Iowa City, Iowa — Iowa has found itself a running back — just in time for Big Ten play.
But Jordan Canzeri is far from the only playmaker on a team that suddenly looks like a contender for the Big Ten West title.
Canzeri ran for 115 yards and tied a school record with four touchdowns as Iowa trounced North Texas 62-16 Saturday for its fourth straight win.
C.J. Beathard completed his first 15 passes and had 278 yards for the Hawkeyes (4-0), who open league play next week at Wisconsin after topping 60 points for the first time since 2002.
Tevaun Smith added 115 yards receiving and Desmond King had 180 yards on punt and kick returns for the surging Hawkeyes, who enter Big Ten play unblemished for the first time since 2009.
“We’ve got a lot of guys making positive contributions. For us to be a good football team, that’s typically how it has to go,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who matched former Badgers coach Barry Alvarez for victories by a Big Ten coach with his 119th.
Andrew McNulty had 137 yards passing and an interception for North Texas (0-3), which lost its third straight by double digits.
This could have been a trap game for Iowa, after a thrilling last-second win last week over Pittsburgh and a crucial league matchup looming next week in Madison.
It was apparent from the opening drive the Hawkeyes weren’t going to overlook the Mean Green.
Canzeri opened the scoring with a 16-yard touchdown run. He followed it up with a 10-yarder to put Iowa ahead 14-0.
A rare mistake by Canzeri, who fumbled, set up North Texas for a 38-yard field goal from Trevor Moore.
But Beathard gave the Hawkeyes some breathing room, finding a streaking George Kittle down the sidelines for a 43-yard TD pass — Kittle’s first career score — and a 21-3 lead.
Beathard then completed perhaps the prettiest pass of his young career for Iowa, an 81-yard strike to Smith that made it 28-3 with 10:47 left in the first half.
Beathard’s start was the best by a Big Ten quarterback since Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson went 16 of 16 in 2011. He finished 18 of 21 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“The offensive line was giving me good protection all day so it was easy to pick coverages out and pick apart (the) defense,” Beathard said. “The receivers did a good job of getting open and made it a little bit easy.”
Josey Jewell and Bo Bower had late interception returns for the Hawkeyes, who also scored 62 points in a rout of Northwestern in 2002.
North Texas’ lone touchdown came on a 6-yard pass from wide receiver Carlos Harris after a double-reverse by Iowa led to a fumble that North Texas recovered.
Iowa’s defense had some issues with the Mean Green rushing attack, allowing 183 yards. But Canzeri’s 1-yard plunge late in the third gave Iowa a 26-point lead — and made him the first Iowa player with four rushing touchdowns since Shonn Greene against Wisconsin in 2008.
“He made a couple great runs,” Beathard said. “He’s getting more carries than he ever has, and he realizes that he’s taken a heavier load. He’s doing a great job.”
Indeed, Canzeri began the year as Iowa’s change-of-pace back. But he appears to be the top guy heading into Big Ten play, especially with LeShun Daniels still recovering from a right ankle injury.
Canzeri already has eight touchdowns so far this season.
“Four and 0 is exactly where we wanted to be,” Canzeri said. “We can’t let that get to us…we’ll be ready for Big Ten play.”