The Iowa football team’s next-man-in battle cry was put to a severe test on Saturday against Northwestern.
The 17th-ranked Hawkeyes aced the test thanks largely to a rock-solid defense, a dominant offensive line and to the performance of third-team running back Akrum Wadley, who rushed for a career-high 204 yards and tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns during the 40-10 drubbing at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.
Wadley became the featured running back after senior starter Jordan Canzeri was helped off the field with an injury to his lower left leg with 3 minutes, 18 seconds left in the first quarter. Canzeri returned to the Iowa sideline wearing a protective boot on his injured leg.
The victory improved Iowa’s record to 7-0 overall for the first time since 2009 and to 3-0 in the Big Ten West Division. It also came on a day in which approximately 80 members of Northwestern’s 1995 Big Ten champion team were in attendance at Ryan Field, along with their head coach Gary Barnett.
The current Northwestern team also wore throwback uniforms on Saturday to honor the 1995 team.
But it had little effect as Iowa dominated the 20th-ranked Wildcats (5-2) on both sides of the line of scrimmage pretty much from start to finish. The victory was Iowa’s fourth in its last five games against Northwestern. The Hawkeyes have outscored Northwestern 88-17 in the last two games after prevailing 48-7 at Kinnick Stadium last season.
Iowa rushed for 289 yards and scored five rushing touchdowns on Saturday, while Northwestern was held to just 51 rushing yards on 26 carries.
“It’s a real testament to our kids,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said during the post-game television interview. “It was a tough week practice-wise. We didn’t do a heck of a lot. We couldn’t.
“But a bunch of guys stepped up. They’ve been doing it all season lone. I don’t know how good we are. But we do play hard.”
Junior C.J Beathard became the first Iowa quarterback to win his first eight starts of his career. The Franklin, Tenn., native moved past Matt Sherman, who won his first seven starts during a stretch from 1994 to 1995.
Beathard completed 15-of-25 passes for 176 yards and one interceptions before being replaced by redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers with more than half of the fourth quarter remaining. Beathard now has two weeks to recover from some nagging injuries as Iowa enters a bye week.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Ferentz said of Beathard. “We weren’t sure he’d be able to play today, and then how effective, that’s the next question?
“He’s just a real tough, hard-minded guy.”
Fourth-team running back Derrick Mitchell Jr., also made his first significant contribution with 78 rushing yards on 10 carries. He scored his first touchdown as a Hawkeye on a 13-yard run to give Iowa a 40-10 lead with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter.
However, Mitchell also limped off the field late in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a right leg injury.
After forcing Northwestern to punt on its first possession of the second half, Iowa drove 80 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown, mostly behind the running of Wadley. The sophomore from Newark, N.J., capped the drive by scoring his third touchdown of the game on a 2-yard touchdown run with 6:42 left in the third quarter. Wadley also ignited the drive by breaking loose for a 24-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.
Northwestern then fumbled on its first play from scrimmage on its next possession. Iowa defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson recovered the fumble at the Northwestern 21-yard line.
Wadley then gained seven yards on first down and Beathard completed a 7-yard pass to Matt VandeBerg on second down, giving Iowa a first down at the Northwestern 4.
Wadley scored his fourth touchdown of the game on the next play, a 4-yard run in which he was virtually untouched. Marshall Koehn converted the point-after kick, expanding Iowa’s lead to 30-10.
The Hawkeyes received a boost with the unexpected return of senior receiver Tevaun Smith, who had missed the previous three games because of a knee injury.
But the list of wounded players for Saturday’s game still was long and sobering, made significantly worse by Canzeri going down late in the first quarter.
In addition to losing Canzeri, Iowa also played without both of its starting offensive tackles, Boone Myers and Ike Boettger, without all-Big Ten defensive end Drew Ott and without junior running back LeShun Daniels and senior tight end Jake Duzey.
Wadley expanded Iowa’s lead to 9-0 by scoring on a 35-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. He took a handoff from Beathard, cut to his left at the line of scrimmage and then broke free down the sideline for his first touchdown this season.
However, Koehn missed badly on the point-after kick, his third miss of the season, keeping the score at 9-0.
Northwestern only had 28 yards in the first quarter and its offense continued to sputter in the second quarter. Thorson threw 11 incomplete passes in a row during one stretch. The Wildcats only had 29 yards on their first five drives.
Wadley scored his second touchdown on a 4-yard run with 10:15 left in the second quarter. He also gained 18 yards on the previous play before his touchdown run. Koehn converted the point-after kick this time, making the score 16-0.
Wadley has combined to rush for 310 yards in two games against Northwestern. He also rushed for 106 yards in the 48-6 victory over Northwestern last season. He entered Saturday’s game with just 35 rushing yards on eight carries this season, but then equaled that amount on his first touchdown run.
Northwestern finally showed a pulse on offense midway through the second quarter. The Wildcats drove 76 yards on 12 plays for their first touchdown, which came on a 4-yard pass from Thorson to senior receiver Christian Jones with 6:18 left before halftime.
Junior receiver Mike McHugh helped set up the touchdown by catching a 34-yard pass from Thorson, giving the Wildcats a first down deep in Iowa territory.
The momentum continued to shift when Beathard threw an interception on the first play of Iowa’s next possession. Senior safety Traveon Henry returned the interception to the Iowa 25-yard line. A facemask penalty on Iowa moved the ball deeper into Hawkeye territory, but the Iowa defense stiffened, holding Northwestern to a 20-yard field goal by Jack Mitchell with 2:40 left before halftime.
Northwestern only gained 22 yards on eight plays during the scoring drive.
Iowa drove deep into Northwestern territory on its final possession of the first half. But it resulted in no points as Koehn missed a 34-yard field goal as time expired. Combine that with his missed point-after kick and that was four points that Iowa left off the scoreboard, leading 16-10 at halftime.
It didn’t matter, though, as Iowa outscored the Wildcats 24-0 in the second half. Northwestern has lost two games in a row after starting the season with five consecutive victories. Michigan defeated Northwestern 38-0 last Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.