IOWA CITY — Offensive coordinator Greg Davis told the offensive line that it was going to be an offensive line kind of game.
And so, Iowa’s 28-14 victory over Missouri State, was an O-line game to the bone.
The Hawkeyes (1-1) rushed 58 times for 296 yards. The yards were the most since 301 in a 35-7 victory at Illinois in 2005. The attempts were the most since Iowa rushed 60 times in a 39-7 season-opening victory over Kent State in 2004.
Running back Mark Weisman and Iowa’s offensive line is the Hawkeyes’ default mode. It’s what works most consistently. It’s the easiest to operate and there was no way the Missouri State Bears were going to be able to handle it last week.
After the opening loss to Northern Illinois — when the Hawkeyes went 1-for-7 on third down conversions in the second half and lost on a last-second field goal — Weisman said, “We can’t go three-and-out and we can’t get a quick first down and then go three-and-out. We have to be more physical, too.”
After piling up 180 yards and averaging 6.0 yards on 30 carries, Weisman believed the Hawkeyes crossed off the “physical” against MSU.
“That’s what Iowa football is, it’s about physical play,” said Weisman, whose 6.0-yard average on 30 carries is the best performance for an Iowa back since Marcus Coker averaged 7.88 yards on 32 carries against Minnesota in 2011. “We need to get back to that and be more consistent with it. We improved on that in the second half and it’s a big building block.”
It is a big building block, but it’s just one block.
After two weeks, Iowa is No. 41 in the nation in rush offense with 202.0 yards a game. The Hawkeyes know the production has come against Northern Illinois, the best program in the Mid-American Conference, and Missouri State, an FCS school that was picked eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll. They know this stat comes with measures and from here on out, starting Saturday night against Iowa State (0-1) at Jack Trice Stadium, it won’t come as easily.
They also know the passing game is going to have to add to the offense on a much more consistent basis.
Against MSU, the Hawkeyes had four drops and a pick six. Add five drive-killing penalties (three false starts and two holdings), a missed 33-yard field goal attempt and a failed fourth-and-1 inside MSU’s 5, you take points off the board and you have an unsatisfying score against an FCS school.
This is a minor symptom and the Hawkeyes did score the TD, but quarterback Jake Rudock had a chance to flip a 2-yard TD to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz in the fourth quarter. Instead, the sophomore kept the ball and scored his second rushing TD of the afternoon.
He made it clear he didn’t keep the ball because of previous drops.
“It was more of ‘Hey, I can run it and not worry about it or toss it in and, hey, crazy stuff happens,’” said Rudock, who completed 19 of 28 for 193 yards and the pick six. “When I came around the corner, it was the play and it was the right play to make.”
There was some progress. On a 47-yard completion to redshirt freshman tight end George Kittle, junior wide receiver Damond Powell ran a deep route and took two defenders with him, clearing out the underneath for an easy completion. After just two receptions last week, Iowa tight ends had seven for 102 yards. True freshman Matt VandeBerg dropped his redshirt and caught two passes for 17 yards. A couple of the drops Iowa had were tightly contested.
Iowa had just two completions of 16-plus yards, but Davis told offensive tackle Brandon Scherff it was going to be an O-line game and that’s all the Hawkeyes were interested in checking off the list against Missouri State.
“We converted a couple of key third downs and that was huge,” wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said of the passing game. “Our tight ends were able to make a couple of big plays. We need to keep pushing as a receiving corps.”
When asked about the identity of the Iowa offense, Weisman and Rudock said that will be a variable from game to game. That remains to be seen, but last week the Hawkeyes took the gimme.
“It really does depends each week how we’re going to attack the defense,” said Rudock, who has completed 61.5 percent of his passes with a 115.4 efficiency. “Sometimes, we’ll want to run the ball a little bit more, but, shoot, Mark Weisman is running the ball really well and the offensive line is fitting its pads, so hey, you’ve got to run it.
“For the development of the game, you have to start to decipher what you want to do later.”
Iowa-Missouri State box score
Iowa season stats
Iowa notes from Missouri State