IOWA CITY — Sean Welsh and James Daniels showed up for postgame interviews Saturday wearing smiles as wide as the holes they spent the day opening for the Iowa football team.
The two anchors of the offensive line, the only Ohio natives on Iowa’s two-deep roster, had just helped the Hawkeyes hand third-ranked Ohio State a humbling 55-24 beatdown at Kinnick Stadium and they were savoring the moment.
“You can’t imagine,’’ said Welsh, a Springboro, Ohio, native. “Growing up, my heroes were Ohio State players, and to go out there and play the way we did, to put that kind of a beating on them, wow, it’s an incredible feeling, the memory of a lifetime.’’
Because of the Big Ten’s divisional setup and schedule rotation, Saturday was the only opportunity that Welsh and Daniels were guaranteed to compete against their home state school.
Daniels, whose father LeShun Daniels Sr. played on the offensive line for the Buckeyes, stepped out of his normally reserved game week routine and addressed the team on Friday night.
“My choice came down to Iowa and Ohio State and the reason I came here is how the Iowa offense plays and how we do things,’’ Daniels said. “I told the team, ‘Tomorrow, we need to show what the Iowa offensive line is all about.’”
Against a defensive front which had limited Big Ten opponents to 63.8 yards per game on the ground, the Hawkeyes rushed for a season-high 243 yards as part of a balanced offense which also passed for 244 yards.
Iowa, which had averaged 3.6 yards per rush, averaged 6.4 on its 38 running plays against a defense which had been limiting opponents to 2.9 yards per carry.
The Hawkeyes’ success, and the 118 yards Akrum Wadley was able to run for, started with the work up front.
In addition to Welsh at right guard and Daniels at center, Iowa continued to rotate Keegan Render and Ross Reynolds at left guard and stuck with freshman tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs.
“Our two tackles played a really good game and I think we had a lot of guys just grow up today,’’ Welsh said. “Nobody wants to hear it, but it really started in practice. The last two, three weeks, it felt like there was some progress being made. It finally carried over to a game.’’
Welsh believes confidence gained on the practice field led to the performance.
“This was by far our best week of preparation,’’ Welsh said. “Maybe it took playing a team like Ohio State for it all to work.’’
What transpired on the field Saturday had a familiar look to coach Kirk Ferentz.
“We looked more like what we want to look like, an Iowa football team,’’ Ferentz said. “Hopefully, that’s a good step. With young players, what they need is to gain some confidence. You can’t hand it to them. Hopefully, this becomes a step forward.’’
Ferentz credits Welsh and Daniels with leading the way.
“They’re our two elder statesmen. Both happen to be Ohio natives, but those two guys are our most veteran guys and I think they’re starting to show the other guys how to act a little bit,’’ Ferentz said.
As Iowa turns its attention to Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game at sixth-ranked Wisconsin, Welsh said the Hawkeyes can’t settle for the status quo.
“Now, it’s about what we can do with this, how can we build on what we accomplished?’’ Welsh said. “We have another big test in front of us. The approach doesn’t change and that starts with the work we put in on the practice field. It really does. What we did all week is why (Saturday) turned out the way it did.’’