Brown: Iowa follows an expected script against North Texas
IOWA CITY, Ia. – This game followed the script I expected. A dominant performance by Iowa, with some sloppiness and a few surprises thrown in.
North Texas went home with a $900,000 paycheck. The Hawkeyes take a 4-0 record into the Big Ten opener at Wisconsin after Saturday’s 62-16 victory at Kinnick Stadium.
"Another very positive step for our football team," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
In this era of New Kirk, you’ve got to take the bad with the good. Case in point: that reverse fumble on the first snap of Derrick Mitchell’s career that led to a North Texas touchdown in the second quarter.
"It's look good for about 25 times that we've run it in practice," Ferentz said. "It couldn't have looked any worse. It was ugly. Flat-out ugly."
The last time I can remember a debut that ominous, quarterback Chuck Hartlieb’s option pitch was picked off by Tennessee’s Darrin Miller and returned for a 96-yard touchdown in the 1987 Kickoff Classic.
Hartlieb turned out OK. He still has quite a presence in Iowa’s record book. Time will tell where Mitchell, a redshirt sophomore, ends up. He did have a 45-yard burst in the fourth quarter and finished with 52 yards in seven carries.
STATUS REPORT:Four was Canzeri’s magic number vs. North Texas
Hawkeye quarterback C.J. Beathard threatened to join Hartlieb as a record holder. He completed his first 15 passes of the game, sneaking into Chuck Long’s neighborhood. Long completed a school-record 22 in a row against Indiana in 1984. The streak ended when Beathard had to throw the ball away on the Hawkeyes’ second play of the third quarter.
Beathard settled for a career-high 278 yards, completing 18 of 21 attempts. His presence behind center continues to be the brightest spot of this Iowa team. In back-to-back plays, Beathard threw touchdown passes of 43 yards to George Kittle and 81 yards to Tevaun Smith that was longest play from scrimmage since Jake Duzey’s 85-yard catch at Ohio State in 2013.
North Texas ran the ball much better than I thought it could against an Iowa defense that had entered the game fifth nationally in rushing defense at 51 yards a game. The Mean Green gained 183 yards on the ground, and also had success sneaking running backs out of the backfield as receivers.
Jordan Canzeri tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns. The Hawkeyes piled up 340 yards of total offense in the first half and 488 for the game. Not surprising, since North Texas came in allowing 503 yards.
Josey Jewell had his first interception, and returned it 34 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. Marshall Koehn missed the point-after. Iowa had entered the game with a streak of 59 consecutive games without a missed or blocked PAT, the longest in the nation.
All good things come to an end, I guess. But that one sequence was this game in a nice, neat package. A lot of good things heading into Big Ten play. And some bad things that will have to be shored up if Iowa is to be a legitimate Big Ten West Division contender.
History tells is 4-0 starts don’t guarantee season-long happiness.
This is the fourth time a Ferentz-coached Iowa team has started 4-0. The 2003 team finished 10-3 with a victory over Florida in the Outback Bowl. The 2009 team completed an 11-2 season with a victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. But there was also 2006. The Hawkeyes’ 4-0 start was the highlight of a 6-7 season that ended with a loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
With much of the Big Ten struggling to flex its muscles in the non-conference portion of the season, Iowa is in position to pile up plenty of victories in the two months ahead. That will depend on long-term health, continued improvement, a good bounce here or there, maybe even a fake field goal or two.
But I am sure of this. Beathard is the right guy to take this team where they want to go.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.