By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The 17th-ranked University of Iowa football team won its 13th straight regular season game, defeating Miami (Ohio), 45-21, in its 2016 opener Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium.
“We’re pleased to get the win,” said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. “They’re hard to come by, so I am happy about that. We also appreciate the great crowd, they were in it right from the get-go. We enjoyed that.”
The Redhawks outgained the Hawkeyes, 424-404, for the game thanks to a 12-plus minute advantage in time of possession (36:21-23:39) and a 70-50 advantage in total plays, but the Iowa defense forced three turnovers, turning them into 21 points.
“The turnover take away margin was good and I liked the way the offense capitalized on the takeaways, that’s a positive,” said Ferentz. “Like any game, you have things you’re not quite pleased with. There are some things we have to work on.
“Our run defense was not what it needs to be today. I want to give Miami credit, too. They’re an improved football team based on the film we saw and they worked hard.”
Iowa’s rushing attack churned out 212 yards and scored five touchdowns with junior Akrum Wadley recording his fourth career 100-yard game. He finished with 121 yards on 12 attempts with two scores, while starting running back LeShun Daniels, Jr., had 83 yards on 10 carries with two scores.
“We have seen a spark from Akrum since he stepped on campus,” said senior quarterback C.J. Beathard, who finished 13-of-20 for 192 yards with one touchdown. “He can turn a 3-yard run into a big play.”
Junior linebackers Ben Niemann and Bo Bower led the Iowa defense with nine and eight tackles, respectively. Redshirt freshman Anthony Nelson had six tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles in the first game of his career.
Miami (Ohio)’s Billy Bahl completed 19-of-29 attempts for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Rokeem Williams (six catches, 113 yards) and James Gardner (six catches, 95 yards, two touchdowns) had 208 of the Redhawks’ 266 receiving yards.
The Hawkeyes scored on their first three offensive possessions to build a 21-0 lead. Beathard led Iowa on its opening scoring drive with a damper hovering over the stadium after junior linebacker Josey Jewell was ejected for targeting following a personal foul penalty on the sixth play of the game.
Iowa’s rushing attack was the story of the opening 15 minutes with Daniels, Jr., and Wadley running for 101 yards on seven attempts and scoring three times.
Wadley carried the load on the first series, rushing three times for 40 yards and Daniels, Jr., found the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Hawkeyes a 7-0 lead.
Iowa’s defense set up the second score when sophomore linebacker Jack Hockaday — Jewell’s replacement — forced a Maurice Thomas fumble on a screen pass. Sophomore Parker Hesse scooped up the ball and returned it 28 yards along the Iowa sidelines to the Miami 12.
Wadley scored untouched, gliding into the end zone to give the Hawkeyes a 14-0 advantage.
The Redhawks opened their third possession with a 67-yard completion to Williams to the Iowa 8 before the Nelsons — Anthony and Matt — forced the game’s second turnover. Anthony Nelson got to Bahl off the edge for the sack and a forced fumble. Matt Nelson’s 4-yard return gave the Hawkeyes possession at their own 19.
Iowa needed just two plays to cover the 81 yards. With Hayden Fry in the stadium for the weekend’s Fry Fest festivities, the Hawkeyes took a page out of the old ball coach’s playbook.
On first down, Beathard handed off to Wadley, who pitched the ball back to Beathard on the flea-flicker. Beathard connected with sophomore Jerminic Smith for a 38-yard gain into Miami (Ohio) territory. On the next play, Daniels, Jr., was off to the races, taking a hand-off and scampering 43 yards to stretch the lead to 21-0.
“LeShun’s a beast,” said Wadley. “He took that handoff and took it to the house. He showed his speed there.”
Miami (Ohio) broke onto the scoreboard with a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that spanned quarters. Alonzo Smith’s 3-yard touchdown run made the score 21-7 with 13:42 left in the opening half.
Iowa took a 28-7 lead into the break courtesy of a seven-play, 68-yard drive. Beathard connected with Matt VandeBerg on a screen pass for 36 yards to the Miami 5. Iowa caught a break when a fumble by Riley McCarron (and subsequent touchback) was overturned via instant replay. Wadley scored his second touchdown from 5-yards out on the next play.
The Hawkeyes stretched their lead to 35-7 on their first drive of the second half, going 52 yards over eight plays. Beathard hooked up with VandeBerg for 23-yards on a back-shoulder throw to the 16 on third-and-7, and Smith hauled in a 12-yard touchdown strike on fourth-and-6.
The Redhawks closed the gap to 35-21 with consecutive 70-plus yard scoring drives in the third and fourth quarters. Miami (Ohio) went 75 yards over 13 plays for its first score, finding the end zone on a Bahl 29-yard touchdown pass to James Gardner with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
Miami (Ohio) followed with a 74-yard scoring drive to close to within a two possession game with 9:43 remaining. Gardner hauled in his second touchdown pass from 8-yards out, capping off a 12-play scoring drive.
Iowa scored the game’s final 10 points. Freshman Keith Duncan converted a 22-yard field goal with 6:04 remaining to give the Hawkeyes a 38-21 lead before Iowa’s defense forced its third turnover, setting up the final score.
On third-and-11 from the Miami 24, Anthony Nelson sacked Bahl for a 6-yard loss, jarring the ball loose for his second forced fumble of the game. Sophomore Sam Brincks pounced on the ball, giving Iowa possession at the Miami 18.
Freshman Nathan Stanley solidified himself as Beathard’s back-up under center, taking control of the offense for the Hawkeyes’ final drive. Four rushes — and one incomplete pass — later, junior Derrick Mitchell, Jr., scored from 5-yards out — Iowa’s fifth rushing touchdown — to make the score 45-21 advantage with 3:08 to play.
Iowa’s 45 points were the most by the team in a season-opener since 2008 when it scored 46 in a 46-3 victory over Maine.
Iowa (1-0) returns to action Sept. 10, hosting Iowa State in the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series match-up. The game will begin at 6:30 p.m. (CT) and be televised on BTN.