IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s defense has been among the nation’s best all season.
The Hawkeyes’ offense joined in on the fun at just the right time, racking up more yards than it ever has under longtime coach Kirk Ferentz.
Senior Nate Stanley threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns, Toren Young added a career-high 131 yards rushing and 14th-ranked Iowa throttled Middle Tennessee 48-3 on Saturday, moving to 4-0 for the third time in 10 years.
Brandon Smith caught both of Stanley’s TD throws for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa gained 644 yards ahead of a two-week stretch in which the Hawkeyes travel to No. 20 Michigan and host 12th-ranked Penn State. The Hawkeyes looked ready for that gauntlet against Middle Tennessee, going 10 of 16 on third downs, 3 for 3 on fourth downs and 6 of 6 in the red zone.
Iowa also didn’t commit a turnover for the third game in a row.
“For the most part, we controlled every phase of the game, which was good to see,” said Ferentz, now in his 21st season in charge at Iowa. “We’re playing clean football right now.”
Iowa racked up 358 of those yards in the first half and scored on its first four drives, a stretch headlined by an 18-yard TD throw from Stanley to Smith, to jump ahead 24-0 midway through the second quarter.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s 14-yard touchdown run off a jet sweep pushed Iowa’s lead to 34-3 with 2:19 left in the third quarter.
Asher O’Hara was 15 of 22 passing for 110 yards for Middle Tennessee (1-3). The Blue Raiders’ defense was gashed for over 8 yards a play.
“This game was very important for our offense. We executed at a high level,” Smith said.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes’ first drive — a nine-play, 65-yarder that lasted 3:59 and finished with a 4-yard touchdown run by Mekhi Sargent — was so clinical, so balanced and, frankly, so easy that it set the tone for the day. Iowa pushed around the undersized Blue Raiders from the opening whistle in joining its 2009 and 2015 teams with 4-0 starts. The Hawkeyes are now allowing an average of 9 points per game.
Middle Tennessee: This was likely the most overmatched the Blue Raiders will be all year. But they’ve got enough to compete for another bowl bid with Conference USA play starting next week. “We’ve had some tough losses. But it shows us who we can be,” O’Hara said. “We believe in each other.”
GROUND AND POUND
Iowa’s running game, which has been inconsistent over the past few years, exploded against the Blue Raiders. The Hawkeyes exploited their size advantage in the trenches and ran for 351 yards — their most since 2016 — on 51 carries. Sargent, the starting running back, didn’t touch the ball in the second half and still finished with 91 yards. Freshman Tyler Goodson continued to show that he might be special as well, juking past multiple defenders on his way to 97 yards.
Iowa punted just once. Keith Duncan missed his first field goal of the season, although he made up for it with successful tries from 49 and 42 yards. … The Hawkeyes went 10 for 16 on third downs. … Middle Tennessee committed eight penalties for 72 yards. Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon had the best game of his brief career. Nixon had seven total tackles, two for a loss, and he added a sack.
Iowa won’t move much unless the teams ahead of it lose. But the Hawkeyes are starting to look worthy of a spot in the top 10.
HE SAID IT
“I call him ‘The Human Joystick,'” Smith said of Goodson.
Iowa plays at Michigan next Saturday. The Wolverines, who pummeled Rutgers 52-0 on Saturday, beat Middle Tennessee 40-21 in their opener.
Middle Tennessee hosts Marshall on Oct. 5.