By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Effort was there, so was growth.
The University of Iowa football team, inexperienced in several key areas, made strides Saturday during a 33-7 victory over Northern Illinois. At times the Hawkeye youth needed to respond in less-than-ideal situations.
Northern Illinois blocked a punt four plays into the season opener and started its initial drive at Iowa’s 23-yard-line. The Hawkeye defense featured five players who were not in the starting lineup for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Still, the unit dug in, held the Huskies to a run of two yards and a pass of five yards before Northern Illinois missed a 33-yard field goal.
“We started a little rough in the first offensive possession,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in a Sunday conversation with hawkeyesports.com. “We had a chance to convert a third down and didn’t do it. That was costly, then we turn around and give up a blocked punt and that is never good to do in any ball game. We were able to survive that; the defense got the stop.
“The defense did a good job in the first half keeping us in the ball game; I can’t say enough about the way they played in some tough circumstances. It was good team defense, it wasn’t just one phase, but as the game went on our defensive line gained momentum.”
Iowa allowed 146 yards in the first half and 65 in the second half.
Inexperience for the Hawkeyes wasn’t limited to the defensive side of the ball. Only Keegan Render, Levi Paulsen, Nate Stanley, and T.J. Hockenson started both the Pinstripe Bowl and Saturday’s season opener. Render started at guard in the Bronx and at center in Kinnick.
“We are inexperienced at a lot of positions, so to get more guys involved is going to be a good thing,” Ferentz said. “One of the things I was most pleased about was the effort our guys played with and going into it knowing we had a lot of inexperienced players, whether it was a fifth-year senior like Dalton Ferguson (left tackle) or our younger guys like (sophomore) Cole Banwart playing (right guard).”
Ferentz said punter Colten Rastetter was Iowa’s special teams player of the game. He punted four times for an average of 53.8 yards per punt with a long of 69. The 69-yarder was downed at the Northern Illinois 1-yard line. Iowa forced a safety two plays later and added a touchdown three plays later.
“To see him rebound the way he did, especially after a blocked punt — that probably would have rattled him a year ago,” Ferentz said. “But he came right back and played an outstanding game.”
Rastetter’s punts traveled 55, 34, 57 and 69 yards.
Iowa goes for its fourth consecutive victory in the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series when Iowa State comes to Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 8. The Cyclones’ game against South Dakota State on Saturday was canceled because of weather.
Ferentz praised Iowa’s facilities crew for having Kinnick Stadium in playing shape and the fans for creating a lively environment.
“Kudos to our field crew for getting the field ready,” he said. “We were wondering about out conditions when we had that heavy rain during the week, but our guys did a great job of getting the field ready to go.
“The other thing about the stadium, it was great with the new addition with the north end zone being completed. We could feel it from our bench area how loud it was and how vibrant the crowd was. We appreciate that, it should be a great environment Saturday.”