In the first half at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night, Miami football nearly beat the Iowa Hawkeyes at their own game.
The RedHawks (0-1) played aggressive, smash-mouth defense while mixing the run and the pass on offense.
The result: Miami trailing only 3-0 at the end of the first quarter and 10-7 at halftime. For a brief period in the second quarter, the RedHawks held a 7-3 lead. They had a chance to go ahead before halftime but fell short after a red-zone penalty.
“It was a physical, knock-down, drag-out first half,” Miami head coach Chuck Martin said. “We were playing Iowa football. They were playing Iowa football. We were playing Iowa football. They were playing a little better than we were, up 10-7, but we were going toe-to-toe. We have similar styles. We’re not super suited to pull these upsets against Iowa because, in our league, we try to play like Iowa.”
The second half trended more toward the predictions, as Iowa (1-0) rattled off 28 points and held the RedHawks to seven, giving the home Hawkeyes a 38-14 victory.
After a failed fourth-down conversion by the Hawkeyes and a Miami punt on the teams’ first drives of the game, Iowa scored first on a 21-yard field goal by junior kicker Keith Duncan with 1:17 left in the opening quarter. Miami allowed the Hawkeyes to drive all the way to first-and-goal on the eight-yard line before bearing down and forcing the fourth-down kick from the three.
The RedHawks, led by true freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert, responded with a 10-play, 77-yard drive, capped off with touchdown. Gabbert connected with redshirt junior wide receiver Jack Sorenson on a fade route for the 11-yard, go-ahead score three minutes into the second quarter.
Gabbert quarterbacked Miami for the entire game, minus the last series. During fall camp, he battled redshirt sophomore Jackson Williamson and redshirt freshman AJ Mayer for the starting role. Martin had previously stated he planned to play multiple signal-callers — possibly all three — against the Hawkeyes.
Three minutes later, Iowa fired back with a touchdown of its own to take a 10-7 lead. Senior quarterback Nate Stanley found junior wide receiver Brandon Smith for the nine-yard paydirt trip.
Following punts by both teams, the RedHawks gained possession at the Iowa 45-yard line. They picked up nine yards on three plays, forcing a fourth-and-one attempt. After both teams burned timeouts, Miami was called for a 5-yard substitution infraction, pushing it out of go-for-it range and into punting territory.
“We need to get that first down,” Martin said. “We need to get it to 10-10. Ten-10 would’ve been good, 14-10 makes it a totally different game going into halftime.”
Instead, the score held at 10-7 heading into intermission. Still, it wasn’t the predicted blowout many thought it would be.
“I thought we came out and certainly didn’t dominate the first half, but we hung in there great,” Martin said.
In the third quarter, Iowa secured some much-needed separation from the RedHawks. The Hawkeyes scored two touchdowns — one passing, one rushing — while holding Miami scoreless during the period. The first scoring drive was assisted by a pass interference penalty on Miami senior defensive back Zedrick Raymond. The second featured a 45-yard completion from Stanley to redshirt freshman wide receiver Nico Ragaini.
With the Hawkeyes leading 24-7, Miami needed a momentum booster to keep itself within striking distance. The RedHawks got exactly that on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Facing fourth down-and-three from his team’s own 47, Martin instructed his offense to go for it. The gamble paid off, as Gabbert completed a screen pass to redshirt sophomore running back Davion Johnson for eight yards and a new set of downs.
“If we wanted a chance to win at 24-7 at the turn of the fourth quarter, we had to go for it,” Martin said. “I mean, it was going to get ugly if we didn’t get it right there. But if you’re still trying to win right there, there’s no choice. That’s what I said. They were like, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘We’ve got to go. I still want to win. It’s 24-7. You never know.’”
Gabbert tossed his second touchdown of the game to make it 24-14 six plays later. Redshirt junior tight end Andrew Homer was the recipient of the 20-yard pass.
From there, Iowa put its Big-Ten foot down.
The Hawkeyes went on two consecutive touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to push their lead to 38-14 with only three minutes remaining.
“I thought we really hung in there good, but, obviously, we didn’t come here to try to hang in there,” Martin said. “We needed to play 30 more minutes like the first half and try to find a way to win.”
While Gabbert performed well in his first collegiate start, he didn’t get much support from his run game. Miami ran for 59 net yards and no touchdowns on 25 carries. Iowa posted a much-different 213 net yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Gabbert finished the game with 186 passing yards and two scores. He threw an interception halfway through the final quarter but took only one sack against the Hawkeye pass rush.
Stanley hurled three touchdowns and tallied 252 passing yards for Iowa.
Miami redshirt sophomore defensive back Sterling Weatherford and redshirt junior linebacker Ryan McWood each had 10 total tackles, leading both teams in the category.
Martin, who liked the way his RedHawks had prepared and hung in the contest, was encouraged by some of the things he saw against a tough opponent.
“[The Hawkeyes] are good,” Martin said. “They’re big and physical. It was a monumental task for us. Did they wear us down? Yes. Do I think we got just as much worn down mentally as we did physically? Yes, and that’s a learning piece for our kids. I think we did get worn down physically, but I just think it’s hard out there. Those are big, strong guys, and they’re leaning on you and aren’t afraid to pound the ball up inside.”
Miami will play its first home game of 2019 next Saturday against Tennessee Tech. The contest is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at Yager Stadium and will air on ESPN+.