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Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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IOWA CITY — You wanted style points, Akrum Wadley delivered.
First, the junior running back led the Hawkeyes with 121 yards and two TDs on 12 carries Saturday in the No. 15 Hawkeyes’ season-opening 45-21 victory over Miami (Ohio) before 68,390 fans at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes (1-0) scored touchdowns in five or their first seven drives and turned a pair of RedHawks’ fumbles into a 21-0 first quarter lead. In its first 10 plays of the season, Iowa burst for gains of 23, 33, 38 and 43 yards. It was Iowa’s eighth consecutive victory at Kinnick.
Wadley sprinkled some style on things with high-stepping 11-yard TD run in the first quarter. He started the high steps a little early. A Miami defender got close and Wadley covered up.
You wanted style points. You got them.
“(Offensive line coach) Coach Brian Ferentz said, ‘Don’t do that anymore,” Wadley said. “I don’t think he was really feeling that. He said, ‘Good run, but look, we don’t need that.’”
The offense made it rain style points (Wadley also did the international sign for “making it rain” after the high stepping). Quarterback C.J. Beathard completed 13 of 20 for 192 yards and a TD. Wide receiver Matt VandeBerg caught four passes for 99 yards. Running back LeShun Daniels rushed 10 times for 83 yards, including a 43-yard toss sweep.
The play was supposed to go to Wadley, but the call went in late. Let’s just say Daniels made the most of it.
“I came over to the sideline and said, ‘Ya’ll really tried to take me out, that’s messed up,’” Daniels said with a laugh. “I don’t get in open space like that, like Akrum does, so when I do, I want to make the most of it.”
Ten true freshmen got in the game, including quarterback Nathan Stanley. True freshman kicker Keith Duncan made all of his PATs and a 22-yard field goal. Senior punter Ron Coluzzi, a graduate transfer from Central Michigan, averaged 41.7 yards on three punts and booted seven of his eight kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
“They play the game the right way all the time, always playing hard and smart all the time,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “For us I was looking forward to the physicality of Iowa, for our kids to feel what it’s like to play a team that plays a team that’s so tough.”
There were style points and there were some deductions. Let’s get to the muddy stuff.
Iowa’s defense allowed three monster scoring drives — 12 plays and 75 yards, 13 and 75 and 12 and 74. Miami made it 35-21 in the fourth quarter, even with three lost fumbles gumming up a nicely crisp day from sophomore quarterback Billy Bahl (19 of 29 for 266 yards and two TDs).
The RedHawks piled up 424 yards (6.1 yards per play on 70 plays) and rushed for 158 yards. Miami avoided cornerback Desmond King like he was made out of plutonium and gave senior cornerback Greg Mabin fits.
“I think (Mabin) is a helluva player, but you’ve got to pick your poison and we had some success,” Martin said. “If you go back and look at the film ... you could put me out there at left receiver and I’d have hung out with King and asked him why the hell he’s not in the NFL.”
Of course, the Hawkeyes’ defense played all day with one cleat.
Junior linebacker Josey Jewell was ejected after the first series. On punt return, Jewell leveled defensive back Matt Merimee and was called for targeting. That’s an automatic ejection. Jewell had to sit out the rest of the game, but will be eligible for all of next week’s game at Iowa State. Sophomore Jack Hockaday replaced Jewell.
That was Iowa’s defense playing with one cleat.
“Josey is a really aggressive player and that was a great hustle play, too,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He was trying to rush the punter and ended up right back where the return was. Nobody hurt more about not being out there than Josey. That’s what he works so hard for is to be out there playing.”
Redshirt freshman defensive end Anthony Nelson couldn’t have dreamed of a better debut. The 6-7, 252-pounder recorded 2.5 sacks and forced two fumbles off those sacks. He replaced sophomore Parker Hesse, who left the game after he tweaked a hamstring while returning a fumble (caused by Hockaday) 28 yards. Ferentz said he hopes Hesse is ready for Iowa State.
“Coming out for the first snaps, I had a lot of butterflies,” said Nelson, a Waukee native who first committed to Iowa State (his dad played D-line for the Hawkeyes. “I had my teammates helping me. They settled me down and got me into a comfort zone.”
Did the Hawkeyes find a comfort zone? In week 1? With one of its best defensive players ejected after one series?