IOWA CITY — They’ll take the win and go back to work.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up all over the place, a lot of stuff, but we’ll take the ‘W’ and move on to the next one,’’ Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin said. “We’ve got a busy week of work in front of us.’’
The 17th-ranked Hawkeyes started quickly and ultimately, that led Iowa to a season-opening 45-21 win over Miami (Ohio) in front of a crowd of 68,390 at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa turned two first-quarter fumbles by the RedHawks into quick points, opening a 21-0 lead just over nine minutes into the game. That proved to be enough of a margin to allow the Hawkeyes to withstand some inconsistencies on offense and defensive deficiencies as Miami chipped away at the 28-7 advantage Iowa had opened by halftime.
“It was the kind of start we wanted,’’ running back LeShun Daniels said. “We came out, sent a message. The defense did a great job, putting the ball back in our hands and we were able to put some points up early.’’
Quarterback C.J. Beathard completed 10-of-11 passes in the first half, complementing the strength of a rushing attack that saw Akrum Wadley and Daniels combine for 112 yards on 11 carries in the first two quarters.
“It was a good start, but the second half, we didn’t play our best,’’ Beathard said. “We didn’t keep it up.’’
Beathard finished the game connecting on 13 of his 20 pass attempts for 192 yards, while Wadley topped 100 yards for the fourth time in his career with a 121-yard performance. Daniels ran for 83.
“When you’ve got backs like that doing the things they did, that makes it worthwhile,’’ said Sean Welsh, who started at guard.
The Hawkeyes played all but the opening three minutes of the game without starting middle linebacker Josey Jewell, who was disqualified for the rest of the contest after he was called for targeting on a punt return after Miami’s first drive stalled.
Already mixing in plenty of newcomers — Iowa played 10 true freshmen in the game — that only added to the challenges of an opening game.
“Losing one of the leaders of your defense stinks especially when you lose a guy that early in the game, but guys go down like that sometimes,’’ Beathard said. “When it happens, you have to have other guys step up. That happened and that’s good.’’
Sophomore Jack Hockaday moved into Jewell’s spot in the heart of the Hawkeye defense. Three plays after a one-yard touchdown run by Daniels sent Iowa on its way to a 7-0 lead, he forced a fumble that Parker Hesse returned 28 yards to the Miami 12-yard line.
Two plays later, Iowa led 14-0 with 7 minutes, 14 seconds left in the opening quarter following an 11-yard touchdown run by Wadley.
Seconds later, redshirt freshman defensive end Anthony Nelson forced a fumble as he sacked Miami quarterback Billy Bahl and Iowa again struck quickly.
Jerminic Smith caught a 38-yard pass on the first play of the series, then followed that up on the next snap by delivering a key block which allowed Daniels to race down the sideline for a 43-yard score that left the Hawkeyes in front 21-0 with 5:41 to play in the opening quarter.
“I liked the way our offense capitalized on the takeaways,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I saw some good responses out there based on what was going on. At times, we did a really good job.’’
The Hawkeyes did surrender 424 yards, giving up 266 through the air as Bahl completed 19-of-29 passes.
Miami frustrated Iowa with three methodical marches to the end zone as it piled up 158 rushing yards, scoring all of its touchdowns on drives of at least 12 plays and 74 yards.
“Our run defense was not what it needs to be, and credit Miami, too. I think they’re an improved team, but we have some things to work on,’’ Ferentz said.
When Bahl hit James Gardner with the second of his two touchdown catches from eight yards with 9:43 left in the game, Miami found itself within a 35-21 score.
“It was a close game and should have been closer,’’ RedHawks coach Chuck Martin said. “Without the dang turnovers, it’s a really close game. Even though our defense didn’t play great, they felt like they had a chance.’’
Iowa collected a third score off of a RedHawks turnover in the fourth quarter, again on a drive set up by a fumble forced by Nelson as he sacked Bahl.
Sam Brincks recovered at the Miami 18 and Derrick Mitchell scored on a five-yard carry with 3:08 to play.
“You just want to go out and make plays, try to make something happen,’’ Nelson said. “We’ve got a lot to work on but this was a good day for all of us to find out where we’re at so we can go back to work now and try to get better.’’