IOWA CITY — New season. New quarterback. Same old frustrations.
Jake Rudock endured growing pains Saturday in his debut at quarterback for the Iowa football team, throwing a pair of second-half interceptions to help Northern Illinois rally for a 30-27 victory over the Hawkeyes at sun-baked Kinnick Stadium.
Rudock’s final mistake came with 1 minute, 17 seconds remaining when the Huskies’ Jimmie Ward picked off a pass and returned it 20 yards to the Iowa 30-yard line, setting up a game-winning, 36-yard field goal by Mathew Sims with 5 seconds left on the clock.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted it to end,’’ said Rudock, who did complete 21-of-37 passes. “About halfway in the play, I realized it was a ball I shouldn’t have thrown. It was a tough way to end the day.’’
It ended a tough second half for the Hawkeyes, who were unable to sustain offensive momentum after rallying from an early 10-0 deficit.
The Hawkeyes piled up 302 yards of offense in the first half — just under 9 yards less than Iowa averaged per game a year ago — but Iowa gained just two first downs in the third quarter to position Northern Illinois for a rally.
The outstretched arms of Rudock allowed him to score on a 6-yard run in the final minute of the first half, sending Iowa into the locker room with a 24-17 lead at halftime.
But it didn’t last.
The teams traded punts during the first 10 minutes of the third quarter before the Huskies found a spark in the form of a fake.
Tyler Wedel, making his first start as Northern Illinois’ punter, sprinted 42 yards on a fake and four plays later, Sims hit the second of his three field goals. His connection from 25 yards cut the Iowa lead to 24-20 heading into the final quarter.
“We had to find a way to make plays,’’ Huskies coach Rod Carey said. “They hemmed us up and as an offense, we had to try something to get us going.’’
The punt fake proved to do the trick.
After Iowa’s Mike Meyer connected on a 44-yard field goal with 6:42 remaining in the game, Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch went to the air. A string of five straight completions ended with a 33-yard strike to Da’Ron Brown to tie the game at 27-27 with 5:05 to play.
Lynch, who gained just 14 of his 56 rushing yards in the second half, found another way to hand Iowa its seventh straight defeat.
The senior completed 25-of-41 passes for the game, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns.
“We weren’t going to let him beat us with his feet. We dared him to beat us with his arm and he did,’’ Iowa defensive end Dominic Alvis said. “We were hoping to make him pass the ball and give him credit, he made the plays when he had to make them.’’
And it was all sparked by the fake punt that provided Northern Illinois with the same type of momentum swing Iowa enjoyed when Christian Kirksey forced and then scooped up a fumble late in the first quarter, returning it 52 yards for a score which cut into the Huskies’ early 10-0 edge.
“We were just grinding coffee before that play,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We were struggling, just couldn’t get our footing or whatever, but plays like that spark you. That’s part of football.’’
Kirksey said he simply found himself at the right place at the right time.
“I saw the ball coming my way and I was able to get myself in a position to make the play we needed,’’ Kirksey said. “I was just trying to make something happen.’’
Rudock connected on 8-of-11 passes in the second quarter, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz, to send Iowa into the locker room with a seven-point lead at the half.
Ferentz said he was generally pleased with Rudock’s debut performance, but shared Rudock’s disappointment in the offense’s inability to carry momentum into the second half.
“We had a shot on a quick slant and didn’t make that one, had a sneak where we were in motion, took a shot on third-and-short and didn’t make that one and then the interception,’’ Ferentz said. “Those kind of plays, they really took the air out of our balloon.’’
And that sends Rudock back to work.
“I can’t be happy after a loss like this,’’ he said. “We worked too hard to walk out of here with this kind of outcome.’’