IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa scored three touchdowns in the first quarter then coasted to a 45-21 win against Miami of Ohio in the season opener at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Five things learned
1. C.J. Beathard can sling it. Iowa’s senior quarterback completed 10 of his first 11 passes in the first half and the incompletion originally was ruled a fumble that rolled out of the end zone. Beathard completed every type of pass, from calling quick screens at the line of scrimmage to deep passes. The most dramatic play kicked off Iowa’s third touchdown drive. Beathard hit wide receiver Jerminic Smith on a 38-yard pass off a flea flicker. Smith was covered tightly, yet Beathard fit it in and Smith made a great catch. Beathard completed 13 of 20 attempts for 192 yards and one touchdown.
2. It’s going to be difficult for Jay Scheel to dislodge Jerminic Smith from the starting lineup. It’s not just because of Smith’s pass-catching prowess. On LeShun Daniels’ 43-yard touchdown run, Smith blocked Miami’s cornerback 15 yards down the field and didn’t release until Daniels had passed him. Then on Iowa’s first drive of the third quarter, Smith ran a reverse for 10 yards and later caught a 12-yard pass, absorbing a hit in the end zone on fourth down. In Iowa’s physical pro-style attack, blocking is essential at wide receiver and so is toughness. Smith has both.
3. Iowa’s run defense leaves something to be desired. It wasn’t horrible, but Miami was able to churn yards the ground that Iowa usually doesn’t give up. Some of that was expected with middle linebacker Josey Jewell’s ejection for targeting early in the first quarter. Jewell is a team captain and one of the nation’s best linebackers. He was replaced by sophomore Jack Hockaday, who played his first snaps in the middle. Starting defensive end Parker Hesse also left the game early with an apparent hamstring injury.
4. Desmond King remains a threat as a return specialist. King had a 69-yard return called back because of Jewell’s targeting call. He returned the second-half kickoff 48 yards. King is quick, explosive and has great feel for blocks. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, which might be the reason he hasn’t returned a kick for a touchdown, but he can change field position.
5. Pass protection needs work. James Daniels started his first game at center, and Iowa miscommunicated on a few key plays that led to a pair of painful sacks on Beathard. That can’t happen against better teams. Without Beathard, Iowa is ordinary. With him, Iowa can be exceptional.
Turning point: Trailing 14-0, Miami moved to the Iowa 8-yard line after a 67-yard pass from Billy Bahl to Rokeem Williams. On the next play, Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson blasted Bahl, forcing a fumble. Defensive end Matt Nelson scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the 19. Iowa scored two plays later to put the game out of reach.
Question answered: Running back Akrum Wadley is a full-service running back. He was able to run both inside and outside, his extra weight clearly helping. He rushed for 121 yards on 10 attempts with two touchdowns.
Question looming: Cornerback Greg Mabin repeatedly was beaten to his side of the field for big plays, first downs and touchdowns. Few people are going to challenge Desmond King, so Mabin needs to come through or Iowa may look to sophomore Josh Jackson or true freshman Manny Rugamba next week.
Statistically speaking: Miami earned a time-of-possession advantage on the Hawkeyes (36 minutes, 21 seconds to 23:39). While Iowa had several explosive offensive plays, especially in the first half, that’s unacceptable for Iowa’s defense. Miami’s three touchdown drives were 6:59, 6:56 and 7:10.
What it means: Iowa traditionally struggles and has opening-day performances filled with explosive plays and ugly moments. This was no different. After taking a 21-0 lead, Iowa put the game in cruise control.
On offense, looks like Iowa just needs a few tweaks. Better communication up front in passing situations needs to be the primary focus.
Defense has some issues like stopping the run and getting off the field on third down.