Jewell's season stalled after 3 minutes, defense struggles against Miami of Ohio
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Matt Merimee’s head snapped back and flailed around before he collapsed to the ground. Desmond King sprinted past him and squeezed between two more Miami of Ohio defenders on his way to a big punt return three minutes into the scoreless first quarter at Kinnick Stadium.
When King passed Merimee, a Miami defensive back, he also passed linebacker and Iowa captain Josey Jewell, who lunged to the turf after cracking Merimee’s helmet with his own. Everything about Jewell's bone-crunching block was fine. Everything but its location.
Fortunately Merimee walked off under his own power. Unfortunately for Iowa, King's first highlight of the year was nullified. And three minutes into Iowa’s most-hyped season in recent memory, its unquestioned defensive leader trudged to the locker room as nothing more than a spectator after getting ejected for targeting.
"When you get a guy like Josey, who is a really aggressive player and that was a great hustle play, too," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He was trying to rush the punter and ended up right back where the return was. So it's one of those things that nobody hurt more about not being out there than Josey."
It's hard to judge the impact of Jewell's absence because he played only one series. Iowa's offense dominated as expected, putting up 45 points with no turnovers and a perfect 6-for-6 mark in the red zone in a 45-21 win. But Miami really had no trouble against Iowa's defense. Miami's two first-quarter fumbles led to the Hawkeyes' 28-7 halftime lead more than anything their defense did.
At the final whistle Miami had gained 20 more yards than Iowa (424-404). The RedHawks ran 20 more plays and controlled the ball almost a full 13 minutes longer than the Hawkeyes. They earned eight more first downs. They converted on five of 11 third downs and both of their attempts on fourth down. They also legged out 158 rushing yards, probably the biggest surprise of the day for a team picked to finish near the bottom of the middling Mid-American Conference.
Now, those numbers are partially thanks to Iowa's offense stampeding down Miami's throats for quick scores. The length of Iowa's scoring drives were 2:56, 0:34, 0:44, 3:04, 3:23, 3:39 and 1:58.
Still, for playing against a Power Five team with goals as lofty as Iowa's, Miami sure marched down the field and controlled the clock a whole lot. That could mean two things for the Hawkeyes, both of which are not great: Either the defense relies too much on Jewell and his absence ripped open a gaping wound, or Iowa's defense just isn't as good as expected to start the season.
Linebacker Bo Bower had a front-row seat to the disappointing performance.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff to correct," he said. "It sucks that Josey was out, but again, it’s next man in. Whoever comes in has to be ready to play and play to a high level. We expect that from everybody. So we’re gonna go into practice and fix our mistakes.”
Jack Hockaday was the next man in Saturday. The sophomore linebacker mustered all of two tackles last year.
His first contribution? Punching the ball from Miami receiver Maurice Thomas for a forced fumble that Parker Hesse scooped up before lumbering 28 yards and setting up Iowa's second touchdown. Hockaday finished his thrown-into-the-fire day with six tackles, the forced fumble and a pass-breakup.
“It wasn’t perfect but it's a great experience for (Hockaday)," Ferentz said. "And that could happen at any time. It's just one of those deals."
Miami missed its only field-goal attempt and lost all three of its fumbles — two in the first quarter, one in the fourth. It was never going to win this game, but as RedHawks head coach Chuck Martin said, it really should have been closer than 45-21.
"Without the dang turnovers it's a really close game," he said.
Yes, it really is. The casual next-day box score fans might see the 24-point win and smile. Ferentz and company know better.
Bain covers Iowa City preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen and Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_ and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (319) 337-3181.