Resiliency was a word thrown around by Iowa seniors Mark Weisman and Louis Trinca-Pasat on Saturday.
The Hawkeye football team was resilient against a Northern Iowa Panthers squad that totaled 380 passing yards.
They were resilient in the fourth quarter when UNI trimmed their lead to 24-23 with 12:42 to play.
Resiliency signified the victory for the Hawkeyes, who got a 12-yard touchdown catch from Damond Powell to seal the 31-23 victory at Kinnick Stadium in what could be the final meeting between the two schools.
Jake Rudock completed 31-of-41 through the air and tossed for 250 yards and two scores, the Hawkeyes gained 150 more yards on the ground and improved to 13-3 in season openers under head coach Kirk Ferentz.
“We made some big plays late in the game and were able to finish it off in the fourth quarter,” said Weisman, who scored a second-quarter touchdown that put Iowa back in front 14-10. “(UNI) gave us their best shot. You just have to keep grinding. No games on the schedule are easy. All wins are tough to get and all wins feel great. We’ll learn from the tape.”
Iowa’s offense gained 401 yards in total, but the Panthers had 405. Senior All-American candidate David Johnson caught five passes from junior Sawyer Kollmorgen for 203 yards. The Iowa defense lost track of the Clinton native out of the backfield and Johnson made the Hawks pay, turning short catches into big gains three different times.
Johnson’s only touchdown came on a 70-yard completion early in the third quarter, and it came 40 seconds after Iowa had gone up 24-13.
“We have a lot of work to do. There were some communication issues and missed calls. But we’ll improve and we’ll get it done,” said Iowa redshirt freshman Bo Bower, who had a tackle for loss, an interception and a sack in his first career start at linebacker. “(Johnson) is a very good back. He made himself look really good today.”
While the Panthers made big plays in the passing game, they also turned it over twice in the second half, committed 16 penalties and rushed for just 25 yards on 25 carries.
“I think it’s a completely different outcome without all those penalties,” said Northern Iowa linebacker Jake Farley. “Two of their TDs don’t happen if we don’t commit penalties. One of them was on third and long and they weren’t in field goal range.
“I think we beat this team today if we don’t have 16 penalties. They are a good team, but this one was on us.”
Weisman took the opening kickoff into Panther territory and the Hawks needed just three plays to reach paydirt. Sophomore LeShun Daniels’ 13-yard touchdown run capped the 1:16 scoring drive.
Northern Iowa got a 36-yard field goal from junior Michael Schmadeke on its next possession and then the Panthers went up 10-7 following Kollmorgen’s touchdown pass to junior Kevin Vareen.
Weisman’s 1-yard touchdown plunge made it 14-10 and the Hawkeyes went into halftime with a 17-14 lead after each team traded field goals in the final 2:17.
Iowa appeared to take control of the game early in the third quarter after a few big plays from Tevaun Smith. The junior wideout raced 35 yards on a reverse – his only carry of the game – and then capped Iowa’s first drive of the second half with a one-handed 8-yard touchdown catch from Rudock.
“It was man-to-man coverage. I figured I’d give him a chance to make a play and he did – one-handed I believe,” said Rudock.
Johnson’s 70-yard touchdown catch and run followed Smith’s score and gave a little momentum back to UNI. Schmadeke then made it 24-23 with a 38-yard field goal – his third of the day – that came on an 11 play, 59-yard drive.
Iowa’s final scoring drive covered 88 yards over six plays and included a pass interference penalty, a 16-yard catch by senior Kevonte Martin-Manley and a 46-yard grab by redshirt freshman Derrick Willes.
Five of the six plays in the final scoring drive involved Rudock’s arm, and Powell’s 12-yard touchdown catch was ultimately the difference in the game.
“It was just the way the game unfolded” said the junior QB. “They brought some guys down and did a good job of slowing down our running game so we had to throw it.
“The biggest thing is whatever we have to do to win is what I want. I don’t care if we run it 75 times out of 76 plays in the game, as long as we win I am all for it.”
The Panthers gave it their best shot against an Iowa team that many pundits feel will contend for the Big Ten Conference’s West Division this year.
But Iowa’s defense responded with several big plays in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes recorded three of their five sacks in the final frame and sophomore Greg Mabin sealed the win with an interception in the final minute.
“The guys amped it up in the fourth quarter after struggling, and it wasn’t much fun there for a while,” said Ferentz. “They were moving it pretty good. (I was) pleased to see the defense anchoring there a little bit, and we made good adjustments on the sideline and the coaches were communicating and talking.”
Johnson now has 994 all-purpose yards against five FBS opponents in his career. The last time UNI had a player total 200 or more receiving yards was in 2003 when Eddie Galles had 251 against Southern Illinois.
Kollmorgen finished 17-for-37 for 380 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Johnson rushed for just 34 yards on the ground, while senior Brett LeMaster and Vareen each had 66 receiving yards.
“We kept the rushing yards down and that is something we take pride in,” said Iowa senior defensive tackle Carl Davis. “Now we need to take the next step and keep the overall yardage down.
“We have a lot of stuff to clean up. We gave up way too many yards in total. We have to go back to the drawing board, learn from our mistakes and get better for next week.”
Next week, Iowa (1-0) returns to Kinnick Stadium to face Ball State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Northern Iowa (0-1) is off next weekend but travels to Hawaii on Sept. 13.
Rudock completed 31 passes to 13 different receivers. Martin-Manley led the way with eight catches for 62 yards, while junior Jake Duzey had a career-high seven for 34 yards. … Iowa has now won 16 straight games against Northern Iowa. The Panthers’ lone win in the series came during the very first meeting in 1898. … The Iowa defense allowed just 25 yards rushing. It is the fewest rushing yards allowed by an Iowa defense since holding Minnesota to seven yards in 2008.