IOWA CITY — The first clue that Iowa wasn’t messing around Saturday against Minnesota was the starting lineup.
Yes, that was freshman running back Tyler Goodson getting his first career start at running back. The second clue Iowa wasn’t going to fullback ISO its way downfield was its first five plays.
Quarterback Nate Stanley targeted wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette on the first play of the game. Then, Goodson got three carries, including a 26-yard gain on a quick pitch that Iowa has run in the past, just not this season. Stanley then targeted Smith-Marsette again.
It was a “playmakers lounge” day for Iowa, and not just the offense.
Now, anyone can get into the playmakers lounge. If Stanley doesn’t find tight end Nate Wieting for an 11-yard gain on fourth-and-1 during this drive, the Hawkeyes don’t score on their first drive and the fast start that ruled No. 8 Minnesota during the No. 20 Hawkeyes’ 23-19 victory at Kinnick Stadium probably evaporates.
And, certainly, Stanley doesn’t get the chance to hit wide receiver Nico Ragaini for the 21-yard TD and the 6-0 lead if Wieting isn’t open.
Stanley, who finished 14 of 23 for 173 yards and two TDs, has been holding the door to the playmakers lounge open for a while. Against Minnesota, just about everyone walked in and sat down.
Goodson rushed 13 times for 94 yards and a TD in his first start. The TD was a 10-yard run that gave Iowa a 13-0 lead late in the first quarter. Quite frankly, it was the kind of run that has been absent since Akrum Wadley, who gained more than 2,800 yards from 2014-17, graduated.
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A dip to the outside, destroyed pursuit angles with his speed. A stiff arm and then finally a decisive turn upfield and into the end zone.
“Just felt like he gave us our best chance to do things,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I’ve said it all along, we really like all three of our backs. The guys that are playing are doing a great job. Just thought it might be the best answer for today’s game. We’ll assess as we go.”
Goodson, a true freshman, even got to talk with the media. Kind of. Iowa has a policy that keeps true freshmen off limits for interviews. If they do something big and good, the school issues an interview. Goodson was big and good vs. the Gophers.
“I was speechless when (running backs coach Derrick Foster) first told me (that I was starting),” Goodson said. “... I’m glad I gained the trust of the coaches for them to put the ball in my hands and give me the best opportunities to make plays and score touchdowns and help the team win.”
Last season, Iowa had a pair of NFL first-round tight ends. So, yes, for Iowa’s wide receivers, it did feel like Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson just wouldn’t let them into playmakers lounge.
“At the beginning of the year, we knew those two tight ends were one of a kind, you weren’t going to see those two types of tight ends on the same team again,” Smith-Marsette said. “This year, we knew they weren’t going to be here and we were going to have to pick it up. We hold ourselves accountable to setting a high level out there.”
Every week, it seems like wide receiver Tyrone Tracy has gotten a targeted series. This week, he caught passes of 15, 27 and 9 yards and had an 11-yard rush to push a six-play, 69-yard TD drive that gave Iowa a 20-3 lead with 6:20 left in the second quarter. Smith-Marsette finished the drive with a 5-yard TD catch.
Tracy and Smith-Marsette led the Hawkeyes with eight targets apiece. They combined for 10 catches and 120 yards. Junior wide receiver Brandon Smith played one snap in this game, so he’s probably tracking a return to the X receiver position this week against Illinois (6-4, 4-3). Since Tracy was moved there in Smith’s absence, he’s caught 13 passes for 295 yards and a pair of TDs. That’s 22.7 yards per catch.
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“I think that shows the preparation he’s not only put in this year, but for his entire career,” Stanley said. “He’s really groomed himself for this.”
Playmakers lounge is defensive end A.J. Epenesa’s house.
Snap counts have piled up for Epenesa and fellow defensive end Chauncey Golston. In a situation where Minnesota was going to have to throw its way back into undefeated, Epenesa was unblockable. Lining up inside, Epenesa got his hands on Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan and then defensive end Joe Evans finished the sack. On the next play, Epenesa blew through the inside and put the Gophers in a third-and-21 with an 8-yard sack.
By the way, these were snap Nos. 64 and 65 for the 6-6, 280-pounder.
Epenesa finished with 2.5 sacks, a QB hit and five QB hurries.
“Just being confident in my teammates,” Epenesa said. “We ran games, we had stunts on and everyone was where they were supposed to be and I was another piece in that puzzle and things just lined up.”
And there’s the invite for everyone into playmakers lounge.
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