- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Running-back curse? It sure didn't look like it for Iowa, which barely avoided getting upset by Northern Illinois thanks to a play from tailback Damon Bullock.
Starting mostly because so many other players at the position have left, Bullock ran 30 times for 150 yards for the Hawkeyes. The one everyone will remember came with 2:15 left and Iowa facing 3rd and nine. Bullock went around the left side untouched for a 23-yard touchdown, the Hawkeyes' only trip to the end zone all day in an 18-17 nailbiter.
It was the perfect play call, because Northern Illinois had had so much success bringing pressure on third downs against James Vandenberg all day long. The Huskies brought the blitz again, and Iowa countered with the run call. Eat that, AIRHBG.
The winning drive was set up by a great special-teams play that saw Iowa down a punt on the Northern Illinois 1-yard line with 5:36 to go. But even the excellent ensuing field position didn't guarantee anything, as the Hawkeyes offense repeatedly bogged down in the red zone, settling for four Mike Meyer field goals.
The Hawkeyes' young defensive line played as well as could have been expected. That wasn't the problem as much as the passing game's inability to slow down Northern Illinois' defense. Vandenberg completed 21 of 33 passes but had only 129 yards, averaging a mere 3.9 yards per completion. He was sacked six times.
Some problems were to be expected as Iowa replaces a lot on both lines, breaks in two new coordinators and deals with turnover at the skill positions. The Huskies are a good team that played well enough to win.
But the Hawkeyes escaped in the end while finding a new starting running back. Nothing about that seems cursed.
4dDan Murphy and Austin Ward