Ball State came ready to play and delivered the first, second and third punch to the Iowa football team on Saturday.
But the Hawkeyes refused to be knocked down and finally punched back with 6 minutes to go in the game against the Cardinals at Kinnick Stadium.
The Iowa running game continued to struggle, but junior quarterback Jake Rudock threw for 322 yards and guided the Hawkeyes to a come-from-behind win after throwing two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes as Iowa survived a tough test from Ball State, winning 17-14.
“I’m just really pleased that our guys hung in there,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
“They fought, and like last week, they responded in some difficult circumstances and got it done in the fourth quarter.”
Rudock attempted 52 passes and the 55 passes thrown in the game by Iowa matched one other Ferentz coached team.
The Hawkeyes outgained the Cardinals 455-219 and had a 27-13 advantage in first downs, but Iowa kickers missed three field goals and two Hawkeye fumbles led directly to 10 Ball State points.
That will keep any team in games, even if it’s a team from the MAC which your expected to beat comfortably.
The visitors led 7-3 at halftime and 13-3 after three quarters. But a 14-point final frame for Iowa kept it undefeated.
Iowa began its first touchdown-scoring drive with 5:50 to go in the game and the Hawkeyes went 69 yards in 10 plays. Rudock found redshirt freshman Derrick Willies for a 12-yard TD to make it 13-10. Rudock completed passes to 11 different receivers and that TD catch by Willies was the first of his young career.
The Iowa defense, which held Ball State to 219 yards in 66 plays, forced a three-and-out in 29 seconds. The Cardinals elected to pass on third and 10 and an incompletion stopped the clock at 2:23.
Starting the Iowa 41, Rudock went back to work. He found Tevaun Smith for 16 yards on the first play and then got a 9-yard completion to Damon Bullock. Bullock’s 10-yard run gave Iowa a first down.
Rudock moved Iowa closer to the game-winning score when he found Jake Duzey for a 6-yard pass completion. He then scrambled 6 more yards before finding Duzey again for the 12-yard touchdown.
“Both those possessions, we had to take it and get at least a touchdown and obviously preferably get another touchdown,” said Ferentz. “The guys just rallied.
Certainly the protection was good. It starts up front. Jake did a good job of engineering things. He managed everything very, very well. Good communication, and the receivers did a good job of working to get open and playing smart, and that includes our backs, too.”
Ozzie Mann completed his first pass for 8 yards on Ball State’s final drive, but Iowa got the ball back on the next play when Drew Ott sacked and forced a fumble against Mann.
The Hawkeyes rarely win pretty. And they still have plenty of things to shore up. But it’s much easy doing that at 2-0 than it is at 1-1 or 0-2.
Ball State is much better than anyone will give it credit for. The Cardinals won 10 games last and are predicted to be a bowl team in 2014.
They look and play much different than the two previous teams that came into Kinnick that failed to score a single point.
The name of the game is winning and right now Iowa is 2-0 even though the word pretty won’t be used to describe either game.
Rudock or Beathard?
Rudock’s decision to hit the check-down receivers can be frustrating, but so far, playing it safe has helped Iowa remain unbeaten.
Everyone is infatuated with the backup, but the fact of the matter is Rudock has more than 500 yards passing, four touchdowns and no interceptions in two wins this season.
He also was 9-of-11 for 81 yards and had 35 rushing yards on the two touchdown-scoring drives.
C.J. Beathard appeared in one drive in the first quarter and his deep touchdown pass to Damond Powell was taken off the board after video review showed Powell bobbling the ball as he fell out of bounds.
Beathard may be good enough to play. And I wouldn’t oppose it. But Iowa fans don’t need any more of a reason to clamor for a QB controversy. They don’t need ammunition.
Rudock needs to improve his deep ball, but when the game has been on the line the past two weeks, he has delivered in the clutch.
And he doesn’t turn it over.
Four RBs is two too many
I am not a big fan of the four-back system at this point.
No one knows if the backs aren’t finding a rhythm because they get taken out too early, but Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels Jr. appear to be the best options at this point.
Mark Weisman can move back to fullback to get back on the field, but Canzeri provides the Hawkeyes with the best home run threat and hits the holes quicker than the other three.
Moving forward, it doesn’t matter to me who plays as long the team gets 175-plus rushing yards per game.
If Iowa does that, it is pretty tough to beat.
Tough, physical defense
Don’t blame Iowa’s defense for the narrow win on Saturday. That unit allowed only three points and helped the Hawkeyes overcome three missed field goals and two fumbles.
Drew Ott was a man among boys in the trenches as he collected 13 tackles and a sack to lead the defense. Jordan Lomax had nine tackles and Louis Trinca-Passat and Car Davis each had eight.
As much as we were worried about the new linebackers, the only issue they appeared to have in the opener was with pass catchers out of the backfield and they looked much better Saturday.
Kicking game needs plenty of work
Not sure where Ferentz or special teams coach Chris White goes with the kicking game. Marshall Koehn missed two inside of 40 and then Mick Ellis missed his only attempt.
If Iowa makes at least two of those, the game is much different in that Iowa likely doesn’t trail.
“Obviously, it wasn’t a good day for either placekicker,” said Ferentz. “Marshall’s doing a great job on kickoffs. I was more despondent back in April because we had 15 days of practice and there wasn’t much to be encouraged about. I thought in August we practiced well at that position, and it hasn’t showed up yet.
“But there’s nothing we can do other than just keep working at it. My point is I’ve seen those guys do good things in practice. I think they’re quality guys. So we’ve just got to stay with them.”
Brandon Scherff goes down but returns
Every Iowa fan inside Kinnick Stadium and watching around the country felt worrisome in the first half when All-American left tackle Brandon Scherff went down with an injury trying to make a play on Ball State’s lone touchdown.
He left the game, then went back to the locker room only to return to the field before halftime.
He entered the sidelines to an ovation and then another ovation occurred when he returned to the game.
“It was a great effort play on his part. He was just trying to help us out after a turnover. When he stayed down, that’s not a good feeling obviously,” said Ferentz. “The good news is his knee was stable when they examined it. He’s a really tough minded guy. For him to come back and do what he did is a positive.”
Iowa-Iowa State game officially sold out
The University of Iowa athletics department confirmed in an email Saturday that the Cy-Hawk football game is a sell out.
The Hawkeyes has opened up as a 16-point favorite in the game. That in and of itself should make Iowa fans nervous.
Iowa State (0-2) and Iowa (2-0) will meet for the 62nd time, with Iowa holding a 40-21 series advantage. Iowa won by a 27-21 margin last season in Ames to reclaim possession of the Cy-Hawk Trophy.