IOWA CITY, Iowa — Clinging to a 7-0 lead following a half filled with dropped passes and missed opportunities Saturday, it was gut check time for the University of Iowa football team.
“The message was pretty simple,’’ quarterback Jake Rudock said. “The message was that we’re better than this, that we can’t accept doing things as poorly as we were doing them. It was something we had to fight through.’’
The Hawkeyes did that in the second half, finding strength in a physical running attack as they pounded their way past Missouri State 28-14 at Kinnick Stadium to end a seven-game losing streak.
Mark Weisman, splitting time between tailback and fullback for the second straight game, became the 42nd player in Iowa history to rush for 1,000 yards as he piled up 180 yards on 30 carries.
The junior carried the ball into the end zone twice in the third quarter as the Hawkeyes opened up a 21-0 lead which was enough to withstand a pair of scores by the Bears in a span of 10 seconds during the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
“We got after it,’’ Weisman said. “It started up front with the way those guys blocked. The line did a great job. They played strong and at the end of the day, it just felt good to win. It’s been a long time, close to a year, and it was about time.’’
Weisman collected 130 of his yards in the second half, including touchdown runs of 10 and 3 yards.
“We came out and made a statement,’’ center Austin Blythe said. “We know that Weisman is going to give us everything he has, go for that extra yard every single time. It was time for us all to invest that much into it.’’
It all added up to a 296-yard rushing performance by the Hawkeyes, the most yards Iowa has gained on the ground since running for 301 yards against Illinois in 2005.
Weisman’s effort was complemented by 40 rushing yards from Damon Bullock and 33 from quarterback Jake Rudock, who also completed 19-of-28 passes for 193 yards piled up 489 total yards against Missouri State, which lost its 11th straight nonconference game in its first-ever visit to a Big Ten stadium.
“We have a lot of things to clean up, a lot of work to do, but we found a way to win a football game and that’s a positive,’’ receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “It felt good to have a chance to sing the school song and celebrate. Now, we get back to work.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz did not want that point to be forgotten.
“There were a lot of good things out there, but the mistakes we made helped hide that,’’ Ferentz said. “We’re 1-1 and it’s good to get a win, but today is evidence that we still have a lot of work to do.’’
Ferentz suggested that Iowa, penalized 11 times for 100 yards, has shown a tendency to be its biggest foe at times.
“Unless you’re a really gifted team, it’s hard to overcome those kind of miscues,’’ he said. “Plus, it’s hard to have tempo with false starts and holding penalties.’’
Both were part of a the sluggish first half the Hawkeyes endured, scoring only when Rudock raced in from 6 yards out with 5 minutes, 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
Multiple dropped passes, costly penalties and a missed 33-yard field goal attempt by Mike Meyer allowed the Bears to keep things close despite being limited to 67 first-half yards by the Iowa defense.
“The defense kept us in it,’’ Weisman said. “Our offensive performance in the first half was unacceptable.’’
Iowa (1-1) turned the ball over just once and Missouri State’s Rique Bentley returned his interception of a Rudock pass 28 yards for a score to cut the Hawkeye lead to 21-14 with 14:15 left in the game, 10 seconds after the Bears’ Kierra Harris hit Julian Burton with a 27-yard touchdown pass.
Rudock orchestrated a 10-play, 65-yard drive on the ensuing possession that he finished with a 2-yard run as Iowa regained a two-touchdown lead.
“That was a real tough sequence for us,’’ Ferentz said. “We give up a touchdown and then the pick six. That was a tough play, but one thing about (Rudock), he’s a resilient guy. He went right back to work and did a good job of finishing the game for us.’’
Rudock continued to spread the ball around, connecting with 10 receivers over the course of the game.
“You can tell he’s getting more confident back there,’’ said Martin-Manley, who along with tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey finished with three catches each to lead the Hawkeyes. “We were tested by Missouri State and we stepped up and answered. That’s a good thing for our entire team.’’