IOWA CITY — There was one thing Toren Young wanted more than the early-week praise of his coach for a job well done in practice.
He wanted the football.
That chance came on Saturday, when the future proved to be now for the redshirt freshman and the rest of the Iowa football team as it pounded out a 31-14 victory over North Texas to move into Big Ten play with a 3-0 record.
After minor injuries sent starting running back Akrum Wadley and second-team James Butler to the sidelines, Young and true freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin both had plenty of opportunities to put their abilities on display as the Hawkeyes wore down the Mean Green with three lengthy second-half scoring drives.
Young ended up leading Iowa with 78 yards on 19 carries, four more yards than Kelly-Martin collected on 11 carries including fourth-quarter touchdown runs of two and six yards that secured the victory.
“I was definitely excited to get on the field and show what I could do,’’ said Young, whose physical running style was complemented by the quickness of Kelly-Martin.
“The coaches say nice things, tell us to keep working hard. There are two good backs in front of us who keep pushing us every day to get better and tell us to be ready for whenever we’re needed. The future, it came today I guess.’’
The Hawkeyes punished the undersized North Texas defensive line by running the ball 59 times for 238 yards, an effort that started early but didn’t pick up much steam until a second half that saw Iowa run for 167 of its yards and move the chains on seven of its nine third-down snaps.
“When you can’t get off the field on third down, not only physically, but mentally it’s going to wear you down,’’ Mean Green coach Seth Littrell said.
Iowa needed contributions from players like Young and Kelly-Martin to make that happen.
A lower leg injury had ended Wadley’s eight-carry day before halftime. Butler ran 16 times for 74 yards before an elbow injury knocked him out of the game in the third quarter.
Young and Kelly-Martin took over from there, finishing off a 14-play, 76-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass on a fourth and 5 play from Nathan Stanley to Noah Fant.
The second touchdown pass of a 16-of-27 passing performance by Stanley erased a 14-10 halftime deficit and moved Iowa ahead to stay with 4 minutes, 24 seconds left in the third quarter.
“At that point, I felt like we were running in quicksand and needed to get something going,’’ coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It was a great call and great execution. … At that particular juncture, I felt like we either needed to dig in and do something or else we were going to keep screwing around.’’
Iowa did something.
“Coach Brian Ferentz (Iowa’s first-year offensive coordinator) isn’t afraid to go for it on fourth down so when those plays are called, we have confidence that we’re going to execute it,’’ said Fant, who left the game and returned after dealing with what he labeled “a little stinger."
And once the Mean Green’s next drive stalled, the Hawkeyes went right back to putting the ball in the hands of Young and Kelly-Martin.
They helped Iowa craft a 16-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that ran 8 minutes, 50 seconds off the clock, a march that ended with Kelly-Martin’s first collegiate touchdown run with 8:16 to play.
That was followed by a 10-play, 43-yard drive that ended with a six-yard carry into the end zone by Kelly-Martin.
“It didn’t surprise me that they went in and did well,’’ Stanley said. “They have prepared well in practice, so it didn’t surprise me that they would come in and contribute the way they did. That’s what we see every day in practice,’’
The effort came as Iowa held North Texas to 93 yards of offense in the second half, limiting an attack which entered the game averaging 580.5 yards.
The majority came during an error- and penalty-filled first half which saw Iowa have two touchdowns called back.
The first came on a video review that negated a call on the field, determining that Nick Easley had fumbled the ball in the end zone on the first drive of the game. The second came when Wadley was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for high-stepping into the end zone during what would have been a 74-yard pass play.
“Stuff we didn’t need,’’ Ferentz said. “I told Akrum he was better than that.’’
North Texas seized the early opportunity, taking a 7-0 lead on a 41-yard run by Jeffery Wilson at the 5:34 mark of the first quarter.
Iowa overcame the penalty on Wadley, tying the game when T.J. Hockenson scored on an eight-yard pass from Stanley in the final minute of the opening quarter.
Josh Jackson blocked and Manny Rugamba recovered a botched 40-yard field goal try by the Mean Green (1-2) nearly six minutes into the second quarter, and Iowa answered with 42-yard Miguel Recinos field goal on the ensuing possession.
A 13-yard pass from back-up quarterback Quinn Shanbour to Jalen Guyton 11 seconds before halftime sent North Texas into the locker room with a lead at the break.
“We went into the locker room knowing we had to get back to playing Iowa football,’’ Rugamba said. “The young guys, they came in and helped us get that done.’’