Joy returns to Kinnick as Iowa routs Northwestern

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's Carl Davis celebrates a turnover against Northwestern in the first half Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – It was a satisfying Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

The Hawkeyes' offense was smooth. The play-calling seemed flawless. The defense was suffocating.

About the only thing to complain about was the punting game. But when Iowa routs old nemesis Northwestern 48-7, who cares about the punter?

Iowa resoundingly gained bowl eligibility for the 13th time in 14 seasons with its best performance of the year, improving to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten Conference before 66,887 delighted fans.

"Yeah, I wish it happened more often," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's been a while since it really looked that way.

"We played good team football. Three areas of play really complemented each other."

The rout began on the opening kickoff, when Jonathan Parker raced 54 yards up the left sideline – and Northwestern (3-5, 2-3) generously added 15 yards with a late-hit penalty.

Then it became the Iowa offensive show, silencing for a day the critics of offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

What went right? Well, just about everything for Iowa.

Did anything go right for Northwestern? Cue Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.

"We had some guys play very poorly today," said Fitzgerald, who still owns a winning record (5-4) against Ferentz. "We lost a lot of one-on-one battles. I'm not sure we won one battle in the secondary today. I'm not sure we won a lot up front on either side of the ball, on offense or defensive line."

Ferentz and the Hawkeyes have suffered some painful losses to the Wildcats over the years. The 17-10 result that disrupted an unbeaten season in 2009 stands out.

Ferentz hadn't beaten a Fitzgerald-coached team by more than 11 points before Saturday's 41-point beatdown.

It was a welcome sight for the nervous Hawkeye faithful that didn't know what to expect after squandering a 14-point lead in a 38-31 loss at Maryland on Oct. 18.

What changed? Both Iowa and Northwestern were coming off bye weeks, but the teams looked like night and day on a chilly afternoon at Kinnick.

"Two weeks ago we couldn't finish the game back in Maryland," Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff said. "Our emphasis was finishing the game, the full 60 minutes.

"It all came down to technique and details."

Mark Weisman was a beast in the backfield. His workload well-managed in September and October, Ferentz unleashed Weisman on Nov. 1.

The bruising senior moved into eighth on Iowa's all-time rushing list with 94 more yards (he now has 2,311). He scored three rushing touchdowns, giving him 13 for the season and 29 for his career. That's within four of the school-record 33 rushing scores co-held by Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks, by the way.

Weisman's 8-yard touchdown run over the left side, spurred by nice blocks from back-from-injury Macon Plewa and center Tommy Gaul, got the scoring started just 1 minute, 45 seconds into the game.

Jake Rudock might've put together his best game as a Hawkeye, with smart decisions and crisp downfield throws. The junior quarterback zinged the ball for 239 yards on 12-of-19 accuracy against a helpless Northwestern defense.

What made the performance more satisfying was that Rudock's throws were of the downfield variety. Davis had been raked over the coals on social media for low-yardage passing calls.

"I feel like the ball was spread out a little bit more, which was good to see," said receiver Tevaun Smith, the beneficiary of Rudock's gorgeous 31-scoring strike up the right sideline to give Iowa 31-7 lead in the second quarter. "It definitely gave all the players confidence."

Rudock's second-longest pass of the day, 42 yards to Matt VandeBerg on a flea-flicker, set up Marshall Koehn's field goal and a 10-0 lead with 9:43 left in the first quarter.

Weisman struck again, from 14 yards out, and it was 17-0. And just before the first quarter ended, true freshman Ben Niemann blocked a Northwestern punt and scooped it up for a 1-yard TD return. 24-0 Iowa.

Even when Northwestern seemed poise to make a dent in Iowa's big lead, the Hawkeye defense stood up. In a 38-7 game midway through the third quarter, on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, linebacker Quinton Alston tipped Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian's pass, forcing it to fall incomplete in the end zone.

Freshman Akrum Wadley came off the bench to become the Hawkeyes' first 100-yard rusher in 11 games, and he's a guy that hadn't enjoyed a single carry in a college uniform before Saturday.

It was that kind of day in Kinnick, where there was nothing to criticize.

Well, almost nothing. Punter Dillon Kidd dropped an adequate long snap that led to Northwestern's only points. He was replaced by Connor Kornbrath, who averaged 37 yards on two boots. Punting controversy?

"We'll play it week by week," Ferentz said.

If that's the toughest question facing the 16th-year Iowa coach at roughly 2:45 p.m. on a Saturday, Iowa fans will take that.

Up next is Minnesota, a team Iowa beat 23-7 a year ago in Minneapolis. And let's face it, the Hawkeyes are looking like a Big Ten West Division contender with four games to go.

"We just want to win games," Weisman said. "When we can do it like that – get the ground game going, get the passing game going with it, feeding off each other … that's good Iowa football. We took a step in the right direction."