IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It doesn't matter how they got there or whom they beat along the way, the Iowa Hawkeyes are 8-0 for the second time in school history.
Iowa held on after a hot start to win 31-15 over Maryland, moving to 4-0 in the Big Ten for the third time in coach Kirk Ferentz's 17 years. The 10th-ranked Hawkeyes tightened their hold on the top spot in the West Division and got rushing touchdowns in the first 30 minutes from running backs Akrum Wadley, LeShun Daniels and Derrick Mitchell.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard, operating at less than full strength after a week of healing during Iowa's bye, endured a beating from the Terrapins in the second half to finish 12-of-23 for 183 yards. Beathard, who was sacked four times, completed only two passes after halftime.
The Hawkeyes capitalized on four Maryland turnovers, the first of which -- a Brandon Ross fumble recovered by safety Miles Taylor -- led to Daniels' first touchdown of the season from 1 yard out. Wadley rumbled in from 11 yards on Iowa's first drive of the second quarter, and Mitchell scored in the closing seconds of the first half.
Iowa went dormant on offense in the second half. It avoided trouble on Adrian Falconer's recovery of an onside kick after Maryland's first touchdown, a 7-yard throw from Perry Hills to Taivon Jacobs, early in the fourth quarter. Up 24-7, the Hawkeyes got an 88-yard interception return from Desmond King but immediately surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return to William Likely with 7:26 to play.
Jacob Hillyer corralled a second onside kick, and the Hawkeyes got a pair of defensive stops in the final four minutes.
Maryland dropped to 2-6 and 0-4 in the Big Ten.
In 2009, Iowa made it to 9-0, its best start ever, and was ranked as high as No. 7 before a loss to Northwestern. Next up for the unbeaten Hawkeyes is a visit to Indiana.
What the win means for Iowa: Welcome to the big stage, Hawkeyes. Iowa made it to November with an unbeaten record. You saw that coming in August, right? Now comes the part when, like it or not, the college football public is forced to take notice with the unveiling Tuesday night of the College Football Playoff rankings. Until the Hawkeyes lose -- if they lose, that is -- they will factor in the race for the four semifinal spots on New Year's Eve. Iowa has played without pressure or sizable expectations through the first two months, but everything begins to change now, starting next week with a tricky trip to face the Hoosiers.
What the loss means for Maryland: The slow march toward an offseason of upheaval continues after a second straight loss under interim coach Mike Locksley. This program needs an overhaul. The Terps crawled back into an offensive shell Saturday after scoring 58 points in losses to Ohio State and Penn State. This performance looked more like the previous two, when they combined to score six points against West Virginia and Michigan. Maryland has lost five straight games -- and it's not going to get better with Wisconsin and Michigan State on the horizon.
Top play: When things go right, sometimes they really go right. Pressed into action this year in place of injured tight end Jake Duzey, Iowa's George Kittle has performed well, catching three touchdowns in the first seven games. He epitomizes the next-man-up mentality that has helped fuel the Hawkeyes' storybook season. But even in that context, Kittle's first-quarter catch for a 26-yard gain defied logic. The 6-foot-4 junior went high for a Beathard pass over the middle, corralling it with his right hand as he dove to the turf and Maryland safety Anthony Nixon watched helplessly.
How the game was won: See the above paragraph about what happens when things go right. For Iowa, that's the story of September and October. It was on display Saturday in a 127-second stretch at the end of the first half, when the Hawkeyes did everything right on offense, defense and special teams. It started with a Dillon Kidd punt from the Maryland 41, a line-drive kick that had little chance to avoid the end zone -- until it bounced straight up at the 3-yard line. Iowa stuffed the Maryland three plays before Aaron Mends blocked a Nicolas Pritchard punt in the end zone. The Hawkeyes then overcame a holding penalty by Boone Myers to drive for the end zone on a pair of Beathard completions and Mitchell's 2-yard TD plunge to score with nine seconds on the clock and lead 21-0 at halftime.