IOWA CITY — The first-game rust that needs removing, the unheralded opponent who arrives with attitude, the flop sweat from a battle the world had said would be no such thing.
The potential embarrassment of it all.
Fear found its way into a lot of college football coliseums that were hosting guests who can walk through airports without being recognized.
It was South Dakota State pushing Minnesota to the end Thursday night in Minneapolis before coming up short. It was Nevada with a last-second comeback win over Purdue Friday in Reno. It was Georgia State stunning Tennessee in Knoxville.
It was Iowa State needing three overtimes in Ames to squeeze by Northern Iowa by a fraction of a whisker.
So Iowa couldn’t and/or shouldn’t have been anything resembling overconfident by the time 6:45 p.m. rolled around Saturday at Kinnick Stadium and Miami (Ohio) was the obstacle.
The RedHawks came in and gave the three-touchdown favorite Hawkeyes 30 minutes of real tough ballgame, trailing just 10-7 and matching the home team for style points. Then the second half was played, and Iowa’s inherent advantages paid off for a 38-14 victory.
After both teams had two possessions in the second half, the Iowa lead had ballooned to 24-7. Players who shined for the Hawkeyes in that nine-minute block of time included:
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• Transfer receiver Oliver Martin, whose first Iowa catch was on a lovely a 9-yard TD throw from Nate Stanley.
Martin didn’t play until the third quarter. “I was anxious and wanted to play,” he said. He certainly played.
• Converted defensive end Amani Jones, who had would have paid off big had there been odds on the player to get Iowa’s first quarterback sack of the season. The unblocked Jones got a sack worth 11 yards to put Miami in a fourth-and-17.
“First sack of the 2019 season,” Jones said. “First one of many.”
• Freshman receiver Nico Ragaini, who got behind a RedHawk linebacker for a 45-yard catch-and-run two plays before a short Mekhi Sargent scoring run made it 24-7.
Ten Hawkeyes caught passes. More than half of them made plays that undeniably were impactful.
At least Miami took home a check for $1.2 million. The Hawkeyes’ largesse was paid for by the 69,000-plus fans at Kinnick Saturday who came expecting a late-August breeze.
But the biggest gust in the first half was an angry blast from Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz for a 15-yard penalty as he went onto the field to protest the lack of a holding call on a RedHawk who grabbed Hawkeye receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette on his way downfield late in the half.
Presumably, Iowa’s coaches will cut down on their penalties as the season goes along.
You can’t blame the Miami men for grabbing if a grab was for the grabbing. They came here to try to make trouble and some personal history. At halftime, they were behind by a mere field goal, and with a freshman quarterback performing just as well as Iowa senior Stanley.
Brett Gabbert hit on eight of his first nine passes, including an 11-yard beauty to Jack Sorenson for a touchdown and a 7-3 second-quarter lead. To its credit, Iowa immediately responded to Miami’s 77-yard TD drive with a 79-yard touchdown march of its own, one that wasn’t deterred by a third-and-21 situation near midfield.
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Stanley and running back Mekhi Sargent teamed for a lovely 41-yard play on a screen pass, with freshman offensive linemen Tyler Linderbaum and Cody Ince delivering effective blocks. Linderbaum sure seems to enjoy following the running backs downfield.
Solon’s Linderbaum had a mighty good first game at center. “He’s pretty tenacious,” said Hawkeye offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs. “I think that’s a good word (for him).”
Ince and sophomore Kyler Schott of Coggon — North Linn High in the house! — saw first-half duty on the offensive line. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said the plan was to get several O-linemen in this game, but Ince and Schott made early debuts because tackle Alaric Jackson suffered a first-quarter knee injury and was using crutches on the sideline by halftime.
Losing a player who had been considered a possible All-Big Ten player this season is not good. Whether it’s a serious injury will be determined soon.
“Injuries happen,” Wirfs said. “Coach Ferentz always tells us that’s the sucky part (of football).”
Jackson on crutches was a sore sight for everyone here on what turned out to be an evening that eventually displayed most of what the Hawkeyes wanted.
Sure, Iowa has much work left to do to be considered above average. Which makes it like most other teams after Week 1. But at least it isn’t 0-1 and an upset victim like Purdue and Tennessee.
We move on. The Hawkeyes’ next foe is Rutgers, another airport anonymity.
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