IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The play call wasn't designed to help Cade McNamara make a big debut as Iowa's quarterback.
“We’re not that cerebral,” coach Kirk Ferentz joked. “We were just trying to score.”
McNamara's first pass for the No. 25 Hawkeyes was a touchdown, one of the two he threw Saturday in a 24-14 victory over Utah State.
McNamara, who transferred from Michigan, was listed as questionable for the game with a quad injury to his right leg he suffered during an open scrimmage on August 12, but he made an immediate impact in this game with a 36-yard touchdown throw to Seth Anderson on Iowa’s second play from scrimmage.
“Gosh, I was so fired up,” McNamara said. “We got the exact look we wanted. To be honest, I was kind of surprised that play was called that early. I was expecting maybe a play-action or something. I was so fired up to hit that, and Seth made a great play on it.”
It was the first passing touchdown on the opening series of the season in Ferentz’s 25 years as the Hawkeyes’ coach, and the first for an Iowa team since 1991.
McNamara threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Erick All, another transfer from Michigan, on Iowa's next drive, but the Hawkeyes' offense bogged down at that point. Iowa's only other points in the first half came on Drew Stevens' 20-yard field goal seven seconds before halftime. The Hawkeyes wouldn't score again until Kaleb Johnson's 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Iowa, which had one of the worst offenses in the nation last season, finished with 284 yards.
“Overall, I thought we left a lot out there, to be honest,” McNamara said.
“They didn’t do anything to stop us,” Anderson said. “We were just stopping ourselves. We just have to execute better.”
McNamara admitted he wasn’t feeling his best. At one point in the third quarter, he was shaking his right leg after making an awkward throw.
Ferentz, who was noncommittal during his Tuesday news conference about whether McNamara would start, said the quarterback felt better throughout the week.
“It was pretty clear, he was intent on playing,” Ferentz said. “He practiced well.”
McNamara said the injury is improving.
“I knew I wasn't going to be 100% going into this game," he said. "There were a couple of awkward positions I was put in today. But the offensive line really protected me today.”
Still, Ferentz said, it's an injury that could linger throughout the season.
"It’s probably going to be week to week, day to day," he said. “My guess is it’s something we’ll have to manage as we go along. Hopefully it will get better as we go. There’s really no way to predict that stuff.”
Utah State (0-1) got field goals from William Testa and Elliott Nimrod and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Cooper Legas to Terrell Vaughn late in the fourth quarter.
The Aggies had 329 total yards but were penalized 10 times for 91 yards, including five personal fouls. Utah State also turned the ball over once, and couldn't recover two fumbles by the Hawkeyes.
“Those are called self-inflicted wounds, unforced errors,” Utah State coach Blake Anderson said. “You're not going to beat a bad team with those, let alone a good team like Iowa.”
Legas was 32 of 48 for 213 yards with an interception.
“I think we had glimpses of what we can do,” he said. “I felt like the defense did a great job of holding them, and the offense needed to do a better job of capitalizing on that.”
The Hawkeyes should be able to stay in the rankings despite the offensive struggles that looked a lot like last season. McNamara provided early offensive life, but Iowa had problems moving the ball after that.
Seven Iowa players were listed as out for the game, including defensive lineman Noah Shannon, who is appealing his season suspension from the NCAA for wagering on sports.
Among the other players listed as out were Jermari Harris, who was No. 1 on the depth chart at right cornerback, and offensive lineman Beau Stephens, listed at No. 2 on the depth chart at right guard.
The Big Ten instituted a policy this season that all conference teams release an injury report two hours before game time.
Utah State: Hosts Idaho State next Saturday.
Iowa: Visits Iowa State next Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll