IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa coaches naming C.J. Beathard the starting quarterback in January created a buzz among the fan base. The strong-armed junior from Tennessee would allow the Hawkeyes to open up the offense being the common opinion.
While the Hawkeye faithful spent much of the off-season dreaming of 50-yard touchdown passes, the staff directed players to return to the Iowa way. That meant physical football from everyone.
That vision showed up in full on Saturday when the Hawkeyes pounded Illinois State, 31-14, at Kinnick Stadium in the 2015 opener. Subtle changes and a more aggressive approach at times took a backseat to the philosophy on which Coach Kirk Ferentz has built his program during his 16 years at the controls.
Iowa established the run, which opened up the pass on offense. And by controlling the clock on a hot day (125 degrees one the field), it kept the defense fresh so it could foil a potent Redbirds’ attack. The Hawkeyes rolled up 210 yards on 44 carries.
"The offensive line and the running backs did a great job," Beathard said. "After all the speculation of how this was going to be, we went out and proved it today. We’re going to run the ball. We’re going to do what we do. And it was a great way to start the season."
Iowa physically dominated the Redbirds. It was apparent from field level that the visitors were overpowered and worn down.
The Hawkeyes opened the game with a 13-play, 81-yard drive that chewed up 7 minutes and 31 seconds. Beathard capped it with a 6-yard touchdown run. Following an eight-play, ISU possession that ended in a punt, Iowa took over at its own one.
The home team then marched the ball 99 yards in 12 plays, taking 5:30 off the clock, before Jordan Canzeri’s 5-yard scoring run made it 14-0. With 12:35 remaining in the second quarter, Iowa held a 25-8 advantage in plays run and a 13:01-4:24 bulge in time of possession.
"I felt we didn’t give ourselves a chance in the game," Redbirds Coach Brock Spack said. "They drove down the field methodically on the first possession but there wasn’t any "wow" plays. There wasn’t any big plays. I just didn’t feel like we were overwhelmed.
"I felt like we could hang in there with them. But I felt like it was going to be like that for a long time, if we had a lot of snaps of that, that we would wear down. And that’s what happened. The 99-yard drive kind of set the tone."
Six of Iowa’s first 25 plays went for more than 10 yards. Leshun Daniels 27-yard run on the opening series represented the longest play from scrimmage during the first two drives.
"We want to make sure Iowa football is Iowa football. We want to come downhill, ground-and-pound, make sure you know you’re playing Iowa," said receiver Matt Vandeberg, who caught two 17-yard passes during the 99-yard drive.
The Hawkeyes’ ball-control attack helped hold Illinois State and dynamic quarterback Tre Roberson to just 14 plays through the first 24:31 of the game.
"The offense, defense, we go at it every single day, so it’s not really surprising," Defensive Tackle Jaleel Johnson said of how offense’s efficiency.
GOING DEEP: It was good to see the Iowa coaches so willing to play their reserves Saturday, and not just in mop-up duty. It helped keep players fresh and provide more ownership of the team deeper into the roster.
Back-ups Cole Croston, James Daniels, Riley McCarron, Matt Nelson, Faith Ekakitie, Kyle Terlouw, Parker Hesse and Maurice Fleming all received a fair number of meaningful reps. On top of that, more players saw fourth-quarter action when the game was in hand.
"To get the guys in the game, a lot them in prominent roles, and then get guys in the game in that fourth quarter in front of fans, that’s a good thing, and when it really counts. It’s going to be a great learning experience," Ferentz said.
BEST FOOT FORWARD: A good amount of attention was paid to the battle for the starting punter job. No. 1 kicker Marshall Koehn challenged incumbent, Dillon Kidd, who won out in the end, partly because Ferentz wanted to split up the specialist jobs.
Kidd didn’t make anybody forget Reggie Roby but he also performed well enough to create some confidence in himself, his teammates and the coaches. The senior from Florida averaged 47.0 yards on two punts, both going for touchbacks.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Iowa posted a perfect 5-of-5 day in the red zone on Saturday…The Hawkeyes sit at No. 13 nationally in rushing defense after holding Illinois State to 35 yards on 28 carries…First-time starter Cole Fisher, a senior WIL linebacker, paced Iowa with eight tackles. Defensive end Nate Meier totaled six with defensive backs Greg Mabin and Jordan Lomax each recording five…Drew Ott’s two sacks are tied for second among Big Ten players behind Michigan State’s Riley Bullough, who was credited with three. Maryland’s Quinton Jefferson and Joe Schobert of Wisconsin also picked up a pair…LeShun Daniels 123 rushing yards tied him with Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd for the 29th most in the FBS…Vandeberg’s career-high six receptions put him in a tie for 37th nationally.
LOOKING AHEAD: If case you’ve been out of commission, Iowa renews its rivalry with Iowa State Saturday (3:45 p.m. CT, Fox Sports). You can view the depth charts for the game and the few minor changes for the Hawkeyes HERE.
To the delight of many fans on both sides of the fence, Gus Johnson will provide play by play for the Cy-Hawk content. Yours Truly would not be among that group.
The Hawkeyes opened as a six-point favorite at the Wynn casino in Las Vegas, a number that dropped to 5.5 by Sunday night. They were favored by 10.5 last year when the Cyclones won outright, 20-17, in Iowa City.
Iowa was favored by 1.5 in winning, 27-21, two years ago in Ames. The Cyclones were listed as a 3.5-point underdog in claiming a 9-6 victory at Kinnick Stadium during the ’12 season.