The University of Iowa football team survived a season-opening scare from Northern Iowa before posting a 31-23 victory Saturday afternoon inside Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes led 24-23 with 12:42 remaining, before getting some breathing room with a six-play, 88-yard drive to push their advantage to 31-23 with just under seven minutes to play. Northern Iowa drove into Hawkeye territory with just under a minute remaining before sophomore Greg Mabin's interception sealed the Iowa victory.
"We are excited to get the victory," said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. "It was a tough game on both sides. We tip our hat to them, and we're just happy to come out with a victory.
"Our guys played hard. There are going to be some good teaching moments to learn from, but the most important thing is they played hard down the stretch, and you'd better be doing that in the fourth quarter or it's going to be a long year. That was a positive."
The Panthers out-gained Iowa, 405-401, in the contest, but the Hawkeyes doubled up UNI in first downs (26-13) and had a 5 1/2 minute advantage in time of possession. Iowa rushing attack piled up 151 yards and two scores, while junior Jake Rudock completed 31-of-41 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
Rudock completed at least one pass to 13 different players. Senior Kevonte Martin-Manley had eight receptions for 62 yards, while junior Jake Duzey caught seven passes for 34 yards. Junior Tevaun Smith and senior Damond Powell both had touchdown receptions. Smith also led Iowa on the ground with 35 yards on a reverse, while senior Mark Weisman was Iowa's top running back, gaining 34 yards on 10 carries with one score.
Senior Louis Trinca-Pasat led the Iowa defense, racking up a career-high 10 tackles. The defensive tackle had three tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks. Junior Jordan Lomax had nine tackles, while seniors John Lowdermilk and Quinton Alston both had eight stops apiece.
Panther quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen completed 17-of-37 yards for 380 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had a pair of interceptions. Running back David Johnson rushed for 34 yards on 13 carries, but made up for his lack of production by pulling in five catches for 203 yards and one score.
After leading 17-13 at the break, Iowa stretched its lead to 24-13 on its first drive of the second half. Smith was a one-man show during the series, taking a reverse one way, reversing field, and gaining 35 yards to the UNI 22 (a Panther personal foul on the play, moved Iowa to the 11).
Three plays later, Smith completed the spectacular series with a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown reception, giving Iowa a double-digit lead.
The Panthers used a quick-strike, big play on the ensuing series to keep the pressure on. Following a Darrian Miller rush for 5 yards up the middle, Kollmorgen connected with Johnson for a 70-yard pitch-and-catch for the score. The touchdown cut the lead to 24-20 with 9:31 left in the third quarter.
Northern Iowa forced the game's first turnover on the next series. Rudock connected with Jacob Hillyer for a 9-yard completion, but Brett McMakin's hit forced a fumble, and Max Busher had a six-yard return to the Iowa 47, but a personal foul brought the ball back into UNI territory.
Three plays into the Panther drive, Iowa returned the favor when redshirt freshman Bo Bower intercepted a Kollmorgen attempt along the Iowa sideline, giving the Hawkeyes the ball back at the Iowa 47. Iowa drove eight plays into the red zone, but came away empty when junior Marshall Koehn's field goal sailed wide left.
Northern Iowa took over at its own 20 and drove 75 yards over eight plays down to the Iowa 5. The Hawkeye defense stiffened, using a Bower sack for 6 yards to the 11 on second down and two consecutive delay of game penalties moved the ball back to the 21. The Panthers were forced to settle on Schmadeke's 38-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 24-23 with 12:42 remaining.
After consecutive three-and-outs, Iowa used a six-play, 88-yard drive to stretch its lead to 31-23. Rudock connected with Martin-Manley for a 16-yard reception on third-and-9 to move to midfield before finding Derrick Willies for 46-yards in the seam to the UNI 8. Powell found the end zone for Iowa's fourth touchdown, scoring from 12 yards out on a bubble screen, where he was forced to bypass one of his own offensive linemen -- Jordan Walsh -- to score.
Northern Iowa's final possession began on its own 18-yard line with 3:05 remaining, and Kollmorgen completed three passes, including a 22-yarder to Chad Owens, to move the Panthers into Iowa territory. On second down, Trinca-Pasat and Jaleel Johnson sacked Kollmorgen for a 7-yard loss and two plays later, Mabin's first career interception sent Iowa to the victory.
"The guys amped it up in the fourth quarter after struggling, and it wasn't much fun there for a while," said Ferentz. "They were moving it pretty good. (I was) pleased to see the defense anchoring there a little bit, and we made good adjustments on the sideline and the coaches were communicating and talking."
Iowa led 17-13 at the break, outgaining Northern Iowa 211-206 over the first 30 minutes. The Hawkeyes rushed for 74 and threw for 127 yards with both scores coming on the ground.
Iowa opened the game by using a three-play, 41-yard drive to put seven points on the board on its opening drive of the 2014 season. After Weisman returned the opening kickoff 50 yards to the UNI-40, the Hawkeyes found the end zone on a 13-yard touchdown run by sophomore LeShun Daniels, Jr. It was Daniels' first career score.
The Panthers answered with a six-play scoring drive on their first possession, which ended with a 36-yard field goal Schmadeke. Johnson got loose for the game's first big play, pulling in a 53-yard reception down the Iowa sideline to move deep into UI territory. The Panthers had a Miller touchdown taken off the board on a 10-yard holding penalty on third-and-6 from the 9, which forced UNI to settle for three.
Northern Iowa took advantage of strong field position to grab a 10-7 lead on its first drive of the second quarter. After taking over at the Iowa 48, the Panthers scored on a five-play drive, which ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Kollmorgen to Kevin Vereen, Jr.
Iowa answered in a big way, using a 17-play drive that covered 79 yards and took more than seven minutes off the clock. The Hawkeyes converted two third downs on the drive -- a 12-yard Rudock scramble on third-and-10 from midfield and a 12-yard pitch-and-catch from Rudock-to-Martin-Manley to the 17.
After a 1-yard Weisman run and a five-yard screen pass moved Iowa to the 3, Northern Iowa was whistled for a 10-yard defensive holding penalty to give the Hawkeyes a first-and-goal from the 1. The next play, Weisman found the end zone, giving the Hawkeyes a 14-10 lead.
Iowa and Northern Iowa traded field goals over the final seven minutes of the half. Kollmorgen connected with Johnson for a 60-yard pass on the first play of the final Panther drive of the half, moving the ball to the Iowa 15. Iowa's defense held, using back-to-back stats by Trinca-Pasat and Drew Ott to force a 37-yard Schmadeke field goal.
Starting its drive with 2:17 left, Rudock led Iowa on a 10-play, 51-yard drive to give the Hawkeyes a 17-13 lead at the break. Rudock completed 7-of-9 passes on the series to four different receivers, leading Iowa to the UNI 22. Koehn drilled a 40-yard field goal -- the first of his career -- with one second remaining in the half.
Iowa (1-0) returns to action Saturday, hosting Ball State at 2:30 p.m. (CT). The game will be televised on BTN.