Iowa unleashes ground game to beat Miami of Ohio in opener
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There was an opponent at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, but it felt like Iowa tailbacks LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley were really competing with each other.
Daniels plows into the end zone from 1 yard out? Wadley dances in from 11.
Daniels bursts through a huge hole on the right side for a 43-yard score? Wadley goes untouched from 5 yards out.
It was that kind of afternoon for the No. 15 Hawkeyes’ ground game as they rolled to a 45-21 victory over Miami of Ohio in the season opener, delighting an announced crowd of 68,390.
Wadley, a junior, carried 12 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns; Daniels, the senior starter, picked up 83 yards on his 10 carries and two more scores. Derrick Mitchell Jr. added a five-yard touchdown to cap the scoring.
“The first play of the game we were able to break a toss play and we recognized right there that that was the weakness of the defense,” Wadley said of the Hawkeyes’ preferred run play Saturday. “With LeShun splitting the carries and that line we’re running behind, it makes it a lot more easy. You probably could run through those holes.”
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard looked sharp as well, completing 13-of-20 passes for 192 yards. His favorite target, Matt VandeBerg, was steady again, grabbing four passes for 99 yards. Beathard hooked up with sophomore wide receiver Jerminic Smith for a 12-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-6 play in the third quarter. It was Smith’s first career score.
It was a satisfying debut for the Iowa offense, primarily because of a ground game that netted 212 yards, averaging 7.3. The biggest play was Daniels’ 43-yard burst, keyed by terrific blocks from Smith and his younger brother, center James.
Wadley said that toss play was supposed to be for him, but he was late getting on to the field — the only time he was a step slow all afternoon — so Daniels got the call, and the touchdown.
“I don’t really get that many type of plays wide like that so whenever I get the opportunity I want to make the most of it,” LeShun Daniels said. “I would have been really disappointed if they would have took me out. I knew I had to go out there and make a play if they were calling that.”
Miami coach Chuck Martin, in his third season, said Iowa wore his team down, despite possessing the football for only 23:39.
“There were times when we had a smaller percentage of guys that didn’t join in. Just too much timid play in particular,” Martin said. “We got lined up to some base stuff which Iowa runs every week and is really good at, and they run over you. And they did, they pushed us around inside. We just had guys sitting there as the ball is coming.”
Defense was another matter. The Hawkeyes lost middle linebacker Josey Jewell in the opening minutes when he was ejected after being flagged for targeting on a punt return.
Without him, the Hawkeyes forced and recovered three RedHawk fumbles, but also bent liberally. Miami (0-1), a Mid-American Conference team that earned $1 million to play the game, was able to fashion three long touchdown drives and held up much better than in last year’s 58-0 loss at Wisconsin.
The RedHawks outgained Iowa 424 yards to 404 yards and held the football for a whopping 36:21, almost negating Iowa’s advantage in the running game. Miami was 7 of 13 on third- and fourth-down conversions, helping it sustain long drives.
“Losing Josey kind of hurt us on the defensive side, especially in the run game. They were averaging six and seven yards a carry on first down, so it put our defense in a tough position, second-and-4 or second-and-3,” Iowa cornerback Desmond King said.
“The offense can do anything that they wanted — run the ball, they can pass the ball. So we were kind of getting overwhelmed by what kind of play should we do — stop the run or stop the pass? And it played in their advantage. That kind of worked for them and the miscommunication, giving up the big plays in the back end, kind of hurt us as well.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz agreed with his senior’s assessment, repeatedly using the word “demoralizing.”
“It looked a little bit like we were overthinking,” Ferentz said. “We weren’t as aggressive as a result of that, playing the run, but we’re going to have to do a better job there.”
Iowa (1-0) will host Iowa State at 6:30 p.m. next Saturday.