IOWA CITY — They’ve waited all season for a good, consistent running game. You’ve waited all season for a good, consistent running game.
The Iowa Hawkeyes finally produced one the final two weeks of the regular season.
A good performance last week at Illinois was followed by a season-high 266 yards on the ground in a 31-28 win over Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium. This truly was a Black Friday for the Blackshirts.
Pretty ironic that Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz was the one who ended up with a bloody lip in the postgame celebration following Miguel Recinos’ winning field goal, considering his offensive line gave its opponent one during most of the game.
“Obviously the run game hasn’t been as good as we’ve wanted it to be this year,” said Iowa center Keegan Render. “We knew all the pieces were there, we just had to keep executing, keep grinding a little bit. I think we did a good job today.”
“It’s everybody playing together, which is what you want,” said Iowa guard Ross Reynolds. “Everybody is out there pushing and fighting, the running backs are doing a great job of finishing plays, everybody is blocking. It’s awesome.”
Who has been especially awesome is Mekhi Sargent. The sophomore running back from Key West, Fla., and Iowa Western Community College gave Iowa its first 100-yard rusher of the season last week when he picked up 121 yards.
That was nothing. Sargent rushed 26 times for 173 yards and a touchdown here, adding a 5-yard TD catch.
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Iowa has gone with a three-headed monster at running back most of the season, with Sargent, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. But it was a two-headed monster here, with Young adding 83 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
“Hold on to the ball and drive. Hold on to the ball and drive,” Sargent said. “We did a good job of tha today.”
“As an offense, we’ve just been doing a better job of executing,” Young said. “We’ve been real close all year long, we’ve shown flashes of good things. Today was another day where we were able to execute and get some things done. It feels good. The best feeling is that you know you can do more. You can improve on this and that. There isn’t a limit. We can continue to get better.”
How telling it was that first-year Nebraska Coach Scott Frost spoke about the difference in physicality between these teams. A program and fanbase that loves to talk about the glory days of Tom Osborne and power football simply got out-power footballed.
Frost vowed to change that with his emphasis on strength and conditioning.
“What disturbed me is right now Iowa is a bigger, stronger football team,” he said. “That’s right now. I never thought I’d see that, hear that or say that about a Nebraska football team.”
“Our line continues to mature,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “The veteran guys inside, Reynolds and Keegan (Render), those guys have done a really good job. From where I stand, (it) looked like those guys played pretty well. Our tackles just keep climbing the ladder. The backs ran hard. One of those days where it happened. Would like to do it every week.”
Iowa averaged 5.9 yards per rush Friday. Its dominant run game produced nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession.
“Their whole game plan, obviously, was to keep the ball away from our offense,” Frost said. “It drives you crazy as a play caller, because you are standing on the sideline for what seems like hours at a time. It seemed like hours at a time before you get the ball back. They did a great job of managing the clock today with long, sustained drives.”
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