IOWA CITY, Ia. — The fastest drive for North Dakota State came after Saturday’s final whistle.
As a frustrated Hawkeye team trudged into the Kinnick Stadium locker rooms, the five-time defending NCAA Division I FCS champions streaked across the turf towards their green-and-gold clad fans, celebrating another FBS upset.
The rest of the Bison’s afternoon effort was everything Iowa football has been under head coach Kirk Ferentz: physical, focused and pushing forward.
By rushing 49 times for 239 yards against the 11th-ranked team in FBS, North Dakota State (3-0) forcibly took a 23-21 win that went down to the wire.
“We thought we had a chance to win the line of scrimmage,” North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman said. “That’s what we do. I didn’t know if we’d get 200 (yards), but I thought we could push the pile and wreak some havoc. Our backs ran really hard and we’re pretty good up front.”
Iowa (2-1) held the Bison to just 36 yards on 23 carries before halftime. But a steady diet of running backs King Frazier and Lance Dunn continued anyway, and sophomore quarterback Easton Stick stayed on his feet despite repeatedly tough tackles and plays.
That 1.6-yards-per-carry average ballooned as the big formations broke through in the second half.
“They just played well,” Ferentz said. “We’re not surprised. They’re a big, tough, physical group, and their backs run hard. Perimeter guys block really well, so they put a lot of pressure on you.
“Our fits weren’t great — I think we missed a few tackles from the sideline.”
The 212-pound Frazier became the feature back behind an offensive line that averaged nearly 312 pounds per man, and his third quarter included a one-yard touchdown run and a 44-yard breakaway.
His hustle wore on an Iowa defense that depended on linebackers to make tackles downfield. Dunn, a Waterloo West alum, added a 35-yard sprint and 50 of the team's 203 after halftime.
“It was a lot of fun,” Frazier said. “It was a real physical game, which is my kind of game. Run straight ahead, lower your pads and get some hard yards. We did a good job of that today.”
The dam broke on the Hawkeyes' defense in the fourth quarter as the final Bison play count (68) and time of possession (36:40) displayed their methodical game plan.
A 15-play, 80-yard drive took 8:39 off the clock as NDSU rallied to turn 21-14 into 21-20. An eye-opening two-point conversion attempt failed, but the powerful statement had already been made as 12 of the 15 snaps were runs.
All 70,585 fans in attendance at Kinnick Stadium knew the Bison were trying to bull-rush their way to a sixth consecutive FBS victory.
“That exemplifies Bison football,” Stick said. “That was our plan, to keep grinding and keep beating on them. I thought we had a good plan. We knew if we could get it to the fourth quarter, we had a really good chance.”
By the time NDSU kicked off and stopped the next Iowa drive after three plays, the ground game was geared back up. Stick took a draw play up the middle for a gain of 29 on the first snap. Senior Chase Morlock — one of five players with at least four rushes and 20 yards — took a couple more carries to set up kicker Cam Pedersen’s game-winner.
“We just wanted to keep doing what we were doing,” Klieman said. “Mix in the jet (sweep) stuff, mix in the inside run.
"I’m so proud of King Frazier and the way he ran. All those backs: King, Lance (Dunn), Bruce (Anderson), Chase (Morlock) and Easton (Stick). We stuck it up in there, we didn’t pitter-patter our feet. We came hungry and those backs and the quarterback ran exceptionally well.”
Iowa starting linebackers Bo Bower, Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann were all credited with 11 tackles, but every level of Iowa’s defense was holding on.
Defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie was frequently added to the front for run support: “They’re one of the best offensive lines I’ve ever played against. They’re extremely physical up front. They come off the ball and they’re not one of those teams that stands around and position blocks.”
Sophomore safety Brandon Snyder felt it after his first-quarter interception: “They ran it down our throats a little bit. It was our fault.”
And even standout senior tackle Jaleel Johnson was thrown off: “I feel like we didn’t get our proper fits. That’s why the back was able to break through for five-plus yards every time. I don’t think we were really focused on our key assignments today.”
The words came after a tiring and demoralizing game for the Hawkeye defense. It was Iowa’s first loss to an FCS opponent, and it came in the way that Iowa usually puts away its Big Ten foes: With an Iowa native coaching and eventually celebrating on the opposite sideline.
“To be able to come back here and show that our football team belongs on this national stage was pretty sweet,” Klieman said.