IOWA CITY — The statistics showed Iowa with a 489-197 advantage in total yards.
But the Hawkeye players, coaches and fans didn't feel the safety that those numbers would suggest. Iowa led 24 ½-point underdog Missouri State of the FCS by only seven with 10 minutes remaining.
After a Mark Weisman touchdown, Iowa finally exhaled on Tanner Miller's diving interception in the end zone with 6:50 remaining, preserving the Hawkeyes' 28-14 win over the Bears Saturday before 64,201 sweaty, restless fans at Kinnick Stadium.
“Today is evidence that we still have a lot of work to do,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I thought we improved during the week, but there's some things today that didn't necessarily, in my opinion, reflect improvement. Those are the things we have to do a better job on.”
The Hawkeyes snapped a seven-game losing streak and a four-game home losing streak dating to last year, evening their record at 1-1 heading into next week's game at Iowa State (0-1).
Following a season-opening 30-27 home loss to Northern Illinois, there were plenty of anxious moments again Saturday against the Bears, who were 3-8 last year. Most of the deeper reserves hoping to see the field stayed on the sideline.
“We'd like to win as big as we could,” Iowa linebacker James Morris said, “but we're taking the win at this point and we understand we've got a lot we need to improve on.”
After leading 7-0 at the half, Iowa seemingly wrested control in the third. It took advantage of a short field and went ahead 14-0 on Weisman's 10-yard touchdown.
Missouri State went three-and-out, and Iowa's Jake Rudock hit George Kittle for 47 yards, the start of an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended in Weisman's second touchdown run, from 3 yards out with 2:12 left in the third.
The Bears quickly jumped back into contention. Kierra Harris found Julian Burton for a 27-yard touchdown pass with 14:25 left. On Iowa's next play from scrimmage, Rique Bentley stepped in front of a Rudock pass and returned it 28 yards for the score. Suddenly it was 21-14 with 14:15 remaining.
“They ran the blitz and we had a hot ball,” Rudock said. “The guy just peeled out on it and made a great play.”
The Hawkeyes responded with a 10-play, 65-yard drive to extend the lead back to 14. Weisman carried five times for 24 yards on the drive, and Rudock ran it in from 2 yards out with 9:57 left for his second score of the day.
Missouri State marched to the Iowa 14, but then Miller read Harris' pass attempt and picked it off to preserve the two-score margin.
Weisman, a 6-foot, 236-pound junior, finished with 30 carries for 180 yards and two touchdowns. With the score still 7-0 early in the third, he was stopped inches short on a fourth-and-1 carry at the Missouri State 2. He rebounded to score touchdowns on the next two Iowa possessions.
“You never want to get stopped on short yardage, especially when I'm a bigger guy. That's what I do,” Weisman said. “You've got to forget it pretty quick and just move on from it.”
Rudock, a 6-3, 205-pound sophomore in his first year as a starter, completed 19 of 28 for 193 yards, including the interception for a touchdown.
Missouri State coach Terry Allen, an Iowa City native and a former head coach at Northern Iowa and Kansas, said the competitiveness his team showed can lead to a turnaround in Springfield this season.
“We have 10 more games to win,” he said. “If we can improve on the effort we had today, we can win a lot of those.”
Iowa opened the scoring in the first quarter, covering 69 yards in 11 plays. Rudock showed good scrambling ability on a 5-yard touchdown run at the 5:14 mark of the opening quarter.
Iowa moved the ball between the 20s, as evidenced by its 204 first-half total yards, but came up empty on its last four first-half possessions. Its best chance to extend the lead came when it had a first-and-goal at the 8. But a procedure penalty and a sack figured into a series that forced Mike Meyer's 32-yard field-goal attempt, which sailed wide.
The Iowa defense was rarely threatened in the first half. It caused one turnover, when Morris forced a Vernon Scott fumble and Desmond King recovered at the MSU 45-yard line with 4:29 left in the second quarter.
Later in that drive, when Ferentz elected to punt on fourth-and-2 at the Missouri State 37 with just more than two minutes left in the half, the boobirds voiced their disapproval.