IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa football players finally had a chance on Saturday to back up what they had been saying throughout the spring and summer about feeling a new positive vibe.
And they did so in convincing fashion.
Iowa used a balanced offense and a suffocating defense to pound FCS power Illinois State 31-14 before an announced crowd of 59,450 in the season opener at Kinnick Stadium.
Junior quarterback C.J. Beathard ran for two touchdowns and passed for another, junior running back LeShun Daniels rambled for a career-high 123 rushing yards on 26 carries in his first career start and senior running back Jordan Canzeri had a career-high 90 receiving yards to lead the Hawkeyes.
"When we’re able to run the ball well that sets up the play-action pass game," said Daniels. "I thought everyone did a good job. The offensive line did an excellent job of blocking and protecting."
Beathard, who was making just his second career start and his first start at Kinnick Stadium, completed 15-of-24 passes for 211 yards and no interceptions.
Iowa improved to 14-3 in season openers under head coach Kirk Ferentz and will face Iowa State next Saturday in Ames.
Saturday’s performance was a drastic improvement from the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl when the Hawkeyes offered little resistance during a 45-28 beat-down against Tennessee.
The vibe and sense of urgency that the players had talked about having throughout the spring and summer was evident on Saturday.
Iowa dominated the first half in virtually every statistical category and led 17-0 at halftime. The Hawkeyes had 268 yards in the first two quarters, while holding the Redbirds to just 36 yards.
Iowa took the opening kick and drove 81 yards on 13 plays for the game’s first touchdown. Beathard capped the drive by scoring from six yards on a quarterback draw.
"We kind of wanted to make a statement on that first drive," Beathard said. "That was big for us. We wanted to go out there and prove that we were the better team on the field."
The Hawkeyes expanded the lead to 14-0 when Canzeri scored on a 5-yard run with 12 minutes, 35 seconds left in the second quarter. Canzeri gained 21 yards on a shovel pass from Beathard on the fifth play of the drive, which started at Iowa 1-yard line.
It was Iowa’s first 99-yard scoring drive since 2002 against Miami (Ohio).
Senior kicker Marshall Koehn completed Iowa’s scoring in the first half by making a 40-yard field on the final play of the second quarter.
Beathard connected with junior receiver Matt VandeBerg for a 9-yard scoring strike with 1:22 left in the third quarter. Koehn converted the extra-point kick, expanding the lead to 24-0.
Beathard also scored Iowa’s final touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 7:54 left in the fourth quarter.
Illinois State avoided the shutout by scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter when the outcome was all but decided.
Illinois State quarterback Tre Roberson was slowed by cramps and by a relentless Iowa pass rush that was led by all-Big Ten senior defensive end Drew Ott. Roberson only completed 5-of-12 passes for 49 yards and was sacked five times.
The Redbirds were held to just 35 rushing yards and 231 total yards. Star running back Marshaun Coprich was held to just 32 rushing yards on 13 carries. Coprich rushed for over 2,000 yards last season.