Commentary: Hawkeye win provides a sigh of relief


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You weren’t sure the Hawkeyes had that kind of performance in them, were you?

After a dreary first two weeks, you doubted that the Iowa offense could score 27 points in a game this season or that James Vandenberg could complete a 50-yard pass.

It’s easy, in retrospect, to claim Iowa’s victory over Northern Iowa on Sept. 15 was a meaningless smack down of a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. And in most cases, it’s misguided to get excited about easy victories against weaker non-conference teams.

But the Hawkeyes proved one significant thing this weekend: Iowa fans’ worst fears about this team were unfounded. It is not in a total free fall. It’s not incapable of completing passes. It hasn’t sunk to championship-subdivision depths.

These things weren’t being taken for granted last week, when the Hawkeyes ranked near the bottom of the nation in several offensive statistics. They had scored just 12 points per game, seven spots away from dead last nationally. And they were preparing to face a feisty underdog that had taken Wisconsin, last season’s Big Ten champion, to the wire in Week 1.

Iowa hadn’t given its fans any reason to expect a comfortable win over UNI. National pundits from ESPN.com and CBS went on the record predicting a Hawkeye loss.

The team responded with a performance that made that all seem a little silly.

The Hawkeyes proved their offensive line can still control a line of scrimmage — Vandenberg wasn’t sacked once, and Iowa’s runners had huge holes to plunge through. They proved that once they establish a running game, they’re plenty capable of striking through the air. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Keenan Davis broke free for deep catches once UNI had to adjust to Iowa’s ground attack.

And the team continued to show its defense is better than anybody expected. Iowa has allowed just 10 points in the second halves of the first three games this year, zero in fourth quarters. Unheralded players continued to make big, timely plays. Senior defensive end Joe Gaglione recorded a fourth-quarter sack, senior safety Tom Donatell picked off a third-quarter pass, and junior linebacker Anthony Hitchens again led the team with 10 tackles.

None of this, of course, necessarily means that Iowa is good. The Hawkeyes lost to the only major-conference opponent they have faced so far, and they still have clear problems to fix before Big Ten play starts. A win against Northern Iowa is never going to prove otherwise.

But fans can feel better knowing the team’s offense won’t always be the dysfunctional mess from the first two games.

“I don’t know if it’s a sigh of relief,” Vandenberg said after the game. “But we were glad to take a step in the right direction.”

Maybe Vandenberg isn’t feeling relieved. But if you’re an Iowa fan, you learned this weekend that the Hawkeyes are comfortably better than a good championship-subdivision team.

Go ahead and sigh.

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