Iowa football: Why a win over Northern Illinois really makes a statement
It’s just the Mid-American Conference, you say. It’s just Northern Illinois, you say. It doesn’t me much, you say.
Well, you say wrong.
Iowa’s 33-7 win over Northern Illinois to start the season in Iowa City was huge in many ways. Yes, huge. The obvious huge point was Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz winning his 144th game as a head coach, passing his mentor, the legend Hayden Fry.
But that’s more a credit to 19-plus years of players who helped Ferentz get there. This win is for the now, and it’s a big one. To be 1-0 is a big thing, because 0-1 was indeed an option and the Hawkeyes made sure that didn’t happen.
And they did it the Iowa way. It’s family first, and you pick up your brother when he’s down. That’s what the Iowa defense did, nearly pitching a shutout against a decent NIU offense. The Huskies’ one score came against the Iowa backups with just 2:12 left and the outcome no longer in doubt.
Iowa’s offense was a concern in the opener. Someone — yeah, me, and I plead guilty — even put the Hawkeyes on upset alert heading into the game. And with good reason. Iowa’s two starting tackles, Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson, were suspended for the game for violating team rules. The two guys who filled in, Dalton Peterson and Levi Paulsen, played well, as did Mark Kallenberger, who filled in well off the bench.
Northern Illinois has a great defensive line, one ranked in the top-10 in the country by one national service, and Sutton Smith, their star, had 14 sacks a year and 30 tackles for loss.
His pre-game trash-talking was good — “We’re coming there to punch them in the `face,” he said — but he had just one sack and only four tackles and wasn’t much of a disruption. The perceived notion was that Smith might have Stanley running for his life, and that’s never good. Just ask Michigan, which couldn’t protect Shea Patterson and that got them beat Saturday night at Notre Dame.
The backup linemen were ready and the Iowa defense made sure it was never going to be an issue anyway.
“I don’t want to say it’s a motivator or anything, because we’re Iowa — we’re a lot like our head coach (Kirk Ferentz): we’re respectful; we’re humble,” said Paulsen, who took the high road with a smile on his face after the game. You know he and his guys felt good about stepping in and getting the job done.
They did get help, sometimes from a tight end, sometimes from a running back, and it worked. Iowa struggled with just three points in the first half, but scored 30 in the second half to run away with it. Stanley was rarely touched.
The defense was there all night to make sure nothing went wrong. They did
“Sometimes our job is to put the fire out,” defensive end Parker Hesse said. “We knew the offense was going to heat up.”
And with that, the Hawkeyes are 1-0 and trending upward. That’s always a good thing