IOWA CITY – Don’t blame Jake Rudock.
Yes, it was Rudock who threw the pivotal interception in Iowa’s 30-27 loss to Northern Illinois.
But he had plenty of help.
Dropped passes, blown coverages and special-teams gaffes all contributed to Saturday’s season-opening deflater.
“When you’ve got a chance to make a play, you’ve got to do it,” running back Mark Weisman said. “Today, we obviously didn’t.”
As a result, the Hawkeyes suffered their seventh straight defeat when Northern Illinois’ Mathew Sims converted a 36-yard field goal with 4 seconds left.
For the Huskies, it was a triumph that could propel them back into the top 25 rankings.
“You guys can talk about the significance of it and all those things,” Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey told reporters. “You are way better at it than I am.”
Rudock, a sophomore quarterback from Weston, Fla., who was making his college debut, finished 21-of-37 passing for 256 yards and a touchdown.
What everyone will remember is Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward picking off Rudock with 1:17 to go and the score tied 27-27, and returning it to Iowa’s 30-yard line.
The Kinnick Stadium crowd of 67,402 fell silent a few minutes later as Sims’ kick sailed through.
“The way I always judge is off the win,” Rudock said of his performance. “And we didn’t get the win out there.”
It wasn’t entirely his doing.
After an offseason full of speculation about who would be under center, the Hawkeyes were undone by inconsistencies throughout the roster.
After gaining 320 yards and scoring 24 points before halftime, Iowa managed just 156 yards and three points in the final 30 minutes.
The Hawkeyes were successful on six of 10 third down chances in the first half, but went 1-for-7 in the second.
“I think we were just kind of on a roll,” Rudock said. “They made some really good halftime adjustments that kind of got us.”
Rudock did a nice job of adapting to the play clock and showed some savvy on a 6-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter.
His interception in the third quarter was due to Northern Illinois’ Ken Bishop breaking through and hitting him as the ball was released.
“I thought (Rudock) did really well,” receiver Jordan Cotton said. “He took great control of the game.”
But the new no-huddle approach of offensive coordinator Greg Davis never settled into a rhythm, partly due to ill-timed penalties.
On one well-conceived screen pass, tailback Damon Bullock bobbled the ball.
“I thought Jake did a lot of really good things,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “There were a lot of individuals who did a lot of good things.
“But they also had some bad plays.”
The Hawkeyes repeatedly squandered opportunities to pad a 24-17 lead — crossing into Northern Illinois territory five times in the second half without reaching the end zone. But placing all of the burden on Rudock would be misguided.
“We were off the field too fast,” Weisman said. “We didn’t really have those long, sustaining drives, and that’s what we’re all about.”
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch threw for 275 yards and ran for 56 more.
More importantly, the Huskies found themselves on Iowa’s side of the field four times in the second half and came away with 13 points.
“You’re always going to have those 1-2 plays, where you think, ‘If would have converted this and continued the drive…,” Rudock said. “They did a good job and hung with us.”