IOWA CITY — Northern Iowa pretty much walked down the field for a touchdown on the game’s opening possession. Eight plays, 83 yards and seven points put Iowa’s offense in position to hold serve.
After last week’s ka-chunk, ka-chunk sputter against Iowa State, it was Saturday’s first tense moment at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes’ answer took 10 plays, nine of which were runs. The message was clear. The Hawkeyes wanted to muscle their way past the Panthers, and they did, with fullback Mark Weisman scoring three TDs as the No. 3 running back in their 27-16 victory.
“It’s fun, we like running the ball,’ guard Matt Tobin said. “We had to check [switch out of] a lot of plays the first drive, so that’s why we ran a lot, but we liked it anyway. We like to set the tempo.”
As far as tempo setters go, Iowa’s first drive was a strong statement. Sophomore running back Damon Bullock rushed eight times for 53 yards to fuel the drive. Weisman closed it out with a 1-yard plunge.
“That’s something that we talked about all week,” freshman guard Austin Blythe said. “We knew they were a good defensive unit. We wanted to be physical.”
Iowa ran the ball effectively inside UNI’s 20-yard line, something that eluded it in a painful manner against Iowa State. It was a two-tight end set with fullback Brad Rogers leading the way that paved the way to three TDs in the red zone, the Hawkeyes’ first of the season.
“I expected them to rush the ball against us to try to establish their running game for the rest of the season,” UNI coach Mark Farley said. “So, against us, if I were the coach, I would’ve done the same thing. Try to get confidence in my run game.”
This also was one of those cumulative things. The run was part of everything Iowa did against the Panthers. When you average 4.7 yards on 43 carries, the play-action pass is convenience-store open, as in 24-7.
“We wanted to get the inside zone going and feed off that play,” Tobin said. “If we needed to fall back off that, we could. It also set up the play-action. The linebackers were coming down hard after that.”
Off the play-action, quarterback James Vandenberg zipped a 26-yard completion to wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. This ended up with a Mike Meyer 24-yard field goal and gave Iowa a 17-13 lead in the second quarter.
On the first drive of the second half, Iowa went with back-to-back play-action passes. The fake sucked in the linebackers and the middle of the field was open for a 14-yard completion to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and a 51-yarder to Martin-Manley, Iowa’s longest play from scrimmage this season.
This drive was four plays, 70 yards and capped by another Weisman 2-yard TD run, and gave Iowa a 24-13 lead.
The O-line also made it possible for Weisman, a fullback who entered Saturday with four carries for 8 yards in his career, to have a career day.
“Unbelievable,” Weisman said about the O-line. “They were opening up holes and making my job easy, Brad Rogers, too. I was just running around out there having fun and they were doing the work.”