INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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News, notes, grades and anecdotes from Iowa's 38-31 loss to Northwestern:
The Setup — This is a series of the “plays of the game” set forth under the premise that Iowa is an extremely fragile football team that, right now, just doesn’t respond to adversity.
With about a minute left in the third quarter and the game tied, Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo — you learned that name by heart the hard way — broke through offensive tackle Cole Croston and seemed to grab Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard by the face mask. The officials, head referee Jerry McGinn’s crew, kept their flags in their pockets.
This was a third-and-6 from Northwestern’s 35. Iowa punted and then everything fell apart for about six minutes.
What happened — Iowa lost it. The game, yes, for sure, you saw that. The Hawkeyes kind of lost their minds and that’s something new and something that dug them a hole.
Iowa’s defense, short circuiting all day against an offense that entered the game averaging just 16.3 points a game, was hit with a facemask penalty on linebacker Josey Jewell on first down. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson compounded the mistake with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after saying something to an official.
“I should’ve thought about it and I didn’t,” Johnson said. “I have to think about how it’s going to affect or team. A 15-yard penalty is never a good thing.”
The Hawkeyes gave NU 30 free yards they couldn’t afford to give up.
The Result — Northwestern went from its 20 to Iowa’s 48. Six plays later, QB Clayton Thorson hit wide receiver Austin Carr for a 25-yard TD for a 38-24 lead that the Cats would keep.
So, the non-call on the Beathard facemask (by the way, Beathard said he thought it was a facemask, but added that he didn’t see the replay) snowballed into a facemask and a personal foul against, which snowballed into the go-ahead TD.
This team isn’t good enough to pass out yards and points like Halloween candy. That became crystal clear with Saturday’s result. It was an uncharacteristic freak out that leaves you questioning whether this team is on the same page and if it has even opened the book.
D- — Iowa’s punt returns were dandy.
D — This is the “D” that used to go with Iowa’s defense. It’s an “efense” now. It has to earn back the “D.”
D- — The “small details” that Iowa players keep talking about fixing don’t seem so small anymore.
Time flies, and Bryan Bulaga is already in his seventh season as a Green Bay Packers offensive tackle.
Bulaga was Iowa’s honorary captain for this game, taking advantage of the Packers’ bye week. He was the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year in the Hawkeyes’ 2009 Orange Bowl season. He then was the Packers’ first-round pick in the 2010 draft as a junior.
Bulaga didn’t want to talk specifics about when it came to what he told the Hawkeyes Friday, but said it was about “your personal feelings, what you went through here. I think every guy who stands up in front of the team where he used to play shows a passion and appreciation for Coach Ferentz.”
He raved about fellow former Hawkeye Mike Daniels, a Packers defensive end who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago.
“He’s just a little bowling ball,” said Bulaga. “He plays 100 miles an hour all the time. He’s so low to the ground that it’s hard for bigger guys to move him, and he’s stronger than an ox. I can only see him getting better.”
435 — Yards per game allowed by Northwestern coming into Saturday
283 — Total yards for the Iowa offense Saturday
162 — Return yards for Desmond King
38 — Northwestern’s points Saturday
16.3 — Northwestern’s points per game before Saturday
12 — Runs of 10-plus yards allowed by Northwestern last week
1 — Runs of 10-plus yards by Iowa on Saturday
6 — Penalties called against Iowa
1 — Penalties called against Northwestern
4 — Sacks by Northwestern’s Ifeadi Odenigbo against Iowa
1 — Sacks by Northwestern’s Ifeadi Odenigbo before Saturday
Iowa played its first game this season without Matt VandeBerg, and his presence certainly was missed — especially in third down situations. The senior was at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday on crutches and in a medical boot, doing his best to play the role of player-coach for his fellow wide receivers.
The Hawkeyes got Derrick Mitchell back into the lineup after missing the last few weeks, and the junior saw limited action. He finished with no carries, but did have two catches for 10 yards. Wide receiver Jonathan Parker was healthy according to sideline reports during the game, but did not play. With VandeBerg out, Iowa used Jerminic Smith, Riley McCarron and Jay Scheel almost exclusively at receiver. Sophomore Ronald Nash and freshman Devonte Young played sparingly.
The most significant injury of the day came for Northwestern, though. Linebacker Brett Walsh sustained a big hit on a kickoff return and was carted off on a backboard after being tended to for a lengthy time by Wildcats trainers.
“It was a pretty crisp block by one of our players on the kick return,” said Coach Kirk Ferentz. “Everything that (Northwestern Coach) Pat (Fitzgerald) said, it sounds like things are OK, they were just taking real precautionary steps. He obviously got great medical attention, so hopefully everything is good there.”
The Hawkeyes hit the road again next week, this time heading north to battle for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy — which currently resides in the Hansen Performance Center. Iowa (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) faces a Minnesota team coming off a road test at Penn State in its first game of the Big Ten Conference season. The Hawkeyes have won three of the last four against the Gophers.