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September 05, 2009

A sigh of relief for Hawkeye Nation

It's OK, Hawkeye fans. You can let your breath out now. It's safe to uncover your eyes.

You won. Barely, but you still won. Just be sure to salute those determined special team players who blocked not just one, but two Northern Iowa field goal attempts in the final seconds to prevent the Panthers from pulling off the upset.

Those guys could have been deflated after the bizarre sequence that gave UNI kicker Billy Hallgren a second chance. If the ball doesn't go beyond the neutral zone on a blocked field goal, the kicking team can recover it and retain possession? Who knew? Certainly not the Hawkeyes. And other than the officials, I'd wager that no one else in Kinnick Stadium did, either.

But those Hawkeye frontliners dug in, got their hands up and did it again. So kudos to them.

As for the rest of the Iowa performance, pretty spotty, eh? Tight end Tony Moeaki showed what the Hawkeyes were missing when he was sidelined so often by all those injuries. The big guy's got some hands and athletic ability. The tight ends long have been a comfort factor for Iowa quarterbacks and a healthy Moeaki certainly is that.

But this team still has some issues.

The running game. The offensive line. The pass rush. They all need work. Yes, it was the first game and yes, Northern Iowa is pretty darn good. Still, a Top 25 team should win the battle along the line of scrimmage against an FCS opponent and the Hawkeyes didn't do that.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi seemed to settle in during the second half, but I'm not sure the wide receivers scare anyone right now. On the plus side, Amari Spievey looks to be on his way to becoming one of the best cornerbacks ever to wear the black and gold.

There also are a couple of positives for coach Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes won, which is always better than the alternative. And after a close call and with Iowa State up next, Ferentz certainly will have his players' attention.

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