Hensley: Iowa can’t afford a flat start offensively against Iowa State

Iowa’s offense looked solid in the second half, but the first half’s performance raises questions heading into the Cy-Hawk Series.

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Hensley: Iowa can’t afford a flat start offensively against Iowa State

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley talks with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz during Iowa's game against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies 33-7.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley talks with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz during Iowa's game against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies 33-7.

Nick Rohlman

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley talks with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz during Iowa's game against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies 33-7.

Nick Rohlman

Nick Rohlman

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley talks with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz during Iowa's game against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies 33-7.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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Iowa’s win against Northern Illinois was eerily similar to its win against North Texas last season. Against the Mean Green, the Hawkeyes had a beautiful chance to start things off with a bang. Akrum Wadley took off down the sidelines for a long touchdown, but the score was called back because of an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. Wadley had high-stepped into the end zone, and for time’s sake, I won’t rant (again) on how stupid that penalty was.

Anyway, instead of going up 7-0 in the game’s opening minutes, Iowa didn’t score. And didn’t score. The first half remained incredibly close, and North Texas led, 14-10, entering halftime.

Now, fast forward to Sept. 1. Nate Stanley fired a dime, a beautiful pass to Noah Fant on third down on the Hawkeyes’ opening series. Instead of securing the catch and gaining 40-plus yards, Fant dropped the pass. Iowa went three-and-out and then had its punt blocked.

I’m confident in saying that if Fant hauls in that pass, Iowa wins by 30-plus points. Connecting on those big plays, especially early on, is the best spark an offense can ask for.

Iowa needed some energy in a bottle from Toren Young in the second half, and he proved to be that elusive spark Iowa had spent the first half searching for. His 40-yard truck-and-run came in the third quarter. From there, Iowa’s offense looked better.

But aside from Young’s pair of big gains on the ground, Iowa’s running game looked iffy. Ivory Kelly-Martin averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Mekhi Sargent averaged 3.3. But I’m chalking that up to Iowa’s plug-and-play linemen who filled in for the suspended Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson. The passing game is where I have legitimate questions.

While Stanley had that beautiful pass to Fant (and that wasn’t his fault), he looked shaky at times; this wasn’t the Stanley we saw torch Ohio State for 5 touchdowns last season. Stanley completed just 47.8 percent of his passes, the second-worst single-game mark in his career as the Hawkeye starter.

It’s a fact that Iowa State is better than Northern Illinois, so the Hawkeye offense needs to be on its A-game this weekend if it wants to keep the Cy-Hawk Trophy in Iowa City.

I’m confident in saying that this season’s Cyclone team is, on paper, the better one that the Hawkeyes have faced. Iowa State has never really had a capable quarterback since Seneca Wallace, but now it does, and that’s been the elusive ingredient in completing a winning recipe.

Remember Kyle Kempt’s name.

Iowa’s secondary looked solid against Northern Illinois, and by solid, I mean none of the corners or safeties were burned. Matt Hankins, Michael Ojemudia, Jake Gervase, and Amani Hooker all looked sharp, staying close to their receivers and knocking away passes.

After all, Northern Illinois’ Marcus Childers completed just 56 percent of his 25 attempts, throwing for only 105 yards and tossing an interception. But Northern Illinois isn’t Iowa State.

I’m confident (maybe, to a fault) that Iowa won’t come out as flat offensively against Iowa State. But it can’t afford to.

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