What we learned: Iowa 31, North Texas 14

Matthew Bain
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — In front of a sometimes-lifeless crowd and under a sky that switched between hot sun and humid gloom, the Iowa Hawkeyes won a bizarre 31-14 football game against the visiting North Texas Mean Green.

Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson celebrates his touchdown during the Hawkeyes' game against North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017.

Iowa trailed 14-10 at halftime before controlling the final two frames. But top running backs Akrum Wadley and James Butler went down with ankle and elbow injuries, respectively, and didn't return to the game.

Here are some highlights and what we learned Saturday.

Amani Hooker in at safety?

It appears there's a change at free safety. Sophomore Amani Hooker started the second quarter in place of junior Jake Gervase, and stayed on the field alongside Miles Taylor for the rest of the game.

Gervase recorded one tackle in the first quarter, but he also missed a key tackle on North Texas' 41-yard touchdown run in the first. Hooker, who's listed as Taylor's backup strong safety, logged three tackles and assisted on a pass breakup in Iowa territory late in the third quarter.

As a whole, Iowa's secondary didn't wow, but it performed fine against North Texas' Air Raid. Mean Green starting quarterback Mason Fine dotted the Hawkeyes for 167 yards on 16-of-26 passing, but he never connected on a game-changing play. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker's got to be at least somewhat pleased with a performance like that from an inexperienced secondary.

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley fights his way down field during the Hawkeyes' game against North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017.

Iowa has strong backup RBs, even if it didn't want to use them

Wadley didn't play any of the second half with an apparent right-ankle injury. Butler sat most of the second half with a big ol' ice pack on his right elbow after what looked like a hyperextension early in the third quarter.

So, enter Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. Young, a redshirt freshman, was the first back off the bench, followed by the true freshman Kelly-Martin.

While Iowa coaches likely aren't happy why they got to see their two freshmen in action, they've got to like what they saw. Young gained 78 yards on 19 carries, and Kelly-Martin added 74 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley hands the ball to running back Akrum Wadley during the Hawkeyes' game against North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017.

There seem to be two constants on this offense

Quietly, in the midst of a maelstrom of flags, bogus plays and injuries to Hawkeye running backs, Nate Stanley and Noah Fant continued to produce at a high level. 

Stanley followed his co-offensive Big Ten player of the week performance with 197 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-27 passing. Fant caught two passes for 30 yards and a touchdown, during which he dragged defenders from the 8-yard line to the end zone.

On the season, Stanley has 655 passing yards and one interception on 51-of-83 passing, while Fant has seven catches for 89 yards and three touchdowns.

Football can be weird

Let's go over just a few of the bizarre plays from today's game.

  1. Nick Easley's goal-line fumble on Iowa's first drive, taking away what looked like a 7-yard touchdown pass from Nate Stanley. 
  2. Akrum Wadley's touchdown that wasn't. His high-stepping over the final 6 yards of a 74-yard touchdown reception nullified the score and handed the Hawkeyes a 15-yard penalty.
  3. Later on that drive, Stanley found T.J. Hockenson on an 8-yard touchdown pass that was tipped and happened to fall into the tight end's hands.
  4. On a second-and-2 late in the second, Stanley got bull-rushed and fumbled the ball at North Texas' 47. A defender recovered the ball and returned it to Iowa's 16, before Butler caught him from behind and forced a fumble, saving a probable North Texas score on a short field.
  5. Iowa's final touchdown nearly didn't happen. Kelly-Martin ran 23 yards to North Texas' 3 and lost the ball out of bounds after he was clearly down, but the referees decided to review it. And they also handed out their umpteenth unsportsmanlike conduct, this time on North Texas' E.J. Ejiya.

Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at mbain@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBain_.