CHICAGO – Iowa's first game is in the books and you can file the 18-17 come-from-behind victory under the “A win is a win” category.
“I'm really proud of our team,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “I thought they fought very hard.”
Trailing by a score of 17-9 at the onset of the fourth quarter, Iowa got a 50-yard field goal from veteran kicker Michael Meyer and a 23-yard touchdown run from Damon Bullock with 2 minutes 15 seconds left to play to escape Chicago's Soldier Field with a win.
“We expected this to be a tough game,” said Ferentz. “Northern Illinois is an excellent football team and they were a year ago (as well).”
The Huskies entered the game with the nation's longest FBS winning streak at nine games but were limited to just 201 yards of offense by an Iowa team that still has some ways to go before its ready for the grind of Big Ten play.
“It's tough when you put that much on the table, when you invest that much, when you play that hard,” said Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren. “To come away with a loss – it hurts.”
Here's what to take away from today's game, both the good and the bad
Ferentz said earlier in the week that we would see three running backs today – Bullock, Greg Garmon and Michael Malloy – but Bullock performed so well in 30 carries that he rendered that plan moot. Not only did Bullock rush for 150 yards and the game-winning score but he also was the team's third-leading receiver with 3 catches for 26 yards.
“I didn't know what to expect,” Ferentz said. “He's a very young player...I don't think he had many yards last season, period.”
He didn't. Bullock doubled his career yards on Iowa's first series alone.
“I thought he made some tough runs and did some good things,” Ferentz said.
Greg Davis's eye for detail
The jury is still out on Iowa's new offensive coordinator after just one game but you have to credit the newcomer for calling the game-winning touchdown.
“It was a play we talked about at halftime based off something that happened in the second quarter,” Ferentz said. “Greg pulled it out of his pocket at an opportune moment, obviously.
The Hawks finished with a mundane 268 yards of offense on 82 plays, controlling the time of possession 38:42 to 21:18.
It wasn't a sellout – only 52,117 people attended the game – but the majority were wearing black and gold and save for a few scattered boos here and there in the second half, the Iowa fans never seemed to desert the team.
For the record, the 2007 meeting between these same two teams drew a capacity crowd of 61,500.
The offensive line
Six sacks is an unacceptable number, especially against a MAC team. No offense to Northern Illinois, which returned five starters on the defensive line, but the Hawkeyes have to do better when it comes to protecting quarterback James Vandenberg.
“We came into the game knowing we'd be able to get after them defensively, especially the defensive line,” defensive end Sean Progar said. “We got some good keys on film.”
James Vandenberg's struggles
Maybe you can chalk it up to the spotty protection, but Vandenberg did not look like a senior quarterback at times Saturday. He finished with a line of 21 completions on 33 attempts for 129 yards. His longest pass was just 20 yards.
“There's no question we've got some things to work on,” Vandenberg said. “The good thing is most of them are things we control. We'll address them this week and hopefully be able to figure out a solution.
It's been a long-running joke for years. Soldier Field has one of the worst playing surfaces of any NFL stadium in the country and it once again showed Saturday. Twice kickers slipped, including on Meyer's 50-yard field goal, and grounds crew members were constantly tending to the sod.
Ferentz addressed not wanting the novelty of this game to wear off when he met with the media on Tuesday but I think his biggest concern with continuing to play in Chicago would be the field conditions.
Both teams played on the same field and faced the same conditions and they both were likely unhappy with things (neither coach was asked to address the matter following the game).
Additionally, the public address system did not work in the stadium for most of the first half and traffic and parking were once again a nightmare, as both were in 2007.