Overtime: Iowa Passing Game Gets on Track Before Big Ten Season – UNI No Match for the Hawkeyes 38-14
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By Jack Brandsgard (email@example.com) 09/16/18
Noah Fant and Nick Easley entered Saturday night with a combined eight catches for 56 yards and one touchdown. They left with 23 grabs, 258 yards, and three scores as Iowa (3-0, 0-0) completed its nonconference schedule with a 38-14 win over Northern Iowa.
Easley recorded a career-best 103 yards and became the first Hawkeye since Keenan Davis in 2011 to catch 10 passes in a game (also a career-high). Fant’s touchdown catch in the first quarter moved him past Mike Flagg for most by a tight end in Iowa history (14). How did the duo shake off the early season rust?
“We just listened to our coaches,” Fant said. “They were telling us the whole time to just keep grinding and things will come. It ended up breaking open a little bit tonight and hopefully we can get it a little more open than that. It’s definitely progress, but we also want to get better.”
Easley and Fant made life easier for Nate Stanley, who looked more comfortable in the pocket en route to a season-best 309 passing yards.
“We have been trying for three weeks to throw the ball with some success and it looked a lot better tonight,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I thought we just looked better in general as an offense (in practice) on Wednesday. …But it’s a process, you just keep hopefully practicing well and building some equity and then hope it shows up on the game film.”
The offense also benefitted from an explosion by Mekhi Sargent. “Crisco” ran for personal bests in attempts (15), yards (72), and touchdowns (two) in addition to a career-high in receiving yards (48). Sargent has only been with the Iowa program for three months after transferring from Iowa Western, but has acclimated quickly.
“It’s been all focus and detail,” Sargent said. “I feel like I’ve been doing a really good job with that and the coaching staff has been helping me a lot, along with Toren (Young), Ivory (Kelly-Martin), and the older guys.”
After failing to score a first-half touchdown in its first two games, Iowa’s offense found pay-dirt on three consecutive drives before halftime. The unit also finished with 545 total yards, the eighth-most in the Ferentz era.
Iowa’s offensive breakthrough couldn’t have come at a better time. Wisconsin is coming to town Saturday night. It will be the latest kickoff in Kinnick history, so there will be fireworks if recent trends hold true.
Iowa’s defense currently ranks second in the country in total defense (209.0 YPG) and is tied for second in scoring defense (8.0 PPG) and rushing defense (42.0 YPG). Now pair that with a steadily-improving offense. This season could shape up to be a special one, and Saturday is an important building block for Iowa.