IOWA CITY — Iowa tried the out route to the left three times Saturday.
Here are the notes from each attempt: Scary pass, overthrow, interception 15. This is perhaps the toughest pass for a quarterback. This was Jake Rudock’s first start as Iowa’s quarterback. It’s going to be a journey of discovery.
What Iowa found out before 67,402 fans at Kinnick Stadium was maybe don’t try that.
“That’s probably one we’d like to have back,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s football. It was a good play on their part, bad play on ours.”
NIU safety Jimmie Ward stepped in front of the pass intended for wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and, with a good-sized wrap-club for a left hand due to injury, picked off Rudock to give NIU first down at Iowa’s 30 with 1:17 left in a 27-27 game.
NIU coach Rod Carey said the Huskies smelled a rat. The Iowa fans who remained in Kinnick while the red-clad Huskies fans lined the bottom of the east stands to high-five coaches and players would say it smelled like something else.
“When you can kind of smell a rat, you can play into that,” Carey said. “We don’t call it taking chances; we call it smelling a rat. You see what it is. Jimmie did that on that on the last play. We had seen that run a couple of times.”
From there, it was formality.
Two rushing plays for 11 yards set up senior Mathew Sims’ 36-yard field goal to push Northern Illinois (1-0) past Iowa (0-1), 30-27, with four seconds left in the game.
Iowa did the lateral thing, but lost its seventh straight game dating back to Oct. 20 last season. It’s Iowa’s longest losing streak since it lost 13 games between the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
The message was pretty much the only thing it could be: The season doesn’t stop after one game.
“That’s been our message for a long time,” Ferentz said. “We made some mistakes that were tough to overcome. We’re going to have to do better than that.”
That message, the players swallowed hard and repeated it.
“When you win, people are going to pat you on the back and tell you you’re the greatest,” said Martin-Manley, who caught nine passes for 79 yards. “When you lose, people are going to tell you you suck. You have to ignore it.”
Sure, the interception opened the door for Northern Illinois, the king of the Mid-American Conference the last three seasons, but the Huskies knocked and knocked and knocked.
Quarterback Jordan Lynch completed 25 of 41 for 275 yards and three TDs. The senior, who finished seventh in Heisman voting last season during NIU’s 12-2 run, threw TD passes of 40, 21 and 33. On a day when temperatures reached 85 degrees with high humidity, he was indefatigable, driving the Huskies to 438 yards of offense.
“All kudos to him, he does it the right way, he’s certainly someone you’d want on your team, all that good stuff,” linebacker James Morris said.
Fueled by linebacker Christian Kirksey’s 48-yard fumble return for a TD, Iowa took a 24-17 halftime lead. The second half was a disaster for the offense.
On a third-and-1, Iowa tried to execute a quick snap and was called for a false start. Iowa had a third-and-1 at its own 40 with the clock running down in the third quarter and tried a bomb that Rudock and wide receiver Damond Powell failed to hook up on. The Huskies perfectly executed a fake punt, against Iowa’s “punt safe” defense, in the third with punter Tyler Wedel taking a pitch from the upback 42 yards to Iowa’s 9.
Rudock’s first pick came after guard Jordan Walsh was shoved into his arm by defensive tackle Ken Bishop. It was first down Iowa at NIU’s 45. Rudock’s second pick was a smelled-out rat and sealed the Hawkeyes’ fate.
“I threw it a little bit behind him, [Martin-Manley] and the guy made a good play,” said Rudock, who completed 21 of 37 for 256 yards, a TD and two picks and rushed 6 yards for a score. “It was man-to-man, I thought I had the out, but he jumped it really well and, unfortunately, he caught it.”
Iowa had 302 yards of offense in the first half and just 156 in the second. Iowa’s three turnovers helped the Huskies to three field goals. Junior running back Mark Weisman had 100 yards on 20 carries, but he also had a fumble.
Three turnovers were too much for Iowa to overcome against the best team in the MAC at Kinnick Stadium in the home opener for a new quarterback.
They said the season doesn’t stop after one game. You might smell a rat.