Iowa's makeshift offensive line holds up fine against Northern Illinois star
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The day Mark Kallenberger will never forget actually started the night before.
The Iowa offensive tackle, set to play in his first college game Saturday, was in his hotel room Friday night thinking about the significance of it all.
He turned on his computer.
“I pulled up a baby picture of myself and I was wearing a Hawkeye jumpsuit,” Kallenberger said after Iowa’s 33-7 whipping of Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium. “I’ve wanted to do this for a really long time. We were always a Hawkeye family, and I got to go play out there today — and it was really amazing.”
Kallenberger was nervous before the game, pondering the prospect of having to tangle with Huskies star defensive end Sutton Smith. He swarmed onto the field and was surprised to see his older brother, Jack, a backup defensive lineman, at his right side. They hadn’t planned that.
“That was really nice for both of us — to be able to go out there together and kind of have both of our dreams come true,” Kallenberger said.
The announced crowd of 67,510 at Kinnick included Kallenberger’s entire Bettendorf family. They saw him hold up just fine against Smith. Actually, all three of Iowa’s offensive tackles did.
Smith, an all-American who had 14 sacks last season, did get to Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley once. He forced a fumble. The Hawkeyes recovered it. Smith had four other tackles but was hardly the disruptive force that he is known to be.
Smith said in an interview last week with the Des Moines Register that his team was coming to Kinnick Stadium “to punch them right in the face.”
These words made the rounds at the Iowa practice facility all week. They were not well-received.
“I don’t want to say it’s a motivator or anything, because we’re Iowa — we’re a lot like our head coach (Kirk Ferentz): we’re respectful; we’re humble,” said Levi Paulsen, who started at right offensive tackle Saturday.
Dalton Ferguson started on the left side. Kallenberger, a redshirt freshman, was the backup.
All three were pressed into duty when normal starters Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs were suspended for the opener. Stanley said the Hawkeyes didn’t alter their game plan because reserves were now starting.
“We got some help on the inside from some (running) backs, and we got some help from the tight ends on some plays,” Paulsen said of the plan for containing Smith and Co. “Overall, I think it just came down to attacking and relying on your fundamentals.”
Stanley was rarely pressured Saturday. Not that Iowa’s offense was a well-oiled machine — far from it. The Hawkeyes led only 3-0 at halftime. Stanley threw one interception. Four different receivers dropped passes. The rushing attack produced a measly three yards per carry.
Things got better in the second half, particularly in the run game.
“I really just think it came down to focus. It was hot out. But we came into the locker room and we were, like, ‘Hey, it’s hot for both teams,’ ” Paulsen said.
“We talked about hitting our fundamentals and running the ball, and it worked out.”
Iowa’s first touchdown of the season came on a one-yard pass from Stanley to tight end Noah Fant midway through the third quarter. It was a fourth-down play.
“I released off the line of scrimmage and got past the defender that they had guarding me and Nate laid up the ball, a great ball that I was able to catch,” said Fant, who had 11 touchdown receptions a year ago.
“It was good to get those first points on the board for our team and kind of get us rolling after that.”
The Hawkeye defense kept setting the offense up with good field position. Iowa gained 151 yards on the ground in the second half, getting short touchdown runs from Ivory Kelly-Martin, Toren Young and backup quarterback Peyton Mansell.
After the game, Sutton Smith was an afterthought.
“We’re not the program to come out and say, ‘We’re going to do this. We think we’re a better team.’ We’re going to line up and do it on the field and show what we can do,” Fant said.
Kallenberger, who may not see much action the rest of the season, was savoring his first game long after it was over. He was fixated on the mistakes he made more than the good blocks he threw.
“He was kind of a shaky guy,” Kallenberger said of Smith. “You don’t know if he was going to stand up and go inside or rush outside. But we knew he was going to be a really fast outside rusher.
“I think I gave up two hits on Stanley, which I wish I wouldn’t have. I got turned a little bit just from him rushing on the outside.
“He’s a good player and definitely made me better today. Gave me some things to learn from.”
When Kallenberger will get his next chance to apply those lessons is an open question. But for one afternoon, he was up to the task, and his Hawkeyes won.
He left Kinnick Stadium with a smile.