IOWA CITY — A few school records. A blur of big plays.
After three tight games to open the season, Iowa was just relieved it all added up to a lopsided victory.
Kevonte Martin-Manley returned consecutive punts for touchdowns and B.J. Lowery ran back a pair of interceptions for scores as the Hawkeyes pounded Western Michigan 59-3 Saturday afternoon at sun-splashed Kinnick Stadium. The point total is Iowa’s highest since putting up 62 on Northwestern in 2002.
“No. 1, it was important to just get the win, period,” Martin-Manley said. “It didn’t matter if we won by one point or 100 points. But it’s good for our confidence. It shows that we can put together a good game overall for four quarters.”
The Hawkeyes (3-1) finished with multiple touchdowns on the ground and through the air in their final tuneup before Big Ten play starts next week. Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock threw scoring passes to Jacob Hillyer (21 yards) and Damond Powell (29), while running backs Mark Weisman (4-yard TD) and Jordan Canzeri (16) also crossed the goal line.
“We certainly didn’t see this coming today,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s just one of those (where) you get four non-offensive touchdowns. It’s kind of one of those freak games.”
By the end of the game, Iowa had backup quarterback C.J. Beathard taking snaps while getting plenty of other young players some valuable experience. The Hawkeye defense forced six straight three-and-outs before the Broncos netted a first down with 9:45 left in the second quarter — and that drive ended with an interception by senior defensive back Tanner Miller in the end zone.
The 56-point margin ties the Hawkeyes’ largest under Ferentz, whose 2005 squad drubbed Ball State 56-0.
“It definitely gives us confidence in all three phases,” Weisman said. “There are still some things we need to get better at, but it’s an improvement from last week and that’s what we want to keep doing.”
Iowa actually looked like it might be in line for another white-knuckle contest early on against the Broncos (0-4). It settled for a 20-yard Mike Meyer field goal on its opening drive despite getting a first down on Western Michigan’s 7. The offense quickly punted on its second possession.
But Rudock hit Hillyer for a 21-yard catch-and-run into the end zone to put Iowa up 10-0 late in the opening quarter.
And that was just the beginning.
Martin-Manley took over with some school history in the second quarter. He grabbed a high punt and sprinted down the left sideline for an 83-yard score. The 6-foot, 205-pound junior followed that by taking Western Michigan’s next punt — a low rugby-style liner — through a crowd across the field to the right side 63 yards into the end zone.
Martin-Manley became the third player in Big Ten history with two punt return touchdowns in a game and the first Iowa player to do so.
Rudock said he joked with Martin-Manley and Lowery to let the offense back on the field. Iowa ran only 31 first-half plays for 159 yards compared to Western Michigan’s 39.
“We want points on the board however we can get it,” Rudock said. “The biggest thing is just telling the guys, ‘Hey, be ready to go, stay loose and don’t get too tight.’”
Western Michigan got on the board with a 23-yard field goal by Andrew Haldeman with 4:57 to go before the break. But Iowa countered with a seven-play march capped by Weisman barreling through defenders into the end zone from 4 yards out.
Lowery snagged the first of his two interceptions three plays later to stake the Hawkeyes to a 38-3 advantage at intermission. His second pick-six marked a single-game record at Iowa.
Broncos quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen finished 14-of-32 passing for 114 yards and two interceptions before backup Zach Terrell closed out the game.
Western Michigan running back Brian Fields accumulated a team-best 58 ground yards, but Iowa won the overall rushing battle 258-74. The Hawkeyes had four backs accrue double-figure carries — Canzeri (13 for 73 yards), LeShun Daniels Jr. (13 for 54), Damon Bullock (10 for 37) and Weisman (10 for 43).
Iowa begins Big Ten action next week when it travels to Minnesota for a 2:30 p.m. game.
Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck — who, at 32 years old, is the youngest current FBS coach — said he watched Iowa play nearly a perfect game Saturday. And that was after the Broncos had been far more competitive in road losses to Michigan State (26-13) and Northwestern (38-17).
“Kirk Ferentz just said it’s just one of those games,” Fleck said. “I guess it was.”