Iowa Football

No. 20 Iowa 38, Miami (Ohio) 14: Hawkeyes launch successfully in 2019

Hold your breath on tackle Alaric Jackson's injury

IOWA CITY — It was weird. It was uneven. It was kind of all over place. It was the first game of the year.

The 20th-ranked Hawkeyes (1-0) alternated between muscular and clunky, but beyond that they might have some real patchwork going on with the offensive line.

Quarterback Nate Stanley threw three touchdown passes, completing 21 of 30 for 252 yards, and running back Mekhi Sargent had 156 yards from scrimmage and a TD to fuel the Hawkeyes’ 38-14 victory over Miami (Ohio) before 69,250 fans Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

Miami (0-1) gave Iowa’s defense headaches, with freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert showing poise and accuracy, but the Hawkeyes owned the third quarter — scoring a pair of TDs and shutting out Miami — and will head into their Big Ten opener next week against Rutgers (1-0) relatively unscathed.

The “relative” part was left offensive tackle Alaric Jackson. The 6-7, 320-pounder from Detroit suffered an injury to his right knee on the second drive of the night. He initially looked OK and on track to return, but did end up on crutches and slowly made his way to the locker room before halftime.

No immediate word on Jackson’s injury. He was an all-Big Ten pick last season and is a three-year starter.

“We don’t know right now what the extent of it is,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “There’s no sense worrying about it right now. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

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From there, Iowa’s offensive line was hunt-and-peck on the personnel end, but the offense stabilized nicely, finishing off the RedHawks with 213 yards rushing and all of the game control that goes with 213 yards rushing.

Yes, you absolutely have to hold your breath on Jackson’s injury, but that was an impressive performance from a group that included guard Kyler Schott, a walk-on from North Linn High School. Mark Kallenberger and true freshman Justin Britt also played in the second half.

“(Offensive line) Coach (Tim) Polasek does a great job of getting everyone on the O-line ready to play,” Stanley said. “Then it falls on each guy who comes in. It’s like we said from the first day of camp, you are always one play away from getting in.”

Game control is rushing 41 times for 213 yards and munching nearly 36 minutes off the clock. The Hawkeyes’ 5.2-yard average on 41 carries was dominant, even with Jackson sidelined.

Senior Levi Paulsen went to right tackle, junior Tristan Wirfs went to left tackle and Schott saw his first real action at right guard. Redshirt freshman Cody Ince entered the game at left guard at some point in the first half.

Stanley spread the ball around Saturday night, hitting 10 different receivers. His 173.6 pass efficiency was his highest since 205.3 against Indiana last October. The Hawkeyes also finished with an impressive 465 yards total offense, their highest since 545 against Northern Iowa last year.

Stanley also rushed for 20 yards on five carries and picked up a couple of first downs with his feet. (The Hawkeyes rushed for five first downs and passed for four.)

“He played through some tough things,” Ferentz said. “We felt like maybe we were getting grabbed on some plays and things like that, but he just kept playing and broke the ice.”

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The Hawkeyes have now rushed for 200 yards and produced more than 400 yards total offense in three of their last four games.

“Coming off the Mississippi State game (MSU held Iowa to minus-15 yards rushing in the Outback Bowl), we didn’t do too well rushing,” Sargent said. “We had the mindset to come in and run the ball hard, run the ball tough. I think we did a really good job of that.”

Iowa’s first half was weird and kind of a disaster.

The Hawkeyes possessed the ball for more than half of the half and rushed 17 times for 90 yards (5 yards per carry). Sargent piled up 102 yards from scrimmage.

The Hawkeyes’ offense didn’t finish in the first half, while Miami’s offense hung around. Mainly, it was Gabbert getting comfortable in the pocket and finding openings in the Hawkeyes’ secondary.

Gabbert didn’t get pressured and finished the first half 9 of 12 with a TD (pass efficiency of 173.9). His 11-yard TD pass to wide receiver Jack Sorenson gave the RedHawks a 7-3 lead with 11:54 left in the second quarter.

The Hawkeyes rebounded on their next drive. Stanley found Sargent on a brilliantly executed screen for a 41-yard gain to Miami’s 9. Stanley finished the nine-play, 79-yard drive with a 9-yard TD pass to wide receiver Brandon Smith, giving Iowa a 10-7 lead with 8:20 left in the second quarter.

The Hawkeyes hit reset at halftime and came out roaring to start the second half.

Iowa’s defense held Miami to a three-and-out and then the offense put together back-to-back explosive passing plays to set up TD No. 2. Stanley fit in a beautiful pass to tight end Shaun Beyer, who looked a lot like former Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson, shielding the ball over the middle and taking a big hit on an 18-yard gain. Iowa followed that with Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s 16-yard reverse.

On what maybe was his second play as a Hawkeye, former Iowa City West prep Oliver Martin scored his first TD as a Hawkeye, a 9-yarder from Stanley for a 17-7 lead with 10:06 left in the third quarter.

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“It was really cool getting to play in front of a community I grew up with,” said Martin, who caught two passes for 14 yards and the TD.

The defense set up the offense again on the next drive. Defensive end Amani Jones sacked Gabbert for an 11-yard loss. The Hawkeyes took over at their 44 and, on second down, Stanley hit wide receiver Nico Ragaini down the seam for a 48-yard gain to Miami’s 2. Sargent smushed it in on the next play for a 24-7 lead.

The RedHawks weren’t dead yet. Iowa fullback Brady Ross fumbled at Miami’s 32. The RedHawks recovered and Gabbert directed a 10-play, 60-yard drive to pull Miami within 24-14 with 12:53 left in the game.

Sargent led Iowa with 91 rushing yards and 65 receiving yards.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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