Iowa Football

No. 14 Iowa 48, Middle Tennessee 3: Hawkeyes warm up for Michigan

Everything clicked in final nonconference game

Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. (3) pulls in a pass from quarterback Nate Stanley (4) for 33 yards as Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders safety Reed Blankenship (12) misses the tackle in the first quarter of their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. (3) pulls in a pass from quarterback Nate Stanley (4) for 33 yards as Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders safety Reed Blankenship (12) misses the tackle in the first quarter of their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Here’s your $1.55 million, Middle Tennessee. Now off you go.

The Iowa Hawkeyes have bigger proverbial fish to try to fry now after Saturday’s 48-3 beatdown before 63,706 fans at Kinnick Stadium.

Their Group of 5 opponent got a nice payday for an expected butt kicking. They got to prep for a remaining schedule of nothing but Big Ten Conference foes from here on out.

That begins next week against Michigan at The Big House. If you’re into that comparing-the-score thing, Michigan whacked Middle Tennessee in a late August season opener, 40-21.

If you’re into late August/September telling the tale of how an Iowa season goes, note that this is the fifth time in Kirk Ferentz’s 20 years as head coach that the Hawkeyes have gone 4-0. The last was 2015.

In four of those five years, Iowa won 10 or more games (2003, 2009 and 2015), with the outlier being 2006. You don’t want a reminder of 2006 because that stinker ended 6-7, capped by an Alamo Bowl loss to Texas.

The way things look right now, this is not going to be a 6-7 team.

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“I’m just going to enjoy the win we got today first,” said Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette. “I’m not looking too far ahead right now. Just going to take this win as it is, enjoy it with my team, and then come Monday, Michigan.”

Defense has been the thing that Middle Tennessee (1-3) struggles with, especially when it comes to the rush, so your neighbor, Joe, probably could have come up with a pretty effective offensive game plan. Iowa basically did as it pleased and got so many people involved in amassing 644 yards, the highest total of the 20-year Kirk Ferentz era.

“To me, that just means we’re special,” said Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent. “We can do a lot of things in this offense. Coach Brian (Ferentz) does a really good job of opening the playbook up (as offensive coordinator). It’s up to us to execute.”

It was dang near the balance holy grail, as the Hawkeyes rushed for 351 yards and passed for 293.

“Very rewarding,” said Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, who went 17 of 25 for 276 yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver Brandon Smith. “We work extremely hard, our practices are extremely hard. They’re designed that way ... It’s very rewarding to see all that hard work pay off and be out on the field and have all that success.”

“We executed at a high level,” said Smith, one of seven guys to catch a pass.

You could say that. That meant the offensive line, too, which expectedly pushed around Middle Tennessee’s smaller defense.

Iowa was oh, so close to three backs in triple-figures rushing (Toren Young had 131, true freshman Tyler Goodson 97 and Sargent 91). Of that trio, Young, considered the power guy, was the one breaking long runs, including a 52-yarder on the Hawkeyes’ opening possession of the second half.

Sargent, Smith-Marsette, fullback Brady Ross and backup quarterback Spencer Petras had TD runs, the first of both Ross’ and Petras’ careers.

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“We had an advantage physically,” Ferentz said. “They are a good football team and a really good program, very well coached. But we did have a physical edge, and that worked for us.”

“Definitely a confidence booster to get that many guys in there to perform at that level,” Young said. “Definitely felt good, but there’s a lot, yet, that we can build off of that. There are some yards we left out there, some more yards that we could get. We’re going to get on the film and focus on doing better every game.”

It didn’t matter that the Hawkeyes had yet another starting combination on the offensive line. This time around, it was Tristan Wirfs at left tackle, Landan Paulsen at left guard, Tyler Linderbaum at center, Cole Banwart at right guard and Levi Paulsen at right tackle.

Injuries to Alaric Jackson and Kyler Schott created the up-front chaos. Of course, the most chaos has come in the Iowa secondary, where it has been injury after injury after injury.

The Hawkeyes went with their traditional 4-3 look against Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher O’Hara and held him and the Blue Raiders to 216 total yards, half their average. Only a third-quarter field goal separated Iowa from notching its second shutout in four games.

Speaking of field goals, Iowa’s Keith Duncan hit a career-high 49-yarder. He was 2-for-3 on this splendid day.

“Some concerns coming into the game, any time you come off a bye week, that’s something you are always anxious about,” Ferentz said. “You never quite have the answer on that. But the guys handled that really well ... Bottom line is I think our guys showed up ready, and they competed hard, so that was good to see.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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