IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi slipped to the turf and limped to the sidelines, seemingly carrying the Hawkeyes hopes with him.
There would be no drama in this opener for No. 9 Iowa, though.
Stanzi was fine, and the Hawkeyes dominated an FCS opponent after nearly losing their opener to Northern Iowa a year ago.
Adam Robinson ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and No. 9 Iowa (1-0) breezed past Eastern Illinois 37-7 for their 10th straight season-opening win under coach Kirk Ferentz.
Stanzi caused a collective gasp from a crowd of over 70,000 at Kinnick Stadium when he slipped on a rollout in the second quarter. Trainers briefly huddled over Iowa's senior leader, but Stanzi came out for the next series to cheers.
It was clear that the Hawkeyes, derided by many for being lucky last season, had caught their first break of 2010.
"Very fortunately it turned out to just be a little bit of a muscle or a soft tissue thing," Ferentz said of Stanzi, who finished with 229 yards passing and a late touchdown. "It looked ugly from the sideline. I'm sure it looked ugly from all angles."
Iowa needed two blocked field goals in the final moments to escape Northern Iowa in 2009, and some wondered if the Hawkeyes were going to let Eastern Illinois hang around, too.
No worries this time. Iowa jumped 21-0 late in the first quarter and were rarely threatened after that.
The Hawkeyes moved the ball with ease on their first two drives, both punctuated by short rushing touchdowns of 2 and 4 yards from Robinson. Paki O'Meara then returned a blocked punt 42 yards for a TD, putting the Panthers in a three-touchdown hole before they even crossed the 50-yard line.
"We were able to come out early, put some points on the board and execute very well in the early stages of the game," Stanzi said.
Brandon Large was 13-of-20 passing for just 92 in his first career start for Eastern Illinois (0-1), which totaled six first downs and a measly 157 yards of offense.
It was obvious from the first time Eastern Illinois touched the ball that it wasn't going to do much against Iowa's vaunted defense.
The Panthers opened with what appeared to be a chop block on Iowa star defensive end Adrian Clayborn, and Large barely got the ball out on third down as Clayborn raced toward him in the Eastern Illinois end zone.
But nothing ever seems to come easy for the Hawkeyes — even against the overmatched Panthers.
Eastern Illinois converted a fake punt from their own 20, setting up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Large to Von Wise that made it 21-7 early in the second quarter.
Robinson, making a strong impression in the ongoing competition for carries with the suspended Jewel Hampton, scored from 6 yards out to give Iowa a 28-7 lead with 8:39 left in the first half,
The Panthers tried some trickery again in the third quarter, but it cost them two points. Large's screen pass in the end zone went behind his receiver and out of bounds, giving Iowa a safety and a 30-7 lead.
"We were outmatched obviously in some areas but I really respect our kids for their performance," Eastern Illinois coach Bob Spoo said. "That doesn't reflect on the rest of the year for us because I think we have a strong football team."
Stanzi, who was 18-of-23 passing, found fullback Brett Morse for an 1-yard TD pass with 8:27 left to round out the scoring.
Though backup James Vandenberg looked sharp in relief of Stanzi, the Hawkeyes know they're better off having Stanzi behind center when the season kicks off in earnest next week against rival Iowa State.
"He continues to make really good decisions out there for us," Ferentz said.