We’re a little more than three weeks from the college football season opener, so it’s prediction time at Hawkeye Headquarters. I’ll have my own personal outlook on Iowa’s season later this month, but for the time being, I’m releasing two predictions from different perspectives on how the season could play out — “Negative Nancy” and “Positive Patty”. Let’s start with a pessimist’s (Negative Nancy) game-by-game prediction of the Hawkeyes 2018 season.
Week 1: Northern Illlinois at Iowa
The Hawkeyes started on a sour note by falling to the Huskies in a close contest at Kinnick Stadium. With the loss, Iowa fails to win its season opener for the only the second time since 2001 with both setbacks coming against the Huskies.
Iowa’s problems in the running game from a season ago carried over to the opener. Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young combined for just 120 yards on 34 carries as the makeshift offensive line was stymied by Sutton Smith and the Huskies’ athletic front. Nate Stanley passed for two touchdowns, but was intercepted at midfield late in the fourth quarter to end a potential game-winning drive.
Things started off sourly for the Hawks defense too. The new linebacker trio was unable to pick up where last year’s seniors left off, allowing NIU to convert on nearly 60 percent on third down. Sophomore quarterback Marcus Childers settled in after a shaky first quarter and found veteran wideouts D.J. Brown and Spencer Tears for a pair of second-half scores that sparked the Huskies’ road upset.
Northern Illinois 24 Iowa 20
Week 2: Iowa State at Iowa
The encore to last year’s Cy-Hawk thriller was a near-repeat from a season ago. Except this edition saw the Cyclones win in walk-off fashion in overtime, sending Iowa to its first 0-2 start since 2000.
The game was tight throughout with neither team leading by more than seven points. The Hawkeyes trailed 17-14 at the half, struggling to contain Cyclone running back David Montgomery in the opening 30 minutes. Iowa stormed back in the third quarter with a Toren Young touchdown and Miguel Recinos field goal to take a seven-point lead into the final quarter, but Kyle Kempt found Hakeem Butler on a 77-yard touchdown pass to pull even early in the frame.
Tied at 24 after regulation, Iowa took the lead on Recinos’ 33-yard field goal after the offense was stopped for no gain on second- and third-and-one at the Cyclones 16. Iowa State took just two plays to find the end zone as Montgomery took a Kempt pass 21 yards for the winning score. The win was Iowa State first in the series since 2014.
Iowa State 30 Iowa 27 (OT)
Week 3: Northern Iowa at Iowa
Iowa found itself in unfamiliar territory after opening the season with two losses and the Hawkeyes responded accordingly, thumping the Panthers to earn their first win of the season.
The outcome of this one was decided early, putting Kirk Ferentz name in pen alone at the top of Iowa’s all-time wins list by halftime. Nate Stanley led the offense to touchdowns on each of the first four possessions, giving Iowa a commanding 28-3 lead at intermission and a three-to-one advantage in yards gained.
The 0-2 start forced Phil Parker to make some changes in the back seven on defense, which pays immediate dividends against UNI. Iowa limited the Panthers offense to just 10 first downs, half of which came on their lone touchdown drive in the fourth quarter against Iowa’s reserves. Anthony Nelson led the resistance with five tackles and three sacks, including one that jarred the ball loose from quarterback Eli Dunne to set up one of Iowa’s first-half touchdowns.
Iowa 35 Northern Iowa 10
Week 4: Wisconsin at Iowa
The Hawkeyes had a shot at vaulting to the top of the Big Ten West race with a win over the Badgers and erasing some problems from its 1-2 start in the process. Instead, on a night where another top-five team was at its most vulnerable at Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes were thwarted by Wisconsin’s veteran defense in the final 90 seconds to send the hosts to another tough loss.
Trailing by five, the Hawks drove to the Wisconsin eight-yard line with less than three minutes to play in the game. Two incomplete passes sandwiched around a four-yard scramble by Nate Stanley, put the ball inside the Badgers’ five on fourth-and-goal. The junior quarterback then targeted Noah Fant in the end zone, but linebacker T.J. Edwards knocked the ball loose from Fant’s grip, preserving the Badgers third-straight win over the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin’s punishing offense was held in check all night by Iowa’s inspired defense. The Hawkeyes limited Jonathan Taylor to just 91 yards on 26 carries, holding the super-sophomore out of the end zone for the first time all season. It wasn’t enough, though, as the Badgers now look poised for their fourth West Division title in five seasons.
Wisconsin 17 Iowa 12
Week 6: Iowa at Minnesota
Staring at a 1-4 start to the season for the first time in 18 years, Iowa mustered up its best performance in the first half of the season. The Hawks defense led the charge – after some more retooling during the bye week – and shut out the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.
Amani Hooker had a fantastic homecoming for the Iowa defense, making sure Floyd of Rosedale didn’t become the latest trophy to depart from the football building. The Minnesota native led the team in tackles and took an interception 48 yards to paydirt for his second career touchdown. Jake Gervase got his first start at outside linebacker after playing the first four games at free safety, flourishing with a half-dozen tackles and two pass breakups.
Iowa’s offense got a little conservative in the second half of the game, but the black-and-gold did rush for more than 260 yards in the win. Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin each eclipsed the 100-yard plateau for the first time this season, helping the Hawkeyes record their first conference win of the season.
Iowa 23 Minnesota 0
Week 7: Iowa at Indiana
This had the making of a dud back when the 11 a.m. CDT kickoff time was released last spring. The Hawkeyes followed through on their end of the bargain, losing by a touchdown in a half-empty Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana.
Iowa’s offense sputtered against the Hoosiers after the game’s initial drive. Brandon Smith’s touchdown catch put the visitors ahead by seven just five minutes into the contest. It would be the only score of the opening two quarters for Iowa, which tallied just 39 yards the rest of the half.
Indiana, meanwhile, matched the Hawkeyes drive with one of its own on the first possession to tie the game. It stayed that way until the third quarter, when running back Morgan Ellison put the Hoosiers ahead 14-7. Ellison tacked on another rushing touchdown to double Indiana’s lead, before a Nate Stanley-to-Noah Fant score provided the game’s closing margin midway through the final quarter.
Indiana 21 Iowa 14
Week 8: Maryland at Iowa
There were glimpses of Iowa’s offensive potential against Iowa State and Northern Iowa, but the win over Maryland was the first time the Hawkeyes operated at full capacity.
The Hawks rolled up 489 yards of offense and 38 points against the Terrapins, pleasing the Homecoming-game crowd in Iowa City. Nate Stanley threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers, including T.J. Hockenson, who grabbed his first score of the season. Brandon Smith had his best game in the black-and-gold, hauling in six catches for 139 yards and a 66-yard touchdown strike that broke a 17-all tie just before half.
That touchdown put Iowa in front for good as the defense adjusted after a rough opening quarter-and-a-half. Amani Jones had a breakout performance at middle linebacker with a team-leading 13 tackles and a sack, along with a fourth-quarter interception to set up Stanley’s final touchdown pass. Matt Nelson also helped the Iowa run defense hold Maryland under the 100-yard mark with five stops, including two for a loss.
Iowa 38 Maryland 31
Week 9: Iowa at Penn State
It wasn’t quite the 41-14 shellacking from 2015, but the game wasn’t as close as the 17-point difference between the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes either. James Franklin’s squad kept its slim Big Ten East hopes alive with a non-strenuous 24-7 victory over visiting Iowa.
Penn State’s defense held Nate Stanley and the Iowa offense to just a single touchdown, one week after the unit’s biggest point total of the season. Stanley was sacked five times and intercepted once in his worst performance since the Wisconsin debacle in Madison last fall. Two other Hawkeyes turnovers led to Penn State points — fumbles by sophomores Ivory Kelly-Martin and Ihmir Smith-Marsette on consecutive possessions in the third quarter. Those miscues turned a 10-point lead into a 24-point blowout.
The Hawkeyes responded after the second fumble with a Kelly-Martin touchdown early in the fourth, but the game was out of reach by that point. The mistakes spoiled a solid performance by the Iowa defense. Penn State senior quarterback Trace McSorley threw for only 217 yards and a score, while also losing two turnovers (fumble, interception).
Penn State 24 Iowa 7
Week 10: Iowa at Purdue
Iowa’s offensive line surely watched the film from last year’s loss to Purdue where it surrendered six sacks. The unit just didn’t learn anything from it, as the Hawkeyes again allowed a half-dozen sacks that caused the offense to sputter in an 11-point loss to the Boilermakers in West Lafayette.
Marcus Bailey was the Boilers ringleader with two sacks and a crucial forced fumble that stopped a potential go-ahead drive for Iowa to open the third quarter after trailing 10-6 at the half. David Blough subsequently marched the hosts 79 yards in only five plays, exploiting the Hawkeyes corners much like Ethan Sindelar did a year ago in Iowa City.
Nick Easley was the lone bright spot offensively for the Hawkeyes. He caught a season-high seven passes, including a 19-yard touchdown that pulled Iowa within four with eight minutes to play. Markell Jones made sure Iowa wouldn’t get any closer, providing the final margin on a short scoring plunge late in the fourth quarter.
Purdue 24 Iowa 13
Week 11: Northwestern at Iowa
The only thing to lose by going for the two-point conversion with 20 seconds to play was the game, and the Hawkeyes did just that, falling to the Wildcats for the third-straight year.
The loss was Iowa’s third-consecutive setback in a season that’s spiraled into one of the more disappointing ones in recent memory. After Ivory Kelly-Martin pulled the Hawks within a point, Nate Stanley’s potential game-winning pass intended for T.J. Hockenson was deflected out of the tight end’s reach, burying Iowa’s bowl game hopes as it hit the turf.
The game was tight from the opening kickoff until the final whistle, which was been customary between these two programs the past decade or so. The veteran quarterbacks – Stanley and Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson – settled into a duel midway through the first half to entertain the Kinnick crowd. Both signal callers threw for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns as the defenses wilted on an unseasonably warm day in Iowa City. It was Thorson’s final pass of the game — a 36-yard arrow route to Jeremy Larkin – that proved to be the difference, though, after the Hawks gamble failed to pay off.
Northwestern 31 Iowa 30
Week 12: Iowa at Illinois
The Hawkeyes could have rolled over on senior day in Champaign when staring at the program’s first losing season since 2012. They didn’t, though, using two Nate Stanley touchdown passes to spoil Illinois’ final home game of the season.
The win ended Iowa’s three-game losing streak – longest since the end of the 2014 campaign – and ensured there’d be no bowl game in Year 3 for Lovie Smith’s group. The much-improved Illini needed two wins in their final two games to secure a bid and played like it, jumping out to a 7-0 lead after the opening quarter. Iowa’s defense stiffened after the touchdown, responding with five sacks and two Matt Hankins’ interceptions in the final three quarters.
Iowa’s offense took it from there, eroding the Illini defense with almost 300 yards rushing on 48 carries. Toren Young led the way with 175 yards and a score, his best output as a Hawkeye. This was vintage Iowa, with a performance more like what fans are used to under Kirk Ferentz, in a season that has been anything but normal.
Iowa 24 Illinois 10
Week 13: Nebraska at Iowa
The dozen Hawkeyes seniors left their jerseys in a better place – at least compared to two weeks ago — by ending the season on a high note as Iowa knocked off Nebraska for the fourth-straight year. But it was a junior playing in what’s widely believed to be his final game at Kinnick Stadium that stole the show.
Noah Fant torched Nebraska for three touchdowns and 111 yards receiving, punctuating the Omaha-native’s career with another big game against the Cornhuskers. The three scores pushed his season total to 11, which tied the Iowa record for tight ends and matched his season total from 2017.
Iowa’s defense was inconsistent as its been all year, shutting down the Huskers in three of the four quarters. A ten-point, second quarter outburst pulled Nebraska within 14-10 at halftime, but the Hawkeyes stretched the lead to 18 before a late score provided the final margin. Senior Parker Hesse exited the Kinnick turf for the final time on a high note, with two sacks and a forced fumble that helped setup one of Fant’s three touchdowns.
Iowa 28 Nebraska 18
Negative Nancy’s Predicted 2018 Record: 5-7, 4-5 in Big Ten