No. 14 Iowa 48, MTSU 3: What we learned

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — After one quarter, no one really needed to see any more.

By the laws of football, No. 14 Iowa and Middle Tennessee State had to finish out Saturday’s 11 a.m. affair. But the first 15 minutes succinctly summed up this mismatch narrative.

Another drama-free day at Kinnick Stadium.

Iowa’s 17-point first quarter ignited a runaway train, and numerous Hawkeyes hopped on board en route to a 48-3 destruction. Early touchdowns from Mekhi Sargent and Brandon Smith, as well as another Keith Duncan field goal, gave Iowa its highest-scoring first quarter since Oct. 15, 2016 (21-0 at Purdue).

Iowa linebacker Kristian Welch (34) celebrates with Iowa defensive lineman Cedrick Lattimore (95) after his sack during a NCAA non conference football game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Middle Tennessee State, Saturday, Sept., 28, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

Splash plays and suffocation dominated the remaining action. All the Hawkeyes did was deliver the most total yards in the Kirk Ferentz era (644).  

Sargent and Toren Young ripped apart an undersized MTSU defense, which entered Saturday ranked 120th nationally in run stoppage. Nate Stanley did his part as well, hitting a bevy of receivers for lengthy gains. Five wideouts averaged more than 11 yards per catch. Almost a third of Stanley’s completions went for 25-plus yards. The only thing in doubt late was how long Iowa’s starters would stay active.

Stuck in a 27-0 hole, MTSU avoided the shutout with a third-quarter field goal. That’s all the Hawkeyes surrendered on a gloomy afternoon. A stifling defensive effort continued a season-long trend.   

Iowa is ready for the Big House and Michigan next week. MTSU, after three Power Five beatdowns in four games, is ready to return to its own kind.

The Hawkeyes' running game rolled with authority.                

In a system where any back could emerge on any Saturday, Iowa’s ground unit had to be salivating. The Blue Raiders hadn’t stopped any rushing attack — even Tennessee State’s in Week 2 — and this challenge was much tougher. Iowa pounced quickly.

Sargent was the early workhorse, scampering for 91 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries. Young took the middle portion with 131 yards on 11 carries, including a 52-yard rumble that signaled Iowa’s longest run in two seasons. Tyler Goodson (12 carries, 97 yards) cleaned things up late.

The Hawkeyes finished just short of having two 100-yard rushers in a game for the first time since Nov. 25, 2016, at Nebraska. Iowa did, however, throw up the fourth-most rushing yards (351) in the Ferentz era.

The field day that was expected unfolded as such.

Likewise, Iowa's defense dominated.

Iowa’s defensive group continues to do its job through this early-season stretch. The schedule hasn’t been daunting, obviously, other than the Iowa State challenge. But another all-around domination should have the Hawkeyes brimming with confidence heading into the true Big Ten gauntlet.

MTSU barely crossed 200 total yards and found nothing on the ground. Only three times did the Blue Raiders cross midfield. They never entered the red zone.

That effort, plus no additional injuries, is exactly what Ferentz would have drawn up in this type of game.  

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