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IOWA CITY — The problem with the 4-minute drill is there’s really only one way to make it work.
This is when an offense is trying to drain clock and leave its opponent with little or no time left to run a two-minute drill. The No. 11 Hawkeyes (2-1) needed a good, crisp 4-minute drill late in the fourth quarter of their 23-21 loss to North Dakota State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Iowa was trying to nurse a 21-20 lead with 3:41 left in the game. It ran the ball twice into a defense that spent three quarters dominating Iowa’s run game. After two unsuccessful runs, the Hawkeyes faced a third-and-11. Quarterback C.J. Beathard was blitzed and sacked. Iowa punted and NDSU quarterback Easton Stick made magic, taking off on a draw play for 29 yards on first down to set up the game-winning 37-yard field goal.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said the goal was two first downs. What the Hawkeyes got was a two-point loss to an FCS program.
“If you run the ball twice and get a yard or whatever it was — I don’t even know if we got that — it puts a little pressure on you,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Our goal was to make two first downs and then bleed the clock.”
You can question the logic. At this point of the game, Iowa had 44 rushing yards. The Bison stuffed everything and everyone associated with Iowa’s rush game.
Running back LeShun Daniels finished with 29 yards, including minus-1 on the last drive. Running back Akrum Wadley carried just four times for 20 yards.
So, Iowa wanted to run clock and NDSU knew this.
“We knew if we could get two first downs, we could go from there,” Beathard said. “We wanted to see what we could get out of those first two run plays. There wasn’t much there and then we played third down normally.”
The 4-minute offense is something Iowa installed in camp.
“That’s something we practiced all camp, all the time,” said center Lucas LeGrand, who made his second career start for injured James Daniels. “We should be able to do that and we didn’t. North Dakota State came back and scored. All the credit to them.”
What’s the critical measuring stick for Iowa coming out of this? You could argue it was the 34 rushing yards, including minus-9 in the fourth quarter. The failure of the 4-minute idea is the main symptom.
If it works, Iowa escapes. Ferentz was comfortable putting the game in the O-line’s hands and believed the Hawkeyes defense would come through against the Bison’s 2-minute counterpunch.
“I’m confident in our run game every single snap,” tight end George Kittle said. “That’s what I wanted to do, that’s what the whole O-line wanted to do.”
Ferentz shined the light in other places, including a pair of painful drops by wide receiver Jerminic Smith and Wadley. The run game seemed to have the big breakthrough the Hawkeyes hoped for on the first play of the second half, when Daniels took a cutback 62 yards to NDSU’s 3. A holding penalty on Kittle killed the gain. The Bison answered with a 9-play drive to tie the game at 14-14.
You could argue that play was a 14-point swing.
“It’s kind of like baseball, when you walk a guy in the 9th inning, it invariably comes back and gets you,” Ferentz said, “and those little things make a big difference in momentum, just how your team plays. Now, you’re sitting there first-and-20 instead of first-and-goal down inside the 5.”
Still, after all of that, Iowa had a chance to have the final say, and it had a chance to say it in a language the Hawkeyes know well — run the ball, drain the clock and win the game.
The Iowa defense stopped a 2-point pass play to preserve the 21-20 lead. The Hawkeyes had the ball and had a chance to have the last word.
On first down, Daniels tripped for a 2-yard loss. He gained 1 yard on second down. Beathard was sacked on third.
The Bison stuck their foot in the door.
“I think the running back fell on first down, it was kind of demoralizing,” said guard Keegan Render, who played for Sean Welsh (missed the game after an ankle injury against Iowa State). “Then, they were just selling out on the blitz. Still, we’ve got to get it done and get those first downs.”
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