Dienhart: The Hawkeyes may just be getting started
Iowa should have dominated Purdue. And, that’s exactly what the Hawkeyes did Saturday, taking a 49-35 win.
But this was more about just notching a win. This was about sending a message. This was Iowa football as we have come to know it under Kirk Ferentz, rushing for 365 yards and limiting the Boilermakers to 46 yards. Iowa averaged 6.9 yards per carry en route to notching 520 yards of offense and going nine-of-16 on third-down conversions. Yes, the final score says Iowa won by just 14. But it raced to a 35-7 lead and coasted with reserves before Purdue tallied 21 junk points in the fourth quarter to tighten the final tally.
Hawkeye fans have been waiting for a performance like this. And, it finally arrived in what was Iowa’s best effort of the season.
And the Hawkeyes may just be getting started. This was Iowa’s second win in a row after in inauspicious 3-2 start that saw the Hawkeyes lose twice at home, falling to FCS North Dakota State and Northwestern. But now, Iowa has won two in a row, taking down Minnesota and now Purdue—both on the road—to push its mark to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten.
What’s it all mean: Iowa, the reigning Big Ten West champ, is still the team to beat.
I know, Nebraska moved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten with a win at Indiana on Saturday. No doubt, the Cornhuskers are looking good. The offense has many weapons, led by quarterback Tommy Armstrong. And the defense continues to develop, especially up front. But road games at Wisconsin, at Ohio State and at Iowa looks very dangerous.
And Wisconsin is as battle-tested as any team in the West and will have a role in shaping who wins the division thanks to a monster defense. But does it have enough on offense to win the division? The Badgers also have to play at Iowa.
There also is Northwestern. The Wildcats are surging. After opening 0-2, NU has gone 3-1 with the lone loss being to Nebraska. Today’s victory at Michigan State was very impressive, as the Wildcats took down a Spartan squad that was desperate for success as it road a three-game losing skid into today’s tilt. Didn’t matter. NU put away MSU after falling behind 14-0. The Wildcat offense is coming to life, but NU still has to go to Ohio State and play host to Wisconsin.
Minnesota also looms, playing the most favorable schedule in the division. The Gophers got a big win at Maryland on Saturday to end a two-game slide. But questions continue to hang over the Minnesota offense.
Meanwhile, Iowa continues to come together on both sides of the ball, and its two toughest competitors in the West both come to Iowa City, with the Badgers arriving next Saturday and the Huskers in the season finale. In between, No. 4 Michigan comes to Kinnick Stadium in what is another big game.
The Hawkeyes showed how good they can be Saturday, scoring touchdowns on five of their first six possession in building a 35-7 lead.
“We wanted to get off to a fast start offensively,” said Iowa QB C.J. Beathard, who hit 10-of-17 passes for 140 yards with two TDs. “Going back to last week’s game against Minnesota, we didn’t play well offensively. We came out and scored on our first couple of drives and then did all right today.”
The program set a record by notching its ninth road win in succession, cruising to an easy triumph after winning by a 14-7 score in each of its last two road wins.
A patented Iowa running game led the way on this day, as Akrum Wadley (170) and LeShun Daniels (156) each ran for over 100 yards.
“To expect (two 100-yard rushers) is unrealistic but when it happens you’re happy,” said Ferentz. “Both those guys did a good job and what that indicates is there are a lot of other guys working hard. (WR) Jay Scheel comes to mind on the long touchdown right before the half; he had a key block coming in from the outside.
“The backs will be the first to tell you, it’s not just the lineman or fullbacks, but other people have to help out for the long runs.”
It was the first time the Hawkeyes had two backs rush for over 100 yards in a game since 2008.
“We had some big runs out of the shotgun, which we worked on in practice this week and then had the right calls at the right time in the game today,” said Wadley, who averaged 12.1 yards per carry vs. Purdue. “At the beginning of the season, Daniels and I talked about having a game when we both rushed for over 100 yards. Today, that was the first game it happened.”
Beathard knows the value of getting his backs amped up.
“When you can get both of those guys touches, and with the offensive line working the way they were working today opening up holes, they turn 8-yard runs into the long ones you saw today,” Beathard said.
The Iowa defense also played well, stuffing Purdue for 46 yards rushing on 22 carries (2.1 ypc). This is an effort the Hawkeye defense can build on.
“That was bit more like it the last two weeks,” said Ferentz of stopping the run. “If we can build off it and stop the run, it’s going to help us.”
It’s gonna be a fun race to the finish in the second half of the season. And, when the dust is settled, don’t be surprised if Iowa is atop the West.
“I am happy, the whole team came ready to play right from the start,” said Ferentz. “We had a good week of preparation. The guys handled the trip well and when kickoff came they were ready to go. We got off to a fast start, it was efficient and business-like.
“The guys played hard.”
And they also played very well … and like a champion.