Nothing comes easy, but Hawkeyes stay undefeated with second-half rally over North Texas

Nothing comes easy, but Hawkeyes stay undefeated with second-half rally over North Texas
The Associated Press

IOWA CITY (AP) — Iowa survived nonconference play but it hardly went unscathed.

Nate Stanley threw for 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Iowa overwhelmed North Texas 31-14 on Saturday.

Freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin added 74 yards rushing and two TDs for the Hawkeyes (3-0), who played most of the second half without running backs Akrum Wadley and James Butler.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Wadley’s undisclosed right leg issue isn’t “anything serious” and that Butler had an “elbow issue” and will be day-to-day.

“There was nothing easy out there,” Ferentz said. “This team has been resilient.”

Iowa pulled ahead 17-14 on a 23-yard TD pass from Stanley to former Omaha South standout Noah Fant on fourth down and 5 late in the third quarter. Kelly-Martin added a 2-yard touchdown, the first of his career, with 8:16 left to cap a drive that covered 87 yards and burned nearly nine minutes.

Kelly-Martin also scored a 6-yard TD run with 1:47 to go.

“He’s just one of those kids,” Ferentz said. “He’s got another gear.”

Kelly-Martin and fellow freshman Toren Young looked good in their first extended action. Young rushed for 78 yards on 19 attempts and Kelly-Martin, whom Wadley has raved about more than once, averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Kelly-Martin was Iowa’s first true freshman since Marcus Coker in 2010 with at least two TD runs in a single game.

“Both of those guys have really practiced well,” Ferentz said. “They sure did a lot of good things and gave us some juice in the second half.”

But the Hawkeyes will be left to hope that Wadley and Butler won’t miss extended time. Wadley and Butler, a Nevada transfer, entered 2017 as the only duo in the country to each rush for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Mason Fine threw for 167 yards for North Texas (1-2), which dropped its second straight. Iowa’s defense held the Mean Green to 93 yards and zero points in the second half.

“It was more an attitude thing,” Iowa end Parker Hesse said. “We made the plays when it counted.”

Running back depth lets Hawkeyes pull away from North Texas late

IOWA CITY — When your two-deep at running back features Akrum Wadley and James Butler, you don’t expect to have to dig too far into the cookie jar.

But on a Saturday afternoon with its star duo down with injuries, Iowa proved that the cookie jar is stocked to the brim with talented backs.

Entering the game as the backfield’s third and fourth options, redshirt freshman Toren Young and true freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin put their contrasting styles on display in the second half of Iowa’s 31-14 win, carrying the Hawkeyes in a hard-fought game against a North Texas team that had a 14-10 halftime lead.

Wadley rolled his ankle in the first half and Butler injured his shoulder on the opening drive of the third quarter.

“To me, it was no surprise that they played well,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said of the freshmen. “I think we all have really good confidence in them. You always worry about a guy’s first couple of carries, just to get his confidence level, but both those guys did some really good things.”

Following the Iowa State game, Ferentz gave Young a pep talk to reassure him that his time would come; Young hadn’t touched the ball through the first two games. He made his time count as the primary ball carrier Saturday to the tune of 19 carries for 78 yards.

Ferentz “said I’ve been doing some good things in practice,” Young said, “and to keep working hard and to stay patient.”

Patient is the right word to describe Young’s running style. Other apt terms are hard-nosed, imposing and violent.

“I’ve always been a down-hill runner. North-south guy, you know,” Young said. “I try to be physical. I like to lower my pads.”

So you don’t mind hitting a guy?

“No, sir.”

Time and time again, Iowa was able to lean on the two freshmen in the second half, as the Hawkeyes possessed the ball for more than 21 minutes in wearing down the Mean Green defense.

That was never more evident than during the final 17 minutes of the game, when Iowa orchestrated a pair of extended drives with a combined total of three passes thrown by sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley.

A 16-play drive that started at the 2:06 mark of the third quarter resulted in a touchdown with 8:16 left in the fourth, putting the Hawkeyes up 24-14.

That’s nearly a nine-minute drive.

“Our first three possessions were fairly long,” Ferentz said. “Part of the deal was we were hoping to keep their offense off the field and we did a good job of that in the second half.”

Up by three points after opening the third quarter with a touchdown, the Hawkeyes were facing a Mean Green offense that had moved the ball well in the first 30 minutes. But the defense stepped up to force a pair of incompletions on second and third down after allowing North Texas to reach the Iowa 41.

The Hawkeyes took over at their own 13-yard line following the punt and proceeded to ride the bruising running style of Young for 41 yards on 11 carries on the drive. Once the North Texas defense was beat up by the physical play of Young, Iowa turned to Kelly-Martin for a change of pace.

On his third carry of the drive, the true freshman from Plainfield, Illinois, darted for a 23-yard gain, diving for the goal line and coming up just short. That was on the 13th play of the drive. With a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, Young pounded in between the tackles for no gain on a pair of runs.

On third down and play No. 16, Ferentz decided to go back to Kelly-Martin, whose 2-yard burst over left tackle gave the Hawkeyes a 24-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter.Young said Kelly-Martin is “very quick” and doesn’t like to get tackled.

“He runs hard and he’s able to run past people and make a move on guys,” Young said. “He’s a good player.”

The Iowa defense seized that momentum and forced a punt after four plays to give its offense the ball at the North Texas 43 with 5:46 left in the game.

Stanley was 1 of 2 for 12 yards on the ensuing drive and the rest was all the two freshmen. This time, it was Kelly-Martin’s turn to be the featured back. He rushed for 29 yards on six carries and capped the drive by squeezing into the end zone for his second score. He finished the game with 74 yards on 11 carries.

Down 31-14, North Texas quarterback Mason Fine threw an out pattern that was intercepted by sophomore defensive back Josh Jackson on the Mean Green’s first play following the Iowa touchdown.

With only 1:40 remaining, Young knifed through the defense for runs of 15 and 11 yards to get down to the 2-yard line. Instead of hammering in for another score, Iowa chose to kneel and close out the game.

As for Wadley (ankle) and Butler (shoulder), Ferentz said he will wait to speculate on the extent of the injuries.

“Akrum tried to walk out without an ice bag, so we sent him back in for that, but it doesn’t look like anything serious,” Ferentz said. “James, we’ll have to see. I will probably know more Tuesday, but I’m not overly concerned.”

Regardless of the status of their senior running backs for next weekend’s matchup with No. 5 Penn State, Young is confident that he and Kelly-Martin will be able to carry the load if their numbers are called.

“The biggest thing is we’ve got to focus on us; we’ve got to go to practice and do our job and just be ready to go,” Young said. “Nothing really changes; football is football. The most important thing is taking care of your business.”

Penalties, odd errors frustrate both teams

The Hawkeyes committed six penalties for 63 yards and made several uncharacteristic errors in Saturday’s 31-14 win over North Texas.

It’s hard to pick which blunder stung the most.

The first happened on the Hawkeyes’ opening drive when it was ruled that, instead of a touchdown, former Iowa Western standout Nick Easley fumbled the ball through the end zone, resulting in a touchback.

On the next Iowa possession, Nate Stanley hit Akrum Wadley for 74-yard touchdown strike — until an unsportsmanlike conduct for high-stepping into the end zone called it back.

At the end of the first half, freshman defensive lineman AJ Epenesa was penalized for roughing the passer and cornerback Manny Rugamba for a late hit, setting up the Mean Green’s go-ahead touchdown.

The Hawkeyes cleaned it up in the second half.

“At halftime we decided we’re going to get going here,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And we played better — and didn’t leave the door open to be in that position where it might be a disappointing outcome.”

Linebacker Josey Jewell sounded confident it won’t be a lasting issue.

“We need to take out the penalties and the stuff we did wrong,” Jewell said. “I’m pretty positive we’ll fix it.”

North Texas wasn’t free from mistakes, either. When Jalen Guyton caught his 13-yard touchdown at the end of the first half, he put his hand to his ear and got whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct.

North Texas finished with 13 penalties for 119 yards.

Stanley continues TD pace

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley entered the season with nine career pass attempts.

Through three games, he has 10 touchdowns through the air.

He finished Saturday 16 of 27 with 197 yards and two scores — both to former Omaha South star Noah Fant.

“The improvement he’s made is encouraging for us,” Ferentz said of his sophomore quarterback. “And there are a couple of bumps coming. We all know that. But he’s done some impressive things so far. Today he could have got rattled. Last week was a week to get rattled, but he gives you that same look all the time, which is OK with me.”

Defense buckles down

A week after giving up 467 yards to Iowa State, Iowa’s defense gave cause for concern in the opening half Saturday.

The Hawkeyes surrendered 212 yards and 11 first downs.

After the break, however, Iowa held North Texas scoreless and allowed 93 total yards.

Controlling the clock

Iowa has dominated time of possession the last two weeks.

During a 44-41 overtime victory against Iowa State, Iowa held the ball for 37:07, compared with 22:53 for ISU.

The Hawkeyes topped themselves Saturday, having possession for 40:45 of 60 minutes, including a 16-play, 87-yard drive in the fourth quarter that took 8:50 off the clock.

Bizarre play

While’s Iowa’s deficit going into the half wasn’t anticipated, it could have been worse.

Stanley took a hit and fumbled with 1:52 remaining in the second quarter. Mean Green defensive tackle Ulaiasi Tauaalo scooped it on his way to the end zone. Running back James Butler chased him down and poked the ball lose, which was recovered 33 yards from the original line of scrimmage.

Fourth-down call

Down three facing fourth-and-five with 4:24 remaining in the third quarter, Ferentz elected not to try for the tie.

“That particular juncture I just felt like we needed — you’re either going to dig in and do something or we were going to keep screwing around here,” Ferentz said. “So I felt like we just had to do something.”

The Hawkeyes did. Stanley hit Fant for a 23-yard touchdown to put Iowa ahead 17-14.

Quick hits

» Of Fant’s seven catches this year, four have gone for scores.

» Iowa’s new tradition of waving to the kids in the newly built children’s hospital continued. ESPN2 stayed live following the first quarter to get a glimpse.

» Easley finished with five catches for 37 yards.

Five things

1. These are the kind of games that show off a team’s grit. Lots of penalties and mistakes, but the Hawkeyes grinded out a win thanks to long drives and solid defense.

2. Even with a stable of rock-solid backs, Noah Fant might be Iowa’s best weapon. He’s a matchup nightmare with his elite combination of size and athleticism.

3. Other than a long run in the first quarter and a pair of throws by the backup quarterback to end the first half, the Iowa defense was dominant and kept the Mean Green just out of reach.

4. North Texas quarterback Mason Fine is a talented thrower who can extend plays with his feet. The sophomore has a bright future ahead.

5. Quarterback Nate Stanley came a little bit back down to Earth with some inaccurate throws after his inspiring performance at Iowa State. He overthrew a pair of deep balls to Fant and Matt VandeBerg on the same drive and got lucky with a dropped interception that he forced between three defenders.

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