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It don’t come easy

Hawk Talk
Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley hands the ball off to Akrum Wadley as Illinois’ Cameron Watkins closes in during the Hawkeyes’ 45-16 Big Ten win Saturday, Oct. 7, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (photos by Don Lund)

“Got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues, and you know it don’t come easy.”
That’s the opening line to the song by Ringo Starr who, for some of you youngsters, was the drummer for the greatest band ever… The Beatles.
That seems to be the story with the Hawkeyes this season.
They start slow and pay their dues and then in four of the six first games, take over and finish strong with a W.
Iowa sometimes has a tendency of playing up or down to its opponents.
Against Iowa State and Penn State, the Hawks played up.
They played down against Michigan State and in the first half, played down to the Fighting Illini.
After watching Michigan State handle Michigan 14-10 at Ann Arbor Saturday night, maybe the Spartans are a little better than we thought.
What can you say about Brandon Snyder?
Brandon tore his ACL in April and was expected to miss the season.
Not so fast, my friend… he not only played but his 89-yard interception return in the third quarter sparked the Iowa explosion, made the score 24-13 and Iowa never looked back in a 45-16 Big Ten victory at Kinnick Stadium Oct. 7.
Can you believe Brandon was a walk-on?
When Brandon was a senior at West Lyon, he helped lead his team to a state championship with a 14-0 record.
Brandon was named Class A Player of the Year in football.
In basketball, Brandon led his team to its first state championship and was named class 1A Basketball Player of the Year.
Brandon was all-conference in baseball and placed in three events at state in track during his senior year.
What a great athlete and it’s so good to see him in Black and Gold. He finally got a scholarship after his second season.
Rick Heller, Iowa’s baseball coach, told me multisport athletes improve the most when they concentrate on one sport.
“Brandon’s play just kind of ignited us in the second half,” said Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz. “What a way for him to get back on the field. He’s not just a good player, but a well respected leader.”
Offense, defense and special teams all played well and even though the defense gave up 200 yards rushing, I’ll start there.

Iowa defense

The Hawkeye defense gave up some big plays on the ground, with Illinois ripping off 58- and 30-yard runs, but when you hold a team to 16 points, you should win (unless the other team holds you to 10 like Michigan State did).
The best thing to watch about Brandon’s interception was how he ran 89 yards untouched!
To see how the Hawkeyes set up a wall of blocking was a thing of beauty.
Iowa picked off two more passes, one by Amani Hooker in the Iowa end zone and one by freshman Geno Stone.
The Hawks scored 17 points off turnovers.
Josey Jewell and Bo Bower led the way with 10 tackles each and Iowa had eight pass breakups, two apiece by Brandon Snyder and Ben Niemann.
Ben also recovered a fumble.
Jeff George Jr. completed 22-45 with three interceptions and one sack.

Iowa offense

It looks like the Hawkeyes have found their offensive tackles for the next three-and-a-half years.
Redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson (6-7, 320) has started every game this year and will only get better.
Alaric didn’t start playing football until he was a junior in high school.
True freshman Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 315) started for the first time Saturday and the former Mount Vernon all-state player has a high ceiling.
“Going back to camp we thought Tristan had a chance to play this year,” said coach Ferentz. “He got hurt in September and it set him back a couple of big steps. We’ve been watching him in practice the last couple of weeks. He started to look like he had a clue of what he was doing. I thought he competed well.”
The last time a true freshman started on the offensive line for the Hawkeyes was James Daniels at guard in 2015.
The running game was better.
I know Illinois isn’t a powerhouse, but the Hawks racked up 191 yards (5.0 per carry) with Akrum Wadley getting back on track with 115 yards on 23 carries (5.0 per carry).
The thing that impressed me about Akrum’s running is that he didn’t have a run longer than 18 yards, and that came in the fourth quarter on an 18-yard touchdown run.
The senior from New Jersey ran hard between the tackles and didn’t have any negative yards.
Akrum is now 10th all-time in Iowa rushing, passing Eddie Phillips, Dennis Mosley and Shonn Greene… some pretty good runners.
Mosley was the first Hawkeye back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season and Greene ran for the most yards in a season (1,850).
Nate Stanley continues to improve with three more touchdown passes.
That is the third time this year that Nate has thrown three TD passes.
Nate hit Nick Easley and Akrum Wadley on five and two-yard touchdown passes but his best was a 39-yard scoring strike to Matt VandeBerg in the fourth quarter to put the Hawks up 31-16.
Nate hit Matt in stride across the middle and Matt ran in untouched.
It was good to see backup Tyler Wiegers not only get some snaps, but throw his first touchdown pass, a two-yard toss to Ivory Kelly-Martin with 3:36 left in the game.
Iowa might need Tyler sometime this season.
Nick Easley continues to impress.
The walk-on from Iowa Western Community College had seven catches and leads the team with 27 receptions.
“Coming into the season, we had some young guys and guys that haven’t played much before, but I think we’ve done a good job improving every week,” said Nick. “I’m proud of the young guys on how well they stepped in and have done a good job.”

Iowa special teams

The Hawkeyes had a fake punt that ended up with a touchdown and an onside kick, which they recovered, but didn’t convert into points.
Against Michigan State, they successfully faked a field goal.
So you’re saying Kirk Ferentz is loosening up?
Maybe…
The interesting part of the onside kick was that it was Miguel Recinos who made the call.
That’s a gutsy call for a first-year kicker.
Miguel is a junior, but he made a good call and Iowa recovered.
Miguel had another field goal (he is 5-6 for the season) and six more extra points (20-20 for the season).
He also had five kickoffs and five touchbacks.
True freshman Ryan Gersonde took off his redshirt and punted three times for a 37.7 average.
Still not great, but no returns.
Ryan was a high school All-American punter growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This was a much-needed win, to say the least.
Like I said, Illinois isn’t a powerhouse, but the Hawks needed to win and they did.
With the bye week coming up, the Hawks need to heal and get better.
The second half of the season has road games at Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Home games include Minnesota, Ohio State and Purdue.
In the preseason, I thought Iowa would be underdogs to Ohio State and Wisconsin.
None of the games are going to be easy.
Can Iowa finish strong?