By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Nate Stanley passing extravaganza took a weekend off due partly to the weather, but the Iowa defense showed up again in full force on Saturday against Maryland.
Iowa held the explosive Terrapins to just 115 yards on 39 plays, while the Iowa offense did most of its damage on the ground during a 23-0 victory before a sellout crowd on homecoming at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa improved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten and became bowl eligible for the 17th time in the last 18 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz.
It was also Iowa’s first shutout since a 28-0 victory over Illinois in 2016.
Stanley was held to a season-low 86 passing yards and one touchdown on Saturday after having thrown a career-high six touchdown passes the week before at Indiana. Stanley also had surpassed 300 passing yards in three of the previous four games.
The windy conditions on Saturday made passing extremely difficult, so Iowa relied mostly on its rushing attack and on its rock-solid defense to control the momentum.
The 19th-ranked Hawkeyes rushed for 224 yards on 52 attempts, while Maryland’s high-powered running game was held to just 68 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
Maryland didn’t have 100 total yards until its final drive of the game, which ended with Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa recording a sack.
The Iowa defense also did what the Maryland offense couldn't do by scoring a touchdown when Anthony Nelson recovered a fumble in the Maryland end zone with 3 minutes, 31 seconds left to play.
Iowa’s defense is starting to resemble the 2004 Hawkeye defense that was dominant throughout the 10-2 season.
The defensive line was a strength in 2004 behind Matt Roth and Jonathan Babineaux, and the circumstances are similar now with Parker Hesse, Anthony Nelson and Epenesa terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.
Iowa only had two sacks on Saturday, but it seemed like more just due to the constant pressure in the pocket.
Sophomore Ivory Kelly-Martin returned from an injury to lead Iowa with 98 rushing yards on 24 carries. Junior Mekhi Sargent complemented him with 54 rushing yards on 10 attempts.
Stanley’s first pass of the game was intercepted in Maryland territory on Iowa’s opening possession. Stanley appeared to be throwing to tight end T.J. Hockenson over the middle, but the ball sailed high.
Stanley’s best play in the first half actually came on a quarterback draw in which he gained 13 yards on 3rd-and-9 to the Maryland 22.
Iowa then scored the game’s first touchdown five plays later when Stanley connected with sophomore receiver Brandon Smith for a 10-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left in the second quarter.
It was Smith’s first career touchdown catch and it came on a play in which the Maryland defender was draped all over him and called for pass interference.
Stanley only completed 7-of-15 passes in the first half for 68 yards, but the Iowa running game helped to pick up the slack with 137 rushing on 29 carries.
Iowa dominated time of possession the first half, holding the ball for 22:49 compared to just 7:11 for Maryland.
Iowa’s first scoring drive of the game covered 72 yards on 17 plays and ended with Miguel Recinos making a 23-yard field goal with 3 seconds left in the first quarter.
The drive chewed 9:04 off the clock and it came without a pass being completed to a tight end.
Recinos also made a 25-yard field goal to give Iowa a 6-0 lead with 9:04 left in the second quarter.
The fact that Iowa had to settle for field goals after twice advancing to the red zone was disappointing, but the wind was likely a factor in the play calling.
The important thing is that Iowa led 13-0 at halftime and held Maryland to just 46 yards in the first half on 16 plays.
Iowa returns to the road next Saturday against Penn State.