Sept. 1, 2007
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CHICAGO — Mitch King tried. So did Charles Godfrey.
But the play that officially jump-started Iowa’s 2007 football season was a 56-yard punt return by Andy Brodell at the outset of the second period. Three plays later Hawkeye running back Albert Young sprinted seven yards off left tackle for the opening touchdown of the game. After gathering a two-touchdown advantage the Hawkeyes set cruise control and coasted to a 16-3 victory over Northern Illinois this afternoon.
“Certainly we’re thrilled to get the win today,” UI Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It was a hard-fought game, which we anticipated coming in here. All of us have nothing but respect for the Northern Illinois program. From our standpoint it was certainly very, very obvious thre are a lot of things we need to clean up right now and that will be our focus this week and the weeks that follow.”
When the dust cleared on a tattered Soldier Field turf, Iowa amassed 383 yards, limited NI to 235 and more importantly, emerged with its seventh consecutive season-opening “W,” improving to 7-0 all-time against the Huskies. Billed as “The Soldier Field Showdown,” it could have just as easily been tabbed “The Kinnick East Clash,” as more than 40,000 UI fans accounted for better than 70 percent of the game’s 61,500 viewers.
Neither team was clicking early and there was a collective sigh of relief when Young found the end zone after a scoreless and somewhat uneventful first period. But the Iowa defense did its job keeping Northern Illinois in check during the first 15 minutes. On the Huskies’ first series, King foiled a third-down attempt by smothering NI quarterback Dan Nicholson for an 11-yard loss. Two Husky possessions later, Godfrey squelched a drive with his third career interception. His swipe was an athletic thing of beauty. On first-and-21, Godfrey drifted back into coverage, executed a well-timed leap and gave UI the ball at its own 35. The Hawkeyes moved the chains once during the next series, but had to give the ball back to NI with just under two minutes left in the half.
“First-game jitters,” said Young, referring to the slow start by the Hawkeyes. “It’s tough to come out right away and start ripping things off. It’s just more getting into a rhythm and recognizing what was there and once we did that we were able to be productive.”
Field position favored NI in the opening stanza as the Hawkeyes started drives on their own 10, 17, 27 and 35 yards lines. Brodell’s dandy return changed Iowa’s fortunes and essentially the momentum of the game. Once on the scoreboard, the Hawkeyes exhaled and began opening gaping holes for Young to power through. Following the first score, the Hawkeyes embarked on an 8-play, 94-yard scoring drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Christensen to tight end Brandon Myers. It was the second career reception and first career touchdown for Myers.
Young was the workhorse early in the drive, logging four consecutive rushes for 28 yards until tagging off to ground mate Damian Sims, who gained 23 yards on a rush that took the ball to the NI 4. One play earlier, receiver James Cleveland made a 40-yard reception — the longest play of the half.
NI sliced into the 13-point Hawkeye lead when Chris Nendick converted a 33-yard field with 3:05 left before halftime, making it 13-3 at the break. The nine-play drive nearly stalled five plays in when UI defensive back Adam Shada emerged from a pile with what he thought was a fumble recovery of a Britt Davis reception at the Iowa 33. A video review allowed the Huskies to retain possession.
Iowa dominated the second half (205 total yards to 98 by Northern Illinois) and although the Hawkeyes were never threatened with losing the lead, the only points of the second half came from Austin Signor’s 22-yard field goal with 1:25 remaining in the third period.
It was obvious that the Hawkeyes and their fans were anxious for the season to begin. Several minutes prior to kickoff, the sea of gold was hollering for anything it could — Herky, the band or the first glimpse of specialists arriving to the field for pre-game warm-ups. All the build-up and excitement was symbolized by Iowa’s first punt of the season and the response by true freshman Jordan Bernstine. Bernstine arrived on the scene several moments before the ball and collided with the intended returner, meriting for an interference penalty. On this day, the Hawkeyes had little difficulty overcoming its miscues. They were victorious despite committing 10 penalties for 173 yards and dropping eight passes.
Timeliness and trickery gave the Huskies life in the third period. Nicholson was darting for the first down marker near the home sideline when Hawkeye A.J. Edds gave him a forceful boost to the grass. Following the 15-yard personal foul penalty, NI converted a flea-flicker into a 40-yard completion down to the Hawkeye 3. The Huskies couldn’t move on the ground, so they went to the air, where Godfrey stepped in front of a deflected pass for his second interception of the game. Iowa would intercept three passes total. The final Husky drive was halted by an interception and 28-yard return by Mike Humpal.
“The good thing is I thought we played hard and played with good effort out there,” Ferentz said. “When things went wrong I didn’t see anyone drop their heads or act in a negative way at all. I think the response was positive.”
Even the most optimistic Hawkeye fan had to be impressed with the performance of the young UI offensive line. For the first time since Nov. 19, 2005 (vs. Minnesota), the Hawkeyes had two running backs gain more than 100 yards. Young finished with a game-high 144 on 23 carries and Sims added 110 yards on 16 tries. The prowess of the linemen wasn’t the only UI question answered this afternoon. Many wondered if Iowa’s momentum from last season’s effort at the Alamo Bowl would carry over to 2007. Brodell’s 63-yard touchdown reception a year ago gave the Hawkeyes a two-touchdown lead against Texas. Although that game turned out to be a UI moral victory, his electrifying return against NI was exactly the boost the Hawkeyes needed today.
REACHING THE CENTURY MARK — Young rushed for more than 100 yards for the 11th time in his career. He had seven consecutive 100-yard performances as a sophomore (eight total) and two last season including a 124-yard performance against Northern Illinois. In 2006, he gained a season-high 133 yards on 25 carries at Minnesota.
DON’T ALWAYS BELIEVE THE NUMBERS — Christensen played through some early-game jitters and settled into a comfortable throwing rhythm after a 2-for-9 effort in the first period. Christensen finished with 12 completions in 29 attempts, but the Hawkeyes dropped eight passes in the game.
PROVIDING A BURST — Sims made the most of his opportunities. Of his 16 carries, five went for 12 or more yards with a long of 23. It was the third 100-yard rushing game for Sims.
RECEIVING QUESTIONS — Cleveland hauled in three catches for 61 yards with a long of 40. He also made an acrobatic catch in the third period that took the ball down to the NI 18. But keep in mind he’s still a freshman. The next pass that came his way — a screen — was dropped.
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