MARION - On the heels of a breakout season, two words greeted the Marion football team as it began preparation for 2017.
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IOWA CITY — The weather here was perfect Saturday, like San Diego or Honolulu without some darn ocean and palm trees impeding the view.
The final score was Iowa 45, Miami (Ohio) 21, leading one to believe it was an idyllic season-opener for the Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium.
But the heavy-underdog RedHawks piled up 424 yards, including 158 on the ground, telling us it wasn’t total tranquility here.
No, this wasn’t as authoritative an opening victory for the Hawkeyes as their 31-14 vanquishing of Illinois State here a year ago. It left a lot of those “teachable moments” that coaches don’t really mind as long as they didn’t lead to defeat.
But this game also contained a lot of good for Iowa, and some things that were very good. Even on defense.
Namely, defensive end Anthony Nelson. He looks facially like a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, but played like a veteran purveyor of destruction.
Nelson had 2.5 quarterback sacks in his debut, a fine introduction if ever a defender had one. He followed that with postgame sound bites a veteran who wanted to incite no havoc would make.
“I’m just doing whatever I could, doing my best to help,” Nelson replied.
“I’m glad I was able to help the team like that.”
In Year 2 of Iowa football making a concerted effort to be considerably more media-friendly, the Hawkeyes did something new in their postgame and brought three players to an interview room’s podium, one at a time. The trio formed a perfect panorama of the emotions this game spawned.
The first, quarterback C.J. Beathard, called it a good game but not great. “You could definitely ask for better,” he said. “It’s never going to be perfect.”
The second was a somewhat-dour Bower. “I think we’ve got a lot of stuff to correct,” he said after making eight tackles for a defense that was on the field for over 36 minutes. “It definitely could have been better.”
Finally, there was running back Akrum Wadley. He was as full of mirth after the game as during it when he danced untouched on touchdown runs of 11 and 5 yards and amassed 121 yards on a mere 12 carries.
Ten yards a pop will have a guy feeling jovial, even someone who was chided to some degree by offensive line coach Brian Ferentz for preening a bit with a high-step on his first TD run.
“I got a little cute,” Wadley said.
“I don’t think (Ferentz) was feeling that.”
But the junior from New Jersey isn’t someone whose spirit you want to stifle. He brings lightning. His running back mate, starter LeShun Daniels (10 rushes, 83 yards, 2 TDs), brings thunder. If they can make it rain all season the way they did Saturday, opposing defenses have headaches ahead.
“We were running the ball at will against those guys, it seemed like,” Beathard said.
“You probably could run behind that,” Wadley told a reporter. “That line we’ve got — James Daniels, (Sean) Welsh, Ike (Boettger) leading the way — anybody could run behind them.”
So offense was pretty good stuff. Sophomore wide receiver Jerminic Smith got as many compliments for his blocking as his sweet 12-yard touchdown catch in traffic.
Coaches like receivers who can catch. They love receivers who block, and Smith sealed off a cornerback on Wadley’s first TD run.
Defensively, Iowa had a plus-3 in turnovers. But there also was those 424 yards and 25 first-downs allowed. The RedHawks rushed and passed with aplomb.
“If you had told me we were going to run the ball …” Miami Coach Chuck Martin said. “In no point in time were we not getting positive plays on the ground.”
You can’t lay all that on the nearly game-long absence of Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, ejected for targeting in the first quarter.
“Certainly our run defense was not what it needs to be,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.
But the sky was blue, the breeze was comfortable, and the Hawkeyes put a win on the board without enduring a serious injury or flop sweat.
And hey, how about that Nelson kid?
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