The Register's Chad Leistikow and Mark Emmert look back at what went wrong in Iowa's loss to North Dakota State.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa went with a short running back rotation Saturday, and it was costly.
Its most electric player, Akrum Wadley, was barely used. Third-down back Derrick Mitchell Jr. was injured. True freshman Toks Akinribade didn’t play, either.
Wadley’s limited use was most noticeable, though, in the 11th-ranked Hawkeyes’ 23-21 home loss to North Dakota State. He carried just four times for 20 yards and had one reception for seven yards. He also dropped another potential reception.
The team leader in touchdowns (with four) curiously only had one carry (for no gain) in the second half, with senior LeShun Daniels Jr. (14 carries, 29 yards) getting the majority of the workload.
Wadley had been slowed with a right knee injury, but head coach Kirk Ferentz said afterward of the junior’s status: “He’s fine. He’s fine.”
If Wadley is indeed healthy and able, Iowa can’t afford to give him only five touches. Iowa’s run game was abysmal Saturday — 34 net yards on 25 attempts. Eighteen of those yards came on a Wadley second-quarter run.
Mitchell suffered an unspecified injury during Wednesday’s practice, and Ferentz said the junior should be back next week at Rutgers.
“It looked like the arrow was going up on Thursday (for Mitchell),” Ferentz said, “but he didn't feel good (Friday).”
Highlights from Iowa's 23-21 loss to NDSU:
Top shots from the Iowa vs. North Dakota State game
That’s 11 losses for the Hawkeyes since 2006 as a double-digit favorite.
Iowa was favored by 14.5 points as kickoff approached Saturday; the line was 16.5 earlier this week. The last time the Hawkeyes lost as a double-digit favorite was also at Kinnick Stadium — a 20-17 loss to Iowa State, a 13.5-point underdog in the teams' 2014 Cy-Hawk matchup — and also ended with a final-seconds field goal.
Iowa has lost as a double-digit favorite at least once in nine of the past 11 seasons (the exceptions being 2013 and 2015).
“We told them all week long that we belong,” North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman said. “We belong in the game; we belong in the spotlight.”
The FCS No. 1 Bison have won six in a row against FBS competition — all on the road — since 2010.
Kirk Ferentz on Iowa's loss to NDSU: This one will hurt
The Iowa coach assesses the Hawkeyes' 23-21 loss to North Dakota State.
Stanley steps in
In a 14-14 game in the third quarter, C.J. Beathard scrambled for a 4-yard gain on third-and-3 — but he paid for it.
Iowa’s fifth-year senior quarterback had to leave the game with what appeared to be a left shoulder injury.
“Left shoulder, felt like a collarbone, something,” Beathard said. “I got back in and was able to play.”
But not before the Hawkeyes took five snaps with true freshman Nathan Stanley at the helm. Credit to Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis — the first play he called with Stanley at quarterback was a play-action pass. And the 19-year-old rookie deftly tossed a 37-yard completion to George Kittle.
Stanley looked like he belonged out there. He finished 2-for-2 for 45 yards. After Beathard was checked out, he returned to throw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Matt VandeBerg on the drive that put Iowa ahead, 21-14.
“That was a really nice job by Nate,” Ferentz said. “Looked calm out there, confident.”
At least the punts were good
Punter Ron Coluzzi continues to impress. The graduate-transfer from Central Michigan still hasn’t permitted a punt-return yard this season.
He delivered six punts for a 45.5-yard average. None were even returnable. Coluzzi also booted all four of his kickoffs into the end zone.
“I don't know if we can cover a punt right now; he's not giving us a chance,” Ferentz said, acknowledging the day’s special-teams silver lining. “He's really doing a great job there.”
Welsh, Daniels back soon
Iowa being without its most experienced offensive lineman certainly was a factor Saturday. Right guard Sean Welsh had his streak of 16 consecutive starts snapped, and it was a bit of a surprise.
Ferentz had said early last week that Welsh was probably going to be OK to play against North Dakota State after he suffered a right-ankle injury against Iowa State. But Welsh wasn’t able to take the field, and sophomore Keegan Render replaced him.
Welsh has 25 career starts. Center James Daniels didn’t play either, missing his second straight game with a knee injury. Both players warmed up and were suited up.
“They really didn't practice much this week,” Ferentz said. “James is working back from an injury. I think he should be able to go on Monday. Sean, the same way.
“They could have played, but when a guy doesn't practice, that's a little bit tough to throw them in there.”
Defensive end Parker Hesse returned after missing last week’s game with a right hamstring injury. He recorded two tackles.