a tipped eight-yard pass that was originally intended for Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
Miguel Recinos added a 42-yard field goal two drives later to put Iowa up 10-7 with 8:12 left in the second quarter.
North Texas responded right back. The Mean Green took the lead on a Jalen Guyton 13-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Quinn Shanbour with just 11 seconds to play in the half.
North Texas led Iowa 14-10 at halftime.
Time to panic? Uhhh… yeah maybe.
The Hawkeyes, simply put, looked bad in the first half. Offensively, the team looked more like the team we saw week one versus Wyoming than the team we saw in Ames last weekend.
In the second half, injuries looked like they were going to plague the Hawkeyes.
Akrum Wadley did not play after suffering an undisclosed injury in the first half, and James Butler went down with a nasty-looking upper arm injury midway through the third quarter.
As a result, the Hawkeyes had to resort to their third and fourth-string running backs for much of the second half.
Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin, a pair of freshman backs, led the Hawkeye attack for much of the second half. The two combined for 152 yards on the ground, with the bulk of their carries coming after Butler’s injury.
In the second half, the Iowa offense scored on three straight drives to neutralize the Mean Green threat that lingered much longer than it ever should have.
Nate Stanley connected with Noah Fant for the duo’s third touchdown of the season to cap off a 76-yard drive and put the Hawkeyes up 17-14.
On the next two drives, the Hawkeyes stayed on the ground for nearly every play. The offense went on drives of 87 and 43 yards, each of which punctuated by Kelly-Martin touchdown runs. With eight minutes to play, the Iowa offense had finally put the game out of reach at 31-14.
Defensively, Iowa did not allow much out of North Texas. In the second half, the Mean Green punted three times, and quarterback Mason Fine threw an interception in the team’s only four possessions.
The final score does not represent how close the game actually felt from start to finish. Down the stretch, Iowa was just too much for the Mean Green, but Seth Littrell and company played a respectable game inside Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
There are a few statistics that really stand out after everything is said and done. First, there were a total 19 of penalties handed out in the game. North Texas was flagged 13 times for 119 yards, while Iowa was caught six times for 63 yards. Many of the calls (made both ways) seemed unnecessary, and it kept the game from getting into any kind of rhythm.
Next, the time of possession was dominated by the Hawkeyes. The offense moved slowly all game as they held the ball for 40 minutes and 45 seconds of the game clock compared to 19 minutes and 15 seconds for North Texas. In a methodical game, this certainly doesn’t hurt.
Third, the two freshmen running backs stepped up big time when called upon. Young finished as the leading rusher for the Hawkeyes with 78 yards in 19 attempts. Kelly-Martin carried it 11 times for 74 yards and two touchdowns, making his backfield debut one of the biggest highlights for the Hawkeyes on this shaky afternoon.
A win is a win, but the Hawkeyes got a little bit of a reality check in their final nonconference game. Lots of things will have to be tweaked and fixed before next Saturday’s showdown with No. 5 Penn State. Kickoff at Kinnick is set for 6:30pm CST on ABC.