IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Mekhi Sargent feels like a smarter running back.
It's no coincidence then that he had perhaps the best game of his young career with 91 yards and a touchdown in helping the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes beat Miami (Ohio) 38-14 in their season-opener on Saturday night.
"Last year I was more so playing off talent and not knowing so much how to read defenses or being patient," Sargent said. "Now I feel like my knowledge of the game, understanding concepts makes me feel more comfortable."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz also liked what he saw from Sargent.
"(Sargent) is more decisive (and) you can see he's a lot more confident out there," Ferentz said. "From the sideline (the run game) looked pretty good. It looked more like what we're shooting for. I thought all the backs that were in there ran decisively."
Nate Stanley threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 20, including a 16-yard keeper for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes got off to a slow start, but that was erased by the consistent ground game and some big plays from Stanley, who finished 21 of 30 in Iowa's sixth straight season-opening win.
"(Stanley) did a real nice job, and we were just talking about the two runs — though we have to work on him getting down a little sooner. It was great to see him pull the ball down and run. It's tough on a defense if a guy will do that."
Iowa opened the scoring with a 21-yard field goal by Keith Duncan, but trailed in the second quarter after RedHawks quarterback Brett Gabbert — brother of NFL quarterback Blaine Gabbert — picked apart the Iowa secondary on a 77-yard scoring drive. Gabbert finished 17 of 27 for 186 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The Hawkeyes used a combination of Sargent and Toren Young on the ground and Stanley finding 10 different receivers to counter and slowly pull away. Sargent had 14 carries and Young finished with nine for 48 yards and one touchdown.
"At halftime, we had Iowa's attention," Miami coach Chuck Martin said. "Those two drives in the third quarter, we didn't make them earn it. Did they wear us down? Yes. But a lot of that was mental, too."
Two moments stood out in particular for Iowa, for different reasons. Starting left tackle Alaric Jackson left the game in the first quarter with an apparent right knee injury. Conversely, Michigan transfer Oliver Martin caught his first pass with the Hawkeyes, a nine-yard touchdown from Stanley. He finished with two catches for 14 yards and the score.
Ferentz said he there wasn't yet a diagnosis on the extent of Jackson's injury.
"Nothing new right now, but we'll probably know more when we get together on Tuesday," Ferentz said. "He was in the locker room and he was fine. We don't know the extent of it, so no sense having a mourning right now or worrying about it. We'll keep our fingers crossed."
Iowa: The Hawkeyes' performance may have been uneven — and the uncertain health status of starting left tackle Alaric Jackson looms — Ferentz's crew eventually did what was expected as the game wore on. The rushing attack was consistent, and Martin's splash onto the scene was the highlight.
Miami: Despite how the game got away from the RedHawks, Gabbert had multiple shining moments. It remains to be seen if Miami's quarterback competition is finished, but Gabbert helped himself, especially with the touch he displayed on his touchdown passes.
Oliver Martin's journey from hometown hero at Iowa City West High School to Michigan transfer to the field Saturday night was not without drama, but his arrival ended up being an emphatic one.
On just his second play, he caught his first pass to extend Iowa's lead to 17-7 in the third quarter. Martin spurned the hometown Hawkeyes in favor of Michigan two years ago before transferring back this summer and then waiting until the 11th hour this week to find out he was eligible.
The touchdown wasn't something Martin let himself think about before Saturday night, but he wasn't about to argue with it, either.
"Yeah, it is (a dream scenario)," Martin said. "I didn't really envision that coming in, and then the opportunity came where I went in the game, and they called that particular play in the red zone and I was like, 'I could score on this play.'"
Iowa may not have wowed anyone Saturday night, but the season-opening victory should keep the Hawkeyes comfortably in the top 25.
Iowa stays home next week, opening Big Ten play by hosting Rutgers on Saturday.
Miami (OH) returns hosts Tennessee Tech on Saturday.
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