What we learned from Iowa's emphatic 38-14 win over Northern Iowa

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central
Iowa junior tight end Noah Fant celebrates in the end zone after scoring a touchdown against Northern Iowa in the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — There was no need for game-saving blocked field goals, no reason for Kinnick Stadium to get anxious. Unlike the past three Hawkeye-Northern Iowa showdowns, Iowa put this one away with authority.

Three first-half touchdowns and a suffocating defense did the trick, as the Hawkeyes rolled to a 38-14 win Saturday under the lights. The victory finishes off Iowa’s nonconference slate without a blemish at 3-0.

UNI held its own during Kinnick trips in 2014 (31-23 loss), 2012 (27-16 loss) and 2009 (17-16 loss), but the Power Five-FCS mismatch was evident Saturday.

Iowa’s first-half figures were nothing short of staggering. The Hawkeyes had lopsided advantages in total yards (316-20), offensive plays (50-20) and first downs (17-3). An early touchdown pass to Noah Fant kicked off the scoring, and Mekhi Sargent followed with two TD runs.

ANALYSIS:Iowa offense finds a groove, spreads the love in blowout win over UNI

The black-and-gold grip only strengthened after the break. UNI did throw up 14 points in the second half, but the result had long been decided. 

The big man breaks through

For all the preseason buzz surrounding Iowa’s heralded tight end, Fant’s 2018 start had been a bit pedestrian. He entered Saturday with 41 yards receiving on just seven catches, having been effectively benched last week for a solid portion of the Hawkeyes’ Cy-Hawk win.

Frustration was inevitably mounting. Fant let it all out at UNI’s expense.

Members of the Iowa Hawkeyes football team celebrate after tight end Noah Fant scored a touchdown against Northern Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

He torched the Panthers early and often. Fant more than doubled his two-game output in the first half alone, racking up 99 yards and a score on five catches. His touchdown grab was his 14th, passing Mike Flagg for the most career touchdown receptions by an Iowa tight end.

"It was good — some good throws and good catches," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Noah did a good job with the ball once he had it in his hands too, which was positive."

Fant’s outbreak was a microcosm of Iowa’s offensive revival, which featured career days from multiple contributors. A nice sight to see for Hawkeye fans heading into conference play.

LEISTIKOW:Iowa checks the needed boxes ahead of Wisconsin showdown

Avoiding the Big Ten barf

Speaking of the Big Ten, it was a rough day for Iowa’s familiar foes. Like the Hawkeyes, which entered Saturday as three-touchdown favorites, many other Big Ten teams seemingly had cakewalks lined up in Week 3.


Nebraska, a 10.5-point home favorite, fell to Troy 24-19. Maryland, a 16-point home favorite, was blasted by Temple 35-14. Rutgers was technically a two-point underdog at Kansas, but — it’s Kansas. Not Saturday, though, as the Jayhawks rolled to a 55-14 thrashing. Northwestern served up Akron's first Big Ten win since 1894. 

But the crown dud goes to Wisconsin, which — ahead of next week’s Kinnick Stadium trip — couldn’t fend off BYU as a 23.5-point home favorite. The Badgers missed a late game-tying field goal in a 24-21 loss.

Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley (84) celebrates with Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

In as many words, the Hawkeyes likely heard this week about not taking UNI lightly — that anything can happen when the lights come on. Fans roll their eyes at speeches like that, but college football coaches can’t help but envision a worst-case scenario. They know what can unfold with an unfocused squad.

This week’s Big Ten showing is a perfect example. At least credit Iowa for not joining the party.

"I never take beating anybody for granted," Ferentz said. "It's just too tough and too challenging, and it sounds like there are a lot of games today that would fit that description.

"So the best thing, as long as I've done this now, the thing I have learned is let's just focus on what's going on this week and more importantly today. That's our best plan."

Quarterback controversy? 

Mark Farley said Monday that two quarterbacks could play Saturday, and that’s exactly what happened. Colton Howell got the first half, Eli Dunne the second.

Dunne led UNI’s two scoring drives, tossing fourth-quarter TD passes to tight ends Briley Moore and Elias Nissen. Iowa still lived in the Panther backfield and harassed both quarterbacks all evening.

Under the Kinnick lights against, statistically, one of the nation’s best defenses this year isn’t an ideal environment to solve a quarterback controversy. But Farley said Dunne will start next week and is presumably the man again moving forward. That starts next week versus Hampton. 

"I thought Eli became a better quarterback today because of (dealing with getting pulled)," Farley said.

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.