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NIU

NIU offense struggles in season-opening loss at Iowa

Rod Carey, Northern Illinois University football head coach, speaks Tuesday during NIU media day in the Chessick Center near Huskie Stadium.
Rod Carey, Northern Illinois University football head coach, speaks Tuesday during NIU media day in the Chessick Center near Huskie Stadium.

IOWA CITY, Iowa – After a first half that saw missed opportunities by both teams, Northern Illinois couldn’t contain Iowa’s offense in a 33-7 season-opening loss at Kinnick Stadium.

Iowa scored touchdowns on three straight possessions in the second half, then tacked on a safety after pinning the Huskies down at their own 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.

Iowa’s running game sparked the surge, though the first touchdown came on a play-action pass to All-American tight end Noah Fant on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

That gave the Hawkeyes (1-0) a 10-0 lead with 7:20 left in the third, and capped a 7-play, 58-yard drive that started with a 15-yard illegal block on Iowa that negated a huge run play.

After NIU’s third three-and-out of the half, Iowa covered 46 yards in 5 plays, highlighted by Toren Young’s 24-yard run. Ivory Kelly-Martin went in from 2 yards out with 2:41 to play in the third.

The Huskies (0-1) picked up their first first down of the half on the next drove, but that ended with a strip-sack of quarterback Marcus Childers by Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa. Young capped a 26-yard drive with a 6-yard TD run on the sixth play for a 24-0 lead.

After the teams traded punts, NIU took over at its own 1-yard line, and Amani Hooker picked up a safety for the Hawkeye defense. Iowa then tacked on another TD after the NIU free kick, as backup quarterback Peyton Mansell snuck in from 1 yard out to make it 33-0 with 6:52 to play.

NIU managed just 211 total yards in the second half, and netted one first down until midway through the fourth quarter. They rattled of a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive late in the fourth that was capped by a 10-yard pass from Childers to Jauan Wesley.

The first half was all about missed opportunities for the Huskies.

NIU started out in good shape, as Jauan Wesley blocked Iowa’s first punt after a long third-down pass was dropped by Fant. But Andrew Gantz missed a 33-yard field goal attempt wide left.

After the Huskie defense forced another three-and-out, it bent but didn’t break on the third series, as Albert Smalls intercepted Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley inside the NIU 10-yard line to snuff out Iowa’s first scoring opportunity.

The offense was moving the ball on the ground, but seemed to stall around midfield. The Huskies ran for 62 yards in the first quarter, but one drive ended with a pair of sacks, and another with a Hooker interception of a pass intended for DeKalb’s Cole Tucker inside the Iowa 10-yard line with 1:26 left in the first half.

But NIU forced a three-and-out, and Tucker fielded Colten Rastetter’s pooch punt at the Iowa 45 with 23 seconds left before the break. Two plays later, Childers connected with Tucker for 13 yards to the Iowa 32, then Childers spiked the ball with 6 seconds left to set up a 49-yard field goal attempt for Gantz.

But this one was wide left as well, keeping the Huskies off the scoreboard.

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