By Don Lund
I’ve got to admit I was a little nervous last Saturday when the Hawkeyes hosted the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.
When you meet a team that plays a junk defense and runs the spread offense, anything can happen.
A turnover or a blown coverage and you could be looking at a major upset.
Not so fast, my friends.
The Hawkeyes not only opened up their offense, which made Mike Evans happy, but the defense played solid in a 45-17 blowout.
Mike, who has 35 years coaching experience (in his mind), was pushing for the no-huddle offense and he got it on the opening drive.
James Vandenberg carved up the Warhawk defense all day and looks real comfortable in the shotgun calling plays.
The defense did its job, holding the ULM high-tech offense to three points in the first half and the special teams had a couple of nice punts, made every P.A.T. and field goal and only had a couple breakdowns in kickoff returns.
I actually slept in a little bit Saturday, getting up at 5:15 a.m. instead of 5 a.m.… watched “The Rifleman” twice, got to the game at 8:30 a.m. and was ready to go.
The Hawkeyes were also ready to go, as they started strong and finished strong.
James Vandenberg, who finished 21-32 for 270 yards and three touchdown passes, is getting to be a master on the fade pattern.
The game of football is all about match-ups. Last week Kevonte Martin-Manley was matched up twice with a linebacker. The result… two touchdown passes.
Saturday, the Warhawk defensive backs were listed at 5-8 and 5-11.
Marvin McNutt is 6-4, Keenan Davis 6-3 and Kevonte 6-1.
Marvin had seven catches for 100 yards and two scores, both on fade routes. Keenan had two receptions and one score, Kevonte six catches for 82 yards.
Marcus Cooker found his groove with 118 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns.
Marcus takes a lot of hits and the Hawks needed to find some help.
It could be number two running back by committee.
True freshman Damon Bullock got the first call and had seven carries for 21 yards. He also fumbled and needs to be a little more decisive, according to Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz.
Junior Jason White, who plays a lot of special teams, had one carry for 10 yards, plus two receptions for 21 yards.
Jordan Canzeri, also a true freshman, made his debut and knocked out 31 yards on five carries. He’s got some good speed and can make people miss.
Iowa will need all four to finish the season.
“Two weeks ago, things weren’t looking too good,” said Coach Ferentz. “We just talked to the guys about trying to take it a day at a time and really the choice was theirs on how they responded to the disappointment. The credit goes to the players. They’ve worked hard the last two weeks and I think we’ve made some progress.”
The Hawks were led by two fifth-year seniors that came to the Hawkeyes on different roads.
Thomas Nardo, a 6-3, 277-pound tackle from Pennsylvania, was asked to walk on at Iowa and finally received a scholarship last spring.
Thomas started his second straight game, led the team in tackles with 12, had a sack and two tackles for a loss.
“We’re all working hard and we’re just starting to grow up a little bit and get a little more experience under our belt,” said Thomas. “We’re all just working hard out there trying to help the team.”
Jordan Bernstine, a 5-11, 205-pound safety, came to Iowa as one of the top recruits in the Midwest.
Jordan admired former Iowa safety Bob Sanders and he is playing more and more like the three-time All-Big Ten player.
Jordan had a couple of nice kickoff returns, made a huge block on Micah Hyde’s punt return, downed an Eric Guthrie punt on the ULM four and had two tackles.
“That’s two of the good stories on our team right now, Nardo and Bernstine,” said the coach. “Jordan’s been playing great defensively and gives us some juice out there on special teams. Tom Nardo is a great story… a walk-on who is a good guy. All he does is work hard, he’s having fun out there and he’s playing sideline to sideline. He’s doing it with effort and desire and that goes a long ways.”
Iowa’s linebacker play was solid, with James Morris making 10 tackles and Christian Kirksey eight.
The defensive goal for most games is to hold the opposition to 17 points or less. Iowa did a good job slowing down the spread offense for the fourth straight week.
“Take away the two drives and it was a pretty good day defensively, but you can’t take those away, so that was on the list of things that was a little bit disappointing,” said Captain Kirk. “On the positive side, we turned the ball over on our own end and the defense came out and got the stop. That’s their job and they did a good job with that.”
Mike Meyers was perfect on extra points and 1-1 on field goals, Eric Guthrie had two punts for a 48-yard average and Micah Hyde returned two punts for a 21-yard average.
The kickoff coverage gave up one big return, but a 22.9 average isn’t bad.
This is a great week for a bye. Marcus Cooker is bruised up and needs a break. Tyler Nielsen has a sore ankle that needs to mend, plus defensive back B.J Lowery and offensive guard Nolan McMillan are expected to be ready for Penn State.
For the first time all season, the Hawks won’t be facing the spread.
The Nittany Lions like to use the shotgun, but will take some snaps under center.
Next week, I’ll give out midterm grades for the offense, defense and special teams.
I thought the Hawks would be 4-0 going into the bye week… I’ll take 3-1.