"It's tough when you put that much on the table, when you invest that much, when you play that hard," NIU Coach Dave Doeren said after his team's 18-17 defeat. "To come away with a loss – it hurts. These guys are resilient; they're tough kids, well-coached, fun to be around. They'll bounce back (Sunday) and get on track."
The Huskies replaced their entire offensive line and their star quarterback, Chandler Harnish, from a team that won the Mid-American Conference a year ago. Still, they led a solid Big Ten team with less than three minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
"Playing against a team like Iowa, you have to execute to have a chance," Doeren said. "And I know there were a couple plays offensively if we could have back over again, it probably would have gone a different direction. When we snapped the ball over the quarterback's head the one time, that really hurt our field position."
Iowa capitalized on that Husky miscue and a few key plays of its own down the stretch to move to 8-0 all-time against NIU. Hawkeye punter John Wienke dropped a ball inside the opponent's five-yard line that was expertly downed by Greg Castillo. The winners got a great play call from coordinator Greg Davis and strong execution from its offense on Damon Bullock's game-winning, 23-yard touchdown run with 2:15 on the clock.
Iowa also benefitted from winning the field position battle for much of the afternoon. On average, the Hawkeyes started their drives on their own 42 while NIU began on its own 23 on balance.
"It felt like we were on a short field a lot," Doeren said. "We needed a turnover; that's one thing with the defense -- we needed to create a takeaway in the second half. We needed to snap the ball, like I mentioned, and they had the downed punt. It's just hard to get going when you're always playing on the short field defensively."
TRAVEL TEAM: Iowa players in uniform against Northern Illinois.
QB - Vandenberg, Rudock, Sokol, Beathard
RB/FB - Garmon, Malloy, Rogers, Wesiman, Gimm, Bullock
WR - Staggs, Shumpert, Hillyer, T. Smith, Fleming, Nielsen, Martin-Manley, K. Davis, Cotton
TE - Krieger-Coble, Fiedorowicz, Duzey, Derby, Hamilton
OL - Walsh, Tobin, Ferentz, Scherff, Ward, MacMillan, Boffeli, Van Sloten, Donnal, Blythe.
DL - Bigach, Alvis, McMillan, Trinca-Pasat, Cooper, Gaglione, Ott, Davis, McMinn, Hardy, Venckus-Cucciara
LB - Kirksey, Hitchens, Plewa, Morris, Fisher, Collins, Perry, Alston,
DB - Lowery, Hyde, Swanson, Miller, Campbell, Lowdermilk, Castillo, Donatell, Law, Buford, Draper
ST - Meyer, Koehn, Mossbrucker, Kornbrath, Wienke, Kreiter.
INJURY REPORT: It was not asked of Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz in Saturday's post-game press conference, but defensive end Melvin Spears wasn't in uniform for the opener. The freshman was listed No. 2 on the most recent depth chart.
B.J. Lowery left during the second half after getting popped in the chest. Ferentz said after the game that he got good news on his junior cornerback that it was only a contusion. He was replaced by Castillo.
Junior Brett Van Sloten injured his leg in the second half of the game and exited for the rest of that series as Andrew Donnal stepped in. The starting right tackle reentered the game the next time Iowa had the ball but was limping noticeably.
Ferentz said earlier in the week that Malloy would see action on Saturday. The coach said after the game that he still expected the true freshman running back to play this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: What Iowa's special teams units looked like on Saturday.
Kick Return: Garmon, K. Davis, Hillyer, Staggs, Perry, Duzey, Derby, Lowdermilk, Krieger-Coble, Weisman, Gimm.
Kick Coverage: Meyer, Collins, Buford, Fisher, Lowdermlik, Nielsen, Alston, Castillo, Law, Hillyer, Shumpert.
Punt Return: Hyde, Hitchens. Lowery, Castillo, Donatell, Morris, Bigach, Kirksey, Gaglione, Hillyer, Draper.
Punt coverage: Kornbrath, Hyde, Lowery, Miller, Derby, Rogers, Fiedorowicz, Lowdermilk, Kreiter, Hitchens, Morris.
EXTRA POINTS: Despite Carl Davis being listed as the No. 1 DT on the most recent depth chart, Darian Cooper started ahead of him…Iowa went six deep in its D-line rotation. Davis came in at tackle and Joe Gaglione worked in with Alvis and Bigach at end…Draper and Castillo came into the game on dime package…Hamilton and Weisman were inserted into the lineup on short-yardage plays…Mike Meyer tied a career-long with 50-yard FG in fourth quarter...The Hawkeyes improved to 8-0 all-time against the Huskies, and won their 12th straight season opener… Tom Donatell and Joe Gaglione each recorded his first career forced fumble on Saturday…Starting linebackers James Morris and Anthony Hitchens each posted eight tackles to share the Hawkeye lead…Vandenberg's 16-yard, second-quarter run equalled his career high….Martin-Manley paced Iowa with six receptions while Keenan Davis led in receiving yards (40).