Beathard solid as Iowa opens with easy win over Illinois State

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's Jordan Canzeri celebrates his touchdown with Jacob Hillyer during their game against Illinois State with at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015.

IOWA CITY, Ia. –To answer doubt whether Iowa football 2015 would provide a new and different experience, the Hawkeyes delivered an impressive opening statement.

Led by the quick trigger from new quarterback C.J. Beathard, Iowa overwhelmed dangerous FCS program Illinois State from the start on the way to a 31-14 win at Kinnick Stadium in front of 59,450 fans.

Statement No. 1 came on Iowa's opening drive. Kirk Ferentz opted to go for a fourth-and-2 at the Redbirds' 14-yard line instead of the conventional choice of a field goal. Beathard completed a 5-yarder over the middle to Tevaun Smith and then two plays later squirted into the end zone on a designed quarterback draw from 6 yards out.

Statement No. 2 was physical domination. After taking over on its own 1 for its second drive, Iowa marched 99 yards for another score. Jordan Canzeri's 5-yard rush up the middle capped a 12-play march mixed with six runs and six passes, and Iowa led 14-0 with 12 minutes, 35 seconds left in the second quarter.

All that happened before Iowa's defense even broke a sweat on a scorching day at Kinnick, where the field temperature was pushing 125 degrees.

Enter Drew Ott, the senior defensive end. He wrecked havoc with Illinois State dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson in a dominant first half in which the Hawkeyes racked up five sacks. Though Ott "only" was credited with two of them, he had a hand in them all.

Iowa inflated its lead to 17-0 after a 51-yard catch-and-run by Canzeri led to Marshall Koehn's 40-yard field goal at the halftime horn.

Even though it was Iowa's smallest home crowd in 12 years, those here were revved up and had plenty to cheer about. They even roared when Iowa failed on a fake field goal in the second quarter – Koehn rushing for 8 yards when Iowa needed 10. Still, the fans saw change from last year's 7-6 disappointment and were giddy about it.

Beathard was the catalyst for the new feeling. He threw the ball with zip from the get-go, including on a quick-drop-and-flare pass right to Matt VandeBerg for 17 yards on the second scoring drive. (They later connected on the same play for a 9-yard TD.) New featured back LeShun Daniels Jr. bolted 27 yards behind left tackle Boone Myers on Iowa's first stretch-run play call of the season.

No offense to the 2014 guys, but those plays weren't seen by Iowa fans a year ago with Jake Rudock and Mark Weisman in the featured roles.

Daniels finished with a 100-yard game in his first start: 26 carries, 123 yards. Beathard didn't commit a turnover. He threw for 211 yards and one TD and rushed for 26 yards and two scores. Canzeri was Iowa's leading receiver with 90 yards on four catches.

Iowa (1-0) stayed perfect against FCS competition, moving to 13-0 all-time. Many thought this would be a trouble spot for the Hawkeyes with the Redbirds coming off an FCS runner-up finish and featuring electric senior playmakers in Roberson and 2,200-yard rusher Marshaun Coprich.

But the Hawkeyes made their statements in many ways Saturday: This is a different team. This is a new year. And it'll get a big chance for a follow-up statement in seven days: A trip to Ames to face Iowa State next Saturday – and a chance to reverse last year's 0-4 showing in trophy games.