IOWA CITY — Kinnick Stadium cleared out quickly. By the time the Iowa marching band finished the patented victory polka, “In Heaven there is no Beer,” there were echoes.
It was hot. This was an FCS opponent that finished 3-8 last season and lost its home opener. Iowa was a 24-point favorite coming off a loss. It really was pretty hot.
You can run wild with what Iowa (1-1) wasn’t in Saturday’s 28-14 victory over Missouri State. A pick six brought the Bears (0-2) within 21-14 one play into the fourth quarter. The scoreboard said it was crunch time, but it wasn’t.
The Hawkeyes were a bear swinging at a wasp. They brushed it away, but they couldn’t crush it. There were absolutely no style points, but it was the end of an aggravating seven-game losing streak. It was empty calories, but it was a meal.
“There were some things today that didn’t necessarily reflect improvement,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Those are the things we have to do a better job on.”
The scoreboard said it was crunch time. After linebacker Rique Bentley picked off Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock and returned it 28 yards to the end zone, Iowa led 21-14 with 14:15 left in the game. It felt like crunch time, but it wasn’t. It just wasn’t.
Iowa’s calling card on offense continues to be a physical offensive line and burly running back Mark Weisman. That played out all day, with Weisman rushing a career-high 30 times for 180 yards and two TDs. The Hawkeyes rushed for 296 yards, the most since going for 301 against Illinois in 2005.
It really was pretty hot on the Kinnick FieldTurf. It didn’t seem to matter to Weisman, whose 29-yard run in the final minute, his second longest Saturday, put Iowa in kneel-down mode to run out the clock.
“He squats just a little bit less than me, and that’s impressive,” said Brandon Scherff, a 315-pound offensive tackle whose weightroom fireworks occasionally end up on YouTube. “I love competing with him in everything. He pushes me, I push him.”
Iowa averaged 5.1 yards on 58 carries. The 489 yards total offense was Iowa’s most since 562 against Ball State in 2010. In the end, Weisman was a bear on the loose in a children’s zoo.
“I’m a big believer in strength and conditioning, I go back to that,” said Weisman, who’s gone for 100 yards in both games this season. “You don’t really notice [the carries piling up] when we’re rolling backs in and out. You don’t notice it. When you’re out there, you’re working as hard as you can.”
Rudock wanted the interception back right when he threw it. Bentley showed a blitz and then dropped back, baiting the throw.
“We had to throw the ball there, because we had no one to block him [Bentley],” said Rudock, who completed 19 of 28 for 193 yards. “We’ll see on film, but he made a pretty good play. It sucks that he scored, though.’
After Bentley’s pick six, Iowa went on methodical 10-play, 65-yard TD drive. Weisman rushed five times for 24 yards. Rudock capped it with a 2-yard TD run, his second Saturday and third this season. That gave Iowa a 28-14 lead with 9:57 left.
That’s vintage Big Ten football, Iowa football,” MSU coach Terry Allen said. “We hung in there and made some plays and forced them in to throw the football. Give a lot of credit to the quarterback in the first half because we were going to try to make him beat us, and he did as much with his legs as with his arm, pulling down, scrambling around with the touchdown.”
OK, Iowa wasn’t a lot of things, namely disciplined. The 11 penalties (for 100 yards) were the most for an Iowa team since 2007, when Iowa had 10 for 117 yards. That gummed things up.
Iowa had a fourth-and-1 at MSU’s 2 on the first drive of the second half and fell a half-yard short of converting. That one kind of stung. Iowa did, however, force a three-and-out and scored on the next drive, Weisman from 10 yards, to make it 14-0, improving on a 7-0 halftime lead that certainly was noticed around the Big Ten.
“Moving the ball is one thing, but you’ve got to finish drives,” Ferentz said. “And then defensively, just playing every series like it’s your last.”
The Hawkeyes limited MSU to 197 yards, the first time Iowa has held an opponent to less than 200 yards offense since holding Eastern Illinois, also an FCS school, to 157 in 2010. Iowa allowed one play of more than 20 yards. Wide receiver Julian Burton beat true freshman cornerback Desmond King in man-to-man coverage for a 27-yard TD with 14:25 left in the fourth quarter.
Bentley’s pick six came on the next play, so that sort of compounded things, but this was an exercise as much as it was a competition. Iowa was going to get through this.
The Hawkeyes always were going to come out of this with questions, no matter the margin. And it’s not just you with the questions.
“Roughing up an FCS team, I don’t know if you’re necessarily a physical team at that point,” linebacker James Morris said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”