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IOWA CITY — Headed into Saturday’s game, North Texas head coach Seth Littrell said the Air Raid offense his team runs can either level the playing field against Power 5 opponents, or it could widen the gap.
If the offense is moving the ball swiftly and achieving first downs, he said, it can very much make up for the gap in athleticism and on-paper talent. If the opposite is true, all that ends up happening is the defense is on the field for a long time.
On the first drive and the end of the first half Saturday, the Mean Green got the former. In the second half, it was very much the latter.
Iowa got its 31-14 victory by controlling the ball and — especially in the Hawkeyes’ eyes — wearing down the North Texas defense with two tight ends and fullbacks leading the way for a quartet of running backs carrying the ball for 238 yards.
“We probably got a little worn down there late in the game,” Littrell said. “(Iowa’s) 86 snaps versus 48 snaps after a while will take its toll on you.
“It’ll wear you down for sure because of the style. But also we couldn’t get off the field on third down. It’s going to continually, not only physically, but mentally wear you down.”
The numbers bear out what Littrell said in painful detail, if you root for the Mean Green.
The Hawkeyes converted 11 of 18 third downs and 4 of 5 fourth downs — two of those conversions going for touchdowns — while possessing the ball for 40:45 of the game, which was 21:30 more than the Mean Green.
North Texas ran 46 plays in the game, but just 18 in the second half, and went 0 of 6 on third down.
As much as Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz lauded Mean Green quarterback Mason Fine — he compared Fine to Doug Flutie on the pregame radio show — for his arm and playmaking ability, not being able to stay on the field limited the impact he had early in the game.
North Texas started the game on fire, marching down the field 80 yards in six plays, not facing a third down and scoring on a 41-yard touchdown run from running back Jeffery Wilson. And when Fine briefly went out with a sprained knee sustained on a quarterback hit by A.J. Epenesa, backup Quinn Shanbour came in, had a run for 12 yards and went 2 for 2 for 26 yards, capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Guyton.
Iowa players across the board said they could sense North Texas wearing down as the game wore on — especially in the second half. Littrell said he saw Saturday as growth potential for his team, but lamented not getting or taking advantage of more opportunities — and gave Iowa credit for taking that away.
“We felt like we moved the ball well at times, but you know you’re going to get limited possessions so you have to make the most out of it,” Littrell said. “We’ve got to be more disciplined.
“We knew it was going to be a physical game. … It comes down to getting off the field when we get the opportunity.”
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