Iowa football takeaways: Odd officiating, Hockenson's strange first TD, Hooker steps in

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — There were so many officials conferring during Iowa’s 31-14 win over North Texas on Saturday that TV viewers were probably wondering if they were tuned to ESPN2 or C-Span.

The game lasted 3 hours and 26 minutes, and probably one-fourth of that time was due to the referees calling penalties, discussing whether to call penalties, reviewing plays or issuing sideline warnings.

“I was told before the game that we had more cameras. I have no idea what the normal number would be, and I don't know if there is a correlation between more cameras, more reviews, it's just — I'm not making judgments, should they or shouldn't they, but it kills momentum, especially that one down to the right of our bench and we were going in for a score (in the fourth quarter),” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

“It felt like we stood there for five minutes, and I'm not sure what we were reviewing at that point, but that's the part that's tough. You know, but you want to get the calls right, I get that, too, but I don't know where that line is.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz waits for play to resume during the Hawkeyes' game against North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017.

The officiating crew was a mishmash from the Big Ten Conference, Missouri Valley Conference and Mid-American Conference, led by referee Jeff Servinski. It was not their finest hour.

In the game’s most controversial decision, they flagged Iowa’s Akrum Wadley for high-stepping just before he crossed the goal line with an apparent 74-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. The Hawkeyes had to move back to the 21-yard line, and eventually scored anyway.

Ferentz pulled Wadley from the game briefly after that.

“I just told him he's too good of a player to do (that). Close, not close, but why give anybody an opportunity to have to make that decision,” Ferentz said.

LEISTIKOW: Breathe, Iowa fans. The Hawkeyes did, and they're 3-0.

Lots of Hawkeye firsts

Hawkeye tailbacks Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin got the first carries of their college careers Saturday. Young, a redshirt freshman, ended up leading Iowa with 78 yards on 19 totes. True freshman Kelly-Martin, who also returns kickoffs, ran 11 times for 74 yards and his first two touchdowns.

It was the second consecutive week a Hawkeye true freshman found the end zone twice. Last Saturday, wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette caught two touchdown passes, including the game-winner in a 44-41 overtime decision at Iowa State.

True freshman wide receiver Brandon Smith caught his first pass Saturday, a two-yarder that was good enough for a first down.

And two other true freshmen saw their first Hawkeye action — offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs and wide receiver Max Cooper.

Unintended touchdown for Hockenson

T.J. Hockenson was in the end zone, but not expecting the football to come his way in the first quarter. It was an odd way for the redshirt freshman tight end to get his first touchdown reception.

Quarterback Nate Stanley dropped back at the North Texas 8-yard line and fired a pass to his left. It was deflected high into the air and back toward the middle of the field by a North Texas defender. Hockenson looked up in time to cradle the unexpected gift.

“At first, I was like, ‘Wow, did I just actually catch that?’ It ricocheted and so I wasn’t expecting the ball at all,” Hockenson said. “After it sunk in, it was awesome. It feels real good to get my first one, so hopefully there’s many more.”

Stanley said he’s never thrown a touchdown pass like that either. Usually, a deflection ends up in an interception, he noted.

Instead, the fortunate connection allowed the Hawkeyes to tie the score 7-7.

“It was a big-time play,” Hockenson said. “We needed something to get everybody going and get the fans into it.”

Sophomore safety gets his shot

Amani Hooker, come on down.

After North Texas shredded Iowa’s defense for 80 yards on six plays on its opening possession, the true sophomore from Minneapolis got the call. He was in, replacing starter Jake Gervase.

Hooker stayed in from there.

Just a change-up, Kirk Ferentz said.

“We've felt good about the way Amani has been playing,” Ferentz said. “So we kind of see all three guys pretty even right now. We may start a three-way rotation, but we will play that by ear.”

That would be interesting — a revolving door of Hooker, Gervase and starting strong safety Miles Taylor. (And maybe Brandon Snyder could return from his April ACL surgery at some point.)

Without rewatching every play, Hooker seemed to play well. He ended up with three tackles and seemed to bring a physical presence in run support and in pass coverage.

“They didn’t tell me much,” Hooker said. “They just told me, 'You’re in. Just do your responsibilities. Don’t do nothing crazy. Just play your game.'”

Render's assumption was wrong

Offensive lineman Keegan Render knows it now. He made a mistake.

When Nate Stanley was hit late in the second quarter and the ball squirted into the air, Render saw it moving forward and assumed it was a forward pass.

It wasn’t.

“I probably looked dumb on it,” he said. “But yeah, I turned around and saw it in the air, so I figured it was a pass.”

Render could’ve jumped on the ball for a little-harm-done fumble recovery. Instead, North Texas’ T.J. Tauaalo scooped the ball and ran 27 yards the other way.

Running back James Butler bailed out Render, forcing a fumble of his own and recovering it to return the ball to Iowa’s favor.

It’s one of those little (big) mistakes Iowa can’t afford when Big Ten Conference play begins next week.

Columnist Chad Leistikow contributed to this report.