IOWA CITY — Iowa’s offense wasn’t there. The passing game really wasn’t there. It was in a lost and found at a Walmart.
And then it was there.
The Hawkeyes brushed off a “hurry up and wait” kind of day through three quarters and put together a game-clinching drive that to put away Iowa State in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 13-3 victory at Kinnick Stadium.
The drive started with quarterback Nate Stanley not exactly putting the ball where it needed to be for tight end Noah Fant and it was an incompletion.
Two plays later, Stanley hit tight end T.J. Hockenson to convert a third-and-9, move the chains and just kind of rev the Hawkeyes’ engine.
“We made the makable plays,” said Stanley, who finished 16 of 28 for 166 yards. “The offensive line blocked well all day. The backs ran extremely hard all day and Brandon made that play.”
And there’s the thing that might really move the Hawkeyes forward.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz said this week that sophomore wide receiver Brandon Smith might’ve been pushed into action before his time last season. He did only catch three passes. Before the fourth quarter Saturday, Smith had gone seven games without a catch.
Yes, Smith was the one with the smile in the postgame.
“Brandon capped it off with the nice catch at the end of the drive, we know what he can do,” center Keegan Render said. “It’s kind of mental with Brandon. Seeing him do that will raise his confidence.”
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On third-and-4 from ISU’s 32, Stanley got the Hawkeyes out of a run play that would’ve gone nowhere.
“That’s one thing we always talk about is not running a dead play,” Stanley said. “Running the ball against an eight-man box isn’t really the best thing. Brandon did a great job of getting open, and he made that play for us.”
Smith got his 6-2, 219-pound frame behind Iowa State corner D’Andre Payne for a 30-yard gain to Iowa State’s 2. Two plays later, running back Mekhi Sargent scored from 2 yards to give the Hawkeyes a comfortable 13-3 lead with 4:47 left in the game.
“What was going through my head was finally,” Smith said. “Finally, I got the good catch.”
That “finally” thing holds up for the entire offense, but this drive in particular was sort of nutty. Stanley had completed just 11 passes through three quarters. In this drive, he hit 5 of 7 for 62 yards.
“It’s like a lot of things in football, it’s hard to explain,” Ferentz said. “They did a great job today. They made it tough to throw, disrupted us, but at least we broke through. We came up with big plays in that last possession, the long possession.”
And it was Smith who came up with the biggest play. After five targets and no receptions last week, suddenly Smith was there.
“For a guy like Smith to make a play like that, it was a great throw, and it looked like a great throw from where I was standing,” Ferentz said. “Brandon’s a young player. He looks like a big player and all that stuff, but he’s still a young guy learning how to play. So hopefully, that will be good for his confidence, and that’s something you can’t give young players.”
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