Opportunistic Hawks buck Broncos
IOWA CITY – Don’t worry Mark Weisman, your teammates have your back.
Weisman, one of the nation’s top rushers, carried the ball just 10 times and played only two quarters Saturday, but that’s all he was needed for as the Hawkeye football team got two punt return touchdowns from Kevonte Martin-Manley, two interception return scores from B.J. Lowery and blasted through Western Michigan, 59-3, at Kinnick Stadium.
“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz said all week that this was an important game to keep our momentum going and to put a game together where we finished in all phases,” said Martin-Manley, who came 17 yards shy of Nile Kinnick’s program record for punt return yards in a game. “We were able to do that. I felt like we played a really good game overall.”
Martin-Manley is only the third Big Ten player to ever return two punts for touchdowns in a game and the first since 1983. Lowery’s two interception returns for touchdowns sets a new single-game record at Iowa and is tied for the second most ever in an NCAA game.
“That’s big man,” said Martin-Manley about being the only Iowa football player to return two punts for scores in a single game. “I am truly humbled by it. I am really fortunate to be in a situation to make plays like that for this team.
“We were pretty opportunistic today.”
The 56 points scored by Iowa (3-1) is the highest point total since the Hawkeyes scored 62 against Northwestern in 2002. The margin of victory also is tied for the largest under a Kirk Ferentz-coached team.
“It was a very strange game statistically and the whole nine yards,” Ferentz said. “The big plays we made today were great to see. We’re certainly pleased to get the victory today and just happy for our players. They worked extremely hard this week and they played hard today.”
The oddness of the game was evident in the statistics.
Iowa led 38-3 at halftime but had just 159 total yards of offense. The defense was the biggest reason why though, holding the Broncos (0-4) to 6 yards rushing in the first half and to 209 total yards in the game.
Western Michigan also was just 1-of-14 on third down conversions, and the Broncos’ only points came on a 23-yard field goal by Andrew Haldeman in the second quarter.
“You know you didn’t play well when the opposing head coach, who I respect and admire, looks at you and goes ‘just one of those games,'” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said. “We didn’t play very well today. Anytime you give a team two touchdowns on offense and two touchdowns on special teams, you didn’t play well.”
Weisman came into the game on pace for around 330 carries this season but only saw action in the first half against the Broncos. He carried it 10 times for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Jordan Canzeri led the rushing attack with 73 yards on 10 carries. He sprinted 16 yards for his first career rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter to give Iowa its final margin.
True freshman LeShun Daniels Jr. also carried it 13 times for 54 yards and Damon Bullock added 37 yards on 10 carries.
“It was good to spread the wealth,” said Weisman, who had three straight games of at least 100 yards rushing coming into the game. “Jordan and LeShun really showed what they can do out there. It was fun no doubt. We showed depth at a lot of positions today.”
Weisman said he was told at halftime that he wouldn’t play in the second half. He wasn’t alone though. Several Hawkeye starters got a front row seat on the sidelines for the final two quarters.
That could pay off big for the Hawkeyes during the Big Ten season.
“It’s nice to get the other guys in the game,” Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff said. “We want to be out there just as much as the other guys, but getting those other guys game experience is good, too. And they did a heck of a job as well.”
One of the players that got into the game offensively was back-up quarterback C.J. Beathard. Iowa did not use a backup quarterback in any game last year despite going 4-8 with James Vandenberg running the offense.
Beathard threw just three passes, completing one on a 54-yard pass to speedster Damond Powell. Powell finished with a team-high 83 receiving yards on two catches, while Beathard also rushed for 30 yards on four carries. Rudock also gained 30 yards on four carries in the win.
“Everybody should be happy we got our backup quarterback in, so that bodes well for the future, right?,” Ferentz said. “Weisman only had 10 carries, too, so it’s a double victory this week.”
Iowa forced a three and out against Western Michigan on the Broncos’ first drive but settled for a Mike Meyer 20-yard field goal on its opening possession.
The lead climbed to 10-0 7 minutes later when sophomore QB Jake Rudock found sophomore Jacob Hillyer for a 21-yard touchdown. It was the second career touchdown for Hillyer and Rudock finished 10-of-15 through the air for 134 yards and two scores.
Martin-Manley then put the game out of reach on back-to-back punt returns in the second quarter.
He took the first one back 83 yards and hit paydirt with 11:45 to play until halftime. Iowa’s defense forced another three-and-out and that set up Martin-Manley’s second return.
This time, Iowa’s leading wide receiver sprinted 63 yards to the end zone. He finished with 184 punt return yards on four attempts. Kinnick needed nine punt returns to set the school record of 201 yards.
“It would have been an honor to break it, but it’s still an honor to be mentioned with a guy like that,” said Martin-Manley on nearly breaking Kinnick’s school record.
Haldeman’s field goal cut the Iowa lead to 24-3, but the Hawkeyes finished off the first half with a 4-yard touchdown run by Weisman and Lowery’s first pick 6, which covered 35 yards.
“They were scoring more than our offense,” Weisman said of the defense and special teams. “It really energized the team for sure.”
Lowery began the second half with another pick 6. He snatched the first pass thrown by Zach Terrell and strolled in from 13 yards out to put Iowa up 45-3.
A Rudock 29-yard touchdown pass to Powell and Canzeri’s 16-yard touchdown run finalized the Hawkeye scoring output.
“We’re pleased with the win, don’t get me wrong, but I think everybody realizes we’re still a work in progress,” Ferentz said. “We improved today. There’s no question I felt better today than I did two weeks ago sitting here. We’re on the right track, but it’s day-by-day, week-by-week, and I know our older guys understand that.”
Next up for the Hawkeyes is a trip to Minneapolis and a date with the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-0). It’s the Big Ten opener for both teams and kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.
The last time Iowa scored touchdowns four different ways was in a 56-7 win over Buffalo in 2003. The Hawks scored via the pass, rush, fumble return and punt return in that victory. … The Hawkeyes outscored Western Michigan 28-3 in the second quarter Saturday. Iowa has outscored its opponents 58-10 in the second quarter this year. … The Broncos finished with just 74 rushing yards. The Hawkeyes are allowing 90 rush yards per game and have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown in 2013. … Reggie Spearman became the fourth Hawkeye true freshman to see action this year. He played on special teams and at linebacker.