Leistikow's First Word: A scare survived, a perfect nonconference season for Hawkeyes

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It was a day of yellow at Kinnick Stadium.

In the stands, it was Gold Spirit Day.

On the field, when there wasn't a replay review, it involved penalty flags. So many penalty flags.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley gets chased down by North Texas safety Khairi Muhammad during their game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017.

But when all was said and done before 65,668 fans, the Iowa Hawkeyes are 3-0 on the doorstep of the Big Ten Conference season after a 31-14 victory against North Texas.

A week from now, when the Hawkeyes are striping this stadium and welcoming top-five Penn State for a Kinnick night game, you won’t be thinking much about how scary this looked for a while.

And yes, it was scary.

But you’ll take it.

This game brought back memories of past survival-mode games for the Iowa program.

Think Northern Iowa in 2009. Think Arkansas State later that same year. That team turned out all right.

Think Ball State in 2014. That was a warning.

All those games were supposed to be easy and weren't. This one wasn't, either.

Fill in the blank with your own memory. You've seen Iowa lose games like this before.

The goofiness of Saturday had the feel of last year’s Week 3 game against North Dakota State. For all the warts that game exposed, you don’t want the loss that also was dealt by that team that also wore green.

Still, let’s run through some of the possible problems right now that will have to be addressed if the Hawkeyes want to avoid a repeat of last year’s 41-14 shellacking to the Nittany Lions.

The offensive line isn’t carving out holes against inferior defenses like it should. Iowa ran for 71 yards on 24 carries in the first half. (Eventually, the Mean Green wore down.)

The running backs are now a question mark, with Akrum Wadley and James Butler leaving Saturday’s game with injuries. (But Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin sure look good.)

The defense seemingly had little answer for a North Texas team that lost by 22 last week to SMU. The Mean Green led 14-10 at halftime and averaged 6.6 yards a carry for the game. (Then again, the defense pitched a second-half shutout.)

This was the type of game where one could point to about 15 different key plays or referees' calls — if it went one way or another — as swinging the game’s momentum.

But I’ll point to one of the flags that probably didn’t escalate your blood pressure.

Still down 14-10 in the third quarter, Nate Stanley threw incomplete on third-and-3 from his own 3.

Three and out? Nope, offsides on North Texas.

Instead of putting the defense, which had been steadily gashed by North Texas’ Air Raid back on the field, it extended Iowa’s drive. And it would become what was then the most time-consuming Hawkeye drive of the season — 6 minutes, 52 seconds — and result in a go-ahead touchdown on Noah Fant’s 23-yard catch on fourth-and-5.

One stop and one drive later, the Hawkeyes bested that mark, going 87 yards on 16 plays in a whopping 8:50 to take a 24-14 lead.

By day's end, the Iowa offense effectively turned this ugly duckling of a game into a swan, running 86 plays to North Texas' 46.

It went 11 of 18 on third downs, four of five on fourth downs and punted once. 

I'll bet those numbers look mighty pretty to Kirk Ferentz.