By RICK BROWN
Leading up to the 2016 season opener against Miami of Ohio on Sept. 3 at Kinnick Stadium, hawkeyesports.com’s Rick Brown is taking a game-by-game look back at the University of Iowa’s historic 2015 season.
With perspective from Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, his staff and players, we hope to give you some insight into a season that will never be forgotten.
Iowa 62, North Texas 16
Sept. 26, 2015, Kinnick Stadium
Iowa City, Iowa
This game was a mismatch on paper, but no one in Iowa’s football complex was taking it for granted. There were several reasons why.
One, the winless Mean Green came to Iowa City at a perfect time. Iowa had just defeated Pittsburgh in scintillating fashion, 27-24, on Marshall Koehn’s 57-yard walkoff field goal the week before. And the Hawkeyes were heading to Madison, Wisconsin the following week to play the Badgers in a Big Ten opener that would go a long way in determining the West Division champion. It had all the makings of a trap game.
“Just the way the thing was situated,” University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They weren’t having a ton of success. You always worry about that as a coach. Were we going to be up mentally?”
There was also the Dan McCarney factor. The North Texas coach and Iowa City native, a former Hawkeye player and assistant coach, had tasted success at Kinnick Stadium as the coach at Iowa State.
Put it all together, and this was a real test to see if this team had bought into Ferentz’s one-game-at-a-time mantra.
“It was,” Ferentz said. “In fairness, this was certainly not Dan’s best team. They were really good two years ago. But my respect for Dan started with knowing him and working with him for those nine years (at Iowa), and then the great job he did at Iowa State. We were fully anticipating them being ready for us.”
The Mean Green’s spread attack on offense had also caught the attention of Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker.
“One thing about it, all you had to do was miss one tackle and it would be a touchdown, the way they spread the field,” Parker recalled. “One kid trips, one kid makes a mistake, and all of a sudden it’s a game.”
The Hawkeyes passed the challenge.
“You respect everybody you play,” Parker said. “That’s what I try to preach. You respect everyone who walks on that field. You can evaluate afterward. Maybe they weren’t that good, or maybe they were better than we thought. But you do that afterward because if you don’t respect your opponent? That’s the first thing that will get you. It’s so hard, and nobody understands that.”
The Hawkeyes came out and took care of business in a hurry, scoring 35 first-half points that paved the way to the program’s first 4-0 start since 2009. Running back Jordan Canzeri scored touchdowns on runs of 16, 10 and 3 yards in that opening half. And quarterback C.J. Beathard threw a pair of second quarter home-run balls, a 43-yarder to tight end George Kittle and an 81-yard strike to wide receiver Tevaun Smith. Beathard completed his first 15 pass attempts in the game, the best start by a Big Ten quarterback since Russell Wilson of Wisconsin completed his first 16 attempts in a 2011 game.
North Texas scored 13 points in that first half, but managed just one field goal the second half and got outscored by the Hawkeye defense. Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, then linebacker Bo Bower had an 88-yard pick six late in the game. It was the seventh-longest interception return for a touchdown in school history. Desmond King also returend an interception 88 yards for a touchdown later in the season against Maryland. Jewell’s interception was the first of his career.
“Our goal is always to get the ball back,” Parker said. “That is a hard thing to do, to get an interception and then take it all the way back. But they’ve got to be ready to go with the next series. It’s great because it’s points and it puts us up even more. But you have to stay focused.”
Iowa’s one-sided victory wasn’t picture-perfect. Koehn missed the point-after kick following Jewell’s touchdown. It was the first missed PAT by a Hawkeye kicker since Oct. 30, 2010, against Michigan State, a span covering 59 games and 185 kicks.
Smith, who had the first 100-yard receiving game of his career, injured a knee and missed the next two games. And offensive tackle Boone Myers suffered a neck injury and was out for the next three games.
“At the time it happened, I thought I was going back into the game,” Myers said. “I was ready to go back in. But the trainer said, ‘We’re going to look at this, this is more serious than we thought.’ I was really disappointed. Especially with Wisconsin coming the next week.”
In retrospect, the North Texas game gave Ferentz a clue that this would be a pretty special season. One game at a time? This team was all in.
“I think you touch on something that made last year’s team, to me, a little bit special,” Ferentz said. “They had a rare ability to treat each game with the importance it deserved. You always talk about those things, but some teams absorb it better.”
About the Author
Rick Brown is a native of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and a University of Iowa graduate. He covered Iowa athletics for the past four decades for the Des Moines Register prior to his retirement in December.