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College Football: Iowa dismantles Utah State, 24-14

IOWA CITY - No. 25 Iowa (1-0) defeated Utah State (0-1), 24-14, in its season opener on Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium.

IOWA CITY – No. 25 Iowa (1-0) defeated Utah State (0-1), 24-14, in its season opener on Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium.

Iowa is now 100-33-2 in season opener, including 21-4 all-time under head coach Kirk Ferentz.

The win is Ferentz’s 199th career victory and his 187th win at Iowa.

QB Cade McNamara completed 17-of-30 attempts (56.6 percent) for 191 yards and two touchdowns in his Iowa debut (17th career start).

McNamara had a 36-yard touchdown pass on his first career attempt as a Hawkeye.  He is the first Iowa quarterback since Chuck Long in 1983 to have a touchdown pass on his first completion of the season (24 yards to Norm Granger against Iowa State).

TE Luke Lachey tied a career-high with seven receptions for 73 yards, including a 31-yarder in the fourth quarter.  

Iowa’s tight ends (Lachey and Erick All) combined for 10 catches for 88 yards and one touchdown.

RB Kaleb Johnson led Iowa’s rushing attack with 63 yards on 19 attempts, including a 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.  It is Johnson’s seventh career rushing touchdown. 

Johnson also had a career-long 54-yard kickoff return on the opening kickoff of the 2023 season.

WR Seth Anderson had a 36-yard touchdown reception and TE Erick All had a 3-yard touchdown reception – both players’ first career receptions at Iowa.

LB Jay Higgins had a career high 15 tackles, including 11 solo stops. It was his second career game with 10 or more tackles.

DB Xavier Nwankpa had his second career interception in the second quarter. Nwankpa has two interceptions in two career starts.

Iowa’s opening drive touchdown pass was the first to open a season since 1991 vs. Hawaii (Matt Rodgers-to-Danan Hughes).  It is the first time in the Kirk Ferentz era that Iowa opened the season with a passing touchdown.

Iowa had touchdowns on consecutive drives for the first time since Nov. 5, 2022, at Purdue and it is the first time the unit had two first-quarter touchdowns in the opening quarter since Nevada (9/17/22).

DL Deontae Craig, DL Yahya Black and DB Deshaun Lee made their first career starts.  QB Cade McNamara, TE Erick All and LB Nick Jackson made their first career starts as Hawkeyes. 

Iowa won the toss and elected to receive. The Hawkeyes have played 302 games under head coach Kirk Ferentz. Iowa has opened the game on offense 221 times (141-80). The Hawkeyes have opened the game on defense 81 times (46-35).

The Hawkeyes return to action Sept. 9, traveling to Ames, Iowa, for an Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series matchup against Iowa State.  The game will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. (CT) and be televised on FOX.

University of Iowa Football Media Conference

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Iowa City, Iowa, USA

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz

Postgame Press Conference


Iowa-24, Utah State-14

KIRK FERENTZ: (Joined in Progress) We had a lot of good momentum going in all three phases and then got stopped on the fourth down and seemed to be a dropoff at that point.

Some things that we’re going to have to get cleaned up, certainly. So that’s going to be the challenge this week. I saw cliche-wise about week one to week two, and that is true. I think overall it’s true, most cliches are, if you make it be true.

So that will be a challenge, but some plays we’ll see on tape that were close where we couldn’t quite execute them offensively, defensively.

Special teams survived a punt block. I’ve never seen one quite like that. Certainly that was a good thing, so that’s going to be the next thing moving forward.

Work will begin today, but right now we’re going to enjoy the fact that we came out of it 1-0, and I think fairly healthy. The other big thing is everybody has to get rested and recover a little bit so we can get back to work next week.

Again, all-in-all happy about the guys’ effort. Happy to get the win.

Just do want to say, too, that our fans were fantastic. It was great to come out in Kinnick. The place was sold out, and it was lively and a great environment down there. We appreciate their enthusiasm.

Q. What did you think of Cade’s performance, and was he iffy at any point the last couple of days?

KIRK FERENTZ: Not so much the last couple of days. Earlier in the week, I think so. What we’ll see is it’s probably going to be week-to-week, day-to-day, but I imagine it’s something we’re going to have to manage as we go along. Hopefully it get better as we go.

It was pretty clear he was intent on playing. He practiced well. We’ll just take it day-by-day. Hopefully tomorrow it’s not too sore, and he can just get back to work on Monday.

Q. Did he kind of battle you to stay in there in the fourth quarter a little bit? Deacon was warming up a little bit.

KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t know. I think he may have said something to somebody else, but he didn’t to me.

Q. Moving forward with Cade, where is the balance between healing that injury that he’s got and getting the proper reps to get him ready for the next opponent?

KIRK FERENTZ: There’s really no way to predict this stuff. I was saying during the week back in ’15 CJ progressively got worse, and he really couldn’t practice that last week before our bye week when we were at Northwestern. Somehow, someway he played a good game there.

Then the next week we gave him a chance to recover. He came back and played. So the one thing I know about Cade, I haven’t been around him that long, but he is an extremely mentally tough guy and extremely competitive.

So if he can’t go, he can’t go, and if he can’t be effective, that was the biggest thing for us as coaches. We have to make that decision, and the medical staff dictates whether he can have that opportunity or not.

Q. It was 24-6, and he didn’t come back in the game. Was that your call, and if so why did you make that call?

KIRK FERENTZ: Not that we had the game in hand, but we felt good about things a little bit. We wanted to get him out and give him a chance to regroup a little bit and hopefully not set himself back.

Good opportunity for Deacon too. It’s the first time I think he has played in college. There’s no automatics on all this stuff, so it was good to see him get in there and get in the game as well.

Q. You scored touchdowns on the first two drives of the game. Then kind of had a little bit of a lull before the fourth quarter. What did you see go well the first two drives, and what did you maybe see you needed to work on in kind of that middle part of the game?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think the most disappointing thing was we had some leakage on that fourth and one, so the back didn’t really have a chance to hit it the way you need to. We’ll have to take a look at that and see what happened. I can’t tell you exactly what happened on that play.

To me equally as disappointing, they took it and drove it and got a field goal. We held them out of the end zone, but that’s part of what we have to learn.

You have to have responses. You’re not always going to make it if you go for it on fourth, so come back, let’s get the ball back immediately and go back to work.

So that’s the team football component. We did a good job of that earlier getting the stop, taking the ball, driving it, those types of things. Part of that’s just an emotional thing. We have some young guys, first time they’ve played, so they’re going to learn how all of that fits together.

Then specifically we had some plays that seemed like we missed on a couple of plays that were potentially going to be pretty good for us. If you can hit those, that’s how you create momentum. That’s how you get things flowing a little bit.

When you don’t, it’s kind of a here we go, we’re punting the ball. We also blew a protection. I’ll throw that one in there. It was the only sack we gave up, but it was a missed assignment where they came right up our guard center gap, which is a cardinal sin in pass protection. I think it was on a third down, too.

So that’s a correctible error. It was by somebody who probably was capable of doing a little bit better on that. Little things like that are the things that keep you from sustaining drives.

Q. 12 personnel, 13 personnel, even 14 personnel. What kind of does this bring where you are able to have four tight ends on the field, and is that something that you see using down the road?

KIRK FERENTZ: Outside of Ostrenga, we have some experience, which is good, and certainly Luke and Erick have shown that they’re pretty good college football players. Addison is a guy who we’re real high on. He did some good things last year. He has just handed things well.

Steve is a guy I mentioned a while ago that a year ago was okay. Tough transition from a smaller school, but boy, he has really done a good job and started getting everybody’s confidence last spring the way he was practicing. Kind of continued that through August. So I think we have some depth there.

I’m encouraged by our receiver room, too. I think you got a little glimpse of what we’ve seen in practice. We feel good about Nico and Diante, but also have Kaleb and Seth in there. Good to see those guys get out there.

Again, it’s just part of putting this whole puzzle together and getting guys some experience.

Q. You mentioned the pass protection error. I think just a little over 100 yards rushing as well. Just thoughts on the offensive line’s performance.

KIRK FERENTZ: It seemed like from where I was standing they were blocking pretty good, especially in the pass protection. That was not their pickup on that one, and it is what it is.

But the run game, it wasn’t clean. We need to get cleaner on that. It was a tough preparation. I’m not making excuses. It was a little bit of a tough preparation.

The coordinator has been at a couple of other schools — watching last year’s Utah State’s film was in a nutshell not going to be beneficial to us. It was one of those ones where you are trying to piece things together. They did some things today maybe we didn’t expect, but I think our guys adjusted to it.

But the run game stuff, and sometimes it’s just simple cleanup, too. One guy missing a block, and then all of a sudden we’re using two guys on one. That’s not a good thing. If you want to have a smooth run game, you can’t do it.

Q. Is Xavier Nwankpa okay?

KIRK FERENTZ: He was factored a little bit in that fourth quarter with a couple of guys. Some cramping. We lost one guy at halftime to the heat. Nothing long-term, but it’s where our guys have to be smart here the next 48 hours.

I remember Bob Kratch having real heat issues on Monday two days after we played K-State, whatever year it would have been — ’88, ’87. I should know that, but he felt the effects because he didn’t get back to where he should have and ended up going down in practice that Monday.

You have to really take care of yourself. I think our guys understand that. Heat was a factor today.

Q. The second and third quarter, how important was it for your first team offense to go out there in the fourth quarter and kind of get that touchdown just for momentum going into the season?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s always important. You want to take the ball every time you have it and do what you want with it, whether it’s try to burn clock or obviously get a score, and that’s usually the goal is to go get points.

It was good. That’s important. We got a spark play. Luke certainly made a great play on that thing. That’s football. We’ll just keep working on it and keep chipping away.

Q. How did you feel that Cade McNamara performed on the field?

KIRK FERENTZ: I thought well. You have to remember with him, too, he hasn’t played in a year. It’s been a year for him.

So those are things you just kind of keep in consideration. He did a good job, he seemed comfortable with things. You can tell he is a guy who has played because the conversations going back and forth are pretty good.

Q. Is there anything you’re able to say on Jermari Harris’s status?

KIRK FERENTZ: He is going to be out next week, and then we’re looking forward to having him return.

Q. After last year’s offensive struggles, was it refreshing to have an opening drive passing touchdown?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s refreshing any time. Any time you score, any time you move the ball it’s a good thing.

Q. It was the first time since 1991 that Iowa has had a passing touchdown on their opening drive of the game. Did you have an idea that you wanted —

KIRK FERENTZ: That’s good trivia.

Q. Credit somebody else. I just saw that on Twitter.

KIRK FERENTZ: You’re cheating. That’s good.

Q. Did you have an idea that you wanted to at least let Cade maybe show off for the fans a little bit to start the game off?

KIRK FERENTZ: No, we are not that — we are just trying to score. I’m glad it worked that way, but yeah, I didn’t know that.

Q. It went to a transfer, one of your new transfer portal guys that came in, Seth Anderson.

KIRK FERENTZ: Seth has been a great young guy since he has been here. He is really likable and a tremendous young guy. He is a young guy — emphasis on that. Same with Kaleb (Brown).

So, yeah, we went for him in recruiting. Unfortunately, he couldn’t practice in the spring because he had a soft tissue injury. You’re hoping, you’re wishing, and that’s recruiting in general. You hope you identify the right things, and then you really don’t know until they start getting into things. Transitioning into the program is a big part of it, too. He did that without any issues.

To see him play football and we finally got to see him in August, actually running routes and doing things. I think he has tremendous upside. I feel the same way about Kaleb. They are young guys that have talent and great attitudes and good ability.

Q. What did you think about Deshaun Lee coming in playing against an active team? Only had maybe one missed tackle that was obvious, but the rest of it — what did you think of him?

KIRK FERENTZ: It was impressive, his tackling and being where he should be to contain some of those things.

Really maybe as good a story as there was today because you have a guy like Cade who has played. Deshaun hasn’t really. So for him to step in there and do that, I thought he did a great job.

We’ve had good competition throughout August with those guys. For him to step — this has to be good for his confidence, and now hopefully he doesn’t get too overconfident because I’m thinking about a play earlier it would have been, night game. Might have been the game that went forever. They threw one over our head on the left corner there. Hopefully we don’t get overconfident.

Q. You guys have won the toss and it seems like a lot of times defer. Was the choice to receive, was that something that was — was kind of I guess a statement or you really wanted —

KIRK FERENTZ: We’ve probably — I’ll speak in generalizations. We probably receive it more than most teams. I can think of one that might do a little bit. At least they do against us. I think it’s a mind game.

We just tend to do that, but we had a discussion on it yesterday. Smart people would probably tell you to defer as the thing you should do. I think the book probably says that, but —

Q. Is Leshon okay?

KIRK FERENTZ: He has heat issues, too, so we expect him to be fine.

Q. Kaden Wetjen had several touches the entirety of the game. Is he a guy who impressed in camp?

KIRK FERENTZ: I just got done saying on the radio he is a great guy. He came here last January. He’s really fast and is a great young guy, but last spring, last summer he just couldn’t get traction football-wise.

So last spring we started to see him come alive, and he had a really good August. I think he is going to be a guy that’s going to be able to play a role for us. It’s a credit to him. He just stayed focused, and he has really worked hard.

Q. 16 tackles today. What did you see from him out there?


Q. Yeah.

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s what you would expect. Not 16 maybe, but he is a guy that even though, quote, unquote, wasn’t a starter last year, we’ve always considered Jay to be a starter. He is a strong leader. Just a tremendous young guy. Totally committed.

So, yeah, we’re counting on him. And the same thing with Nick. For us to be good on defense, our linebackers, our safeties have to be good tacklers and just really happy about Jay’s play. Also his leadership is invaluable.

Q. What did Deshaun do during the fall to earn that?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s just competition. We evaluate guys every day. TJ Hall is in that mix, so you have a couple of guys fighting it out a little bit.

It’s just the consistency, and we felt like he was the most ready to be the starter today. Count him again for next week.

Q. When you look at the offensive line and just the pass blocking seemed to be improved, run blocking seems to be a work in progress. What kind of steps do you think you could take between now and Tuesday, Wednesday to kind of rectify and move forward?

KIRK FERENTZ: It seemed I thought overall for their part the pass protection seemed pretty good today. Guys probably — I don’t want to — the right word is not concerned, but curious to see how Gennings would do. It’s the first time he has really played at right tackle.

Whether a guy moves and learns a new position, it’s easy to say, okay, here’s how you do it, and it’s easy for the guy to go out and do it, but then when the live competition starts, sometimes technique goes out the window, and you just kind of try to —

I think of the John Wooden thing about “be quick, but don’t hurry.” I thought he really looked like he was playing with a good mindset. Really playing to his strengths. I’ll be curious to see that film.

That’s easy for me to say. It’s not always easy to do. I’m encouraged about that.

Most of the running game, from what I could tell, was more of a matter of cutting a guy loose or not getting the right fits we need.

It’s never easy, but I think it might get a little easier as we start to have film that’s a little bit more — we’ll probably watch their film 49 times this week, and they’ll probably watch ours 49 times. So it will be overkill this week. Last week we were all trying to throw darts.

Q. Speaking of the next game, how much did last year’s loss to Iowa State stick in this program’s heart?

KIRK FERENTZ: Every time we play in this series, and it’s a great series for the state, we expect them to be tough, whether we’re home or there, here or there.

It’s going to be a tough game, tough, competitive game. The idea is to win. We came up short, so we moved on right afterwards.

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