Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith details his two touchdown catches Saturday. Listen: Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There were 63,706 fans in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, and each of them probably came away with a different favorite play from the Iowa offense.
This was a feast for every taste.
You like explosive plays? There were eight that gained 25 yards or more. There was “Sweet Feet” and “The Human Joystick” and plenty of other nicknames just waiting to be coined.
You prefer a more traditional Hawkeye offense? There was a 1-yard touchdown plunge by a fullback and a 10-yard quarterback sneak and 35 minutes, 57 seconds of glorious time of possession.
Call it what you like, but it was near perfection from the No. 14 team in the nation. By the time it ended, with Iowa again a perfect six-for-six in the red zone, it was a 48-3 Hawkeye victory over overmatched Middle Tennessee State and 644 yards of total offense, the most in Kirk Ferentz’s 21 years as head coach here.
“It’s just great to be a balanced offense when you can run the ball, throw the ball,” Iowa junior wide receiver Brandon Smith said. “It just makes you a pretty much unstoppable offense.”
Smith provided the perfect example of the variety of ways Iowa (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten Conference) attacked the Blue Raiders. He scored two touchdowns. One came on as graceful of a football play as you’re ever going to see, when quarterback Nate Stanley, while on the run, lofted a perfect 18-yard pass that Smith ran under in the right corner of the end zone. The other was all Smith, taking a short pass inside the 10-yard line and heading straight into the teeth of the defense, breaking tackles and breaking wills as he launched himself for the final two yards to paydirt.
Smith was also the dispenser of nicknames Saturday.
Tyrone Tracy, who brazenly called himself “Sweet Feet” this summer, grudgingly earned that one back from Smith, who is the leader of the wide receiver room as a junior.
Tracy, a redshirt freshman, led Iowa’s receivers with 85 yards. He did so on three brilliant receptions. One picked up 33 yards when he somehow snared a pass that was deflected by a Blue Raider inches from his face. Tracy was actually thinking he was going to need to make a tackle on that play, not a catch.
Another Tracy 33-yard gain allowed him to show off his open-field moves as he spun his way into the red zone.
“I used to be hating on it a little bit, but he’s definitely ‘Sweet Feet,’” Smith said of Tracy. “I have to give him his props.”
“I try to make something happen other than just catch it and go down or catch it and go out of bounds,” Tracy explained. “Like the one I caught on the sideline. I really could have just gone out of bounds. But I’m like, ‘All right, let me see what I can do’ and try to get extra yards for the team.”
That was a simple pass that Tracy turned into a 19-yard gain, setting up Iowa’s first touchdown.
On the ground, Iowa got a career-high 131 rushing yards from Toren Young. He averaged 11.9 per carry. Starting running back Mekhi Sargent produced 91 yards and a touchdown. Third-stringer Tyler Goodson, a true freshman, popped off 97 yards on his 12 carries, two of which went 25 yards or more.
It was plays like that that led Smith to bestow a second nickname.
“I call him ‘The Human Joystick.’ He’s like you’re playing Playstation,” Smith said of Goodson.
If that’s what this game was, Stanley was at the controls. The Middle Tennessee State defense kept showing different blitzes at the line of scrimmage, meaning Iowa’s senior quarterback needed to make the correct reads and then audible his offense into a more favorable play call.
Iowa wide receiver Tyrone Tracy talks about two improbable plays he made, plus he's apparently gotten his nickname back. Hear what he says: Hawk Central
Stanley did so repeatedly. It’s a sign of his maturation. But he wasn’t ready to accept all the credit after completing 17-of-25 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. There were no turnovers. The Hawkeyes punted only once.
“(The Blue Raiders) did a lot of different things, and when they do that, it’s hard to get into the perfect play every single time,” Stanley said. “But our offensive line responded the right way, and even if it wasn’t the perfect play, they came off and were extremely physical.”
Ferentz took the big-picture approach when asked to assess the state of his offense after its finest showing.
“I think we have a few more playmakers maybe than we've had some years, and guys that can do something or get open or make a tough catch and maybe do something after they catch the ball,” he said.
“That helps. Having a veteran quarterback helps. Having linemen doing a pretty capable job helps.”
It gets considerably more difficult for Iowa from here. Next up is a trip to Michigan. Then a home date with Penn State. The conference chase resumes in earnest.
“Sweet Feet” thinks the offense has found its sweet spot just in time to handle what’s ahead.
“There’s a lot of confidence going around as a whole from Nate Stanley all the way down to the 2-deep,” Tracy said. “We all have confidence in everybody who goes out there on the field. We can call whatever play that we want to call.”
The Hawkeyes ran a whopping 80 plays Saturday. And most of them were gems.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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