Iowa football #MusterOneUp Mailbag: Hawkeye who's been the biggest surprise?

Some of the differences between passing game 2016 and 2017

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Let’s take a second and toast a Hamm’s to former Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard.

He entered last week’s San Francisco 49ers game and completed 19 of 36 passes for 245 yards, including one touchdown pass and an interception. He completed two of those passes to fellow Hawkeye and rookie tight end George Kittle.

Beathard is the first Iowa QB to throw a pass in the NFL since Dan McGwire for Miami on Oct. 15, 1995. That’s 22 years.

Shortly after last weekend’s appearance, Beathard was named the starter, so more passes coming.

This is trending up. The Hawkeyes have had three of their last four starting QBs make it into the NFL draft (Beathard, Jake Rudock and Ricky Stanzi).

Last Iowa wide receiver to catch a pass in the NFL remains Tim Dwight (2007). Shonn Greene is the last Iowa running back to score a TD in the league (two in 2014).

While we’re on it, offensive line, of course, is the position that has had the most draft picks in Kirk Ferentz’s 19-plus seasons at Iowa. Defensive back is next with 12 and then it’s 10 defensive linemen, nine tight ends, seven linebackers, three QBs, three wide receivers and two running backs.

Just FYI.

Hey, it’s “Muster One Up” mailbag No. 7. I wish I could figure out how to block that one guy’s emails.

I’m always looking for contributions on TwitterFacebook or email. Questions, comments, over/unders, please use the #MusterOneUp hashtag on Twitter.

 

Greg Davis relied horizontal routes. He wanted short passes in safe places. He wanted athletes to make plays after the catch. He also asked receivers to make reads on defensive backs in shaping their routes (this is why you saw so many receivers going sort of half-speed straight into defensive backs last season).

This works if 1) you’re at Texas, where athletes who can take short passes and make things happen line up to play at your school and 2) if your wide receivers are decisive and make those quick reads.

It worked in 2015. How much of that was Beathard and a pretty good, pretty NFL-ish group of receivers. It certainly crash landed last season.

Under Brian Ferentz, the tight end is again an emphasis and that means the middle of the field is back in play. Tight ends line up inside or along the hash marks. As Ferentz said, “That’s where they live,” between the hashes.

Iowa has pressured safeties differently because tight end Noah Fant has good wheels. His speed gets him on safeties. I’m thinking back to Iowa State, when on a few of those fourth-quarter drives, Iowa created conflict for safeties with two receivers in or near their coverage.

I think you see some “mesh” concept, with receivers running shallow crossers trying to gain leverage on defenders. I don’t know why every team doesn’t have some shallow cross routes in their games. If your OL protects, that’s a long time for a secondary to account for a moving target.

I’m kind of guessing on this last bit, but it feels like QB Nate Stanley is presented with three solid reads (not every pass play, but some) that are grouped relatively close together. That speeds up the entire operation.

Another guess, I do think Iowa receivers have options in their routes. I think they run along the lines of an “Air Coryell” offense. You’re seeing the field stretched horizontally and vertically.

Better players than 2016, too. After Kittle suffered that foot sprain and Matt VandeBerg broke his foot, it was pretty much Riley McCarron and Akrum Wadley as the primary pass catchers.

 

I don’t think so. The SEC plays midseason non-conference games and who are those against? Auburn is playing Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 18. Alabama plays Mercer on the same date. Arkansas plays Coastal Carolina on Nov. 4. And so on.

Of course, the SEC plays four non-cons compared to three for the B1G. It’s not apples and apples. Still, I think the temptation for a coach would be a “break” game rather than a “challenge.”

The Big Ten has started to have week 1 conference matchups (Indiana-Ohio State this year). In 2019 week 2, Iowa plays host to Rutgers. In 2020, Iowa plays Minnesota before Northern Illinois. Iowa opens the season against Indiana in 2021.

In all of those instances, Iowa’s non-con is who you thought they’d be.

What’s going to change Iowa’s non-con is 1) the demolition of the Big 12 and Iowa State no longer being a Power 5 program. There is no 2). OK, a 2) would be if the Big Ten went back to eight conference games. I see that before I see the end of the Big 12.

If the B1G went back to eight, maybe Iowa would do a Missouri or a North Carolina or a Mississippi State.

In my opinion, the non-con thing and Iowa is a dead issue not worth a lot of discussion (the ISU contract runs through 2023), so I’ll stop discussing it now.

 

I asked for #MusterOneUp questions and Bob’s Burgers reviews. This isn’t a Bob’s Burgers review, Matt.

I will suggest this and I’m totally serious. If your team loses and it’s a bitter defeat, one that gives you a facial tic, binge Bob’s Burgers. It will make you happy again.

 

I hear you on the “slow death,” Feldy. That was Michigan State in a nutshell. A quick 14-0 lead and then Mark Dantonio brings out the leaches and bleeds you to a slow, painful and green death.

I’m always “stop the run.” If you’re getting run on, you’re football pinned. That’s the slowest death.

If Iowa can nudge Northwestern toward one-dimension, more bad things can happen to an offense that is leaning pass. In my opinion, it’s harder to put together a 12-play drive if you have to lean pass.

Stop the run and take your chances.

 

Beat Ohio State. You’ll never get that T-shirt off Kirk Ferentz. (Kidding on the T-shirt thing. But still, Iowa has beaten Ohio State once since 1991. If Iowa went 1-11 and the one was Ohio State ... well, you’d remember that.)

Beat Wisconsin. Like it or not, that’s a premium victory for Iowa. Yes, Wisconsin is here (hand above head) and Iowa is here (hand at eye level). It won’t stay this way. Probably.

Get to the fourth quarter in the B1G West race. No margin for error there with a two-game deficit already to the Badgers.

I think 4-2 would be excellent. Iowa would end up 8-4 when everyone picked it 7-5 (hi!) or 6-6. It wouldn’t be memorable, but you might find that at least satisfying.

 

I don’t understand the dungeon part, but let’s go with it. Yes, I believe Quarells is allowed out of the basement to see the sun once every two weeks.

But really ...

Quarells got here in August. He was a 2-star recruit (Rivals). He played for an option offense and 13 passes in two season at New Mexico. I don’t mean this as a slight. Quarells could end up being something, but expecting big things out of him this year was a stretch.

Brian Ferentz was fairly blunt when he fielded this question last week.

“Well, right now, no,” Ferentz said when asked about Quarells fitting in right now. “Right now, we’ve got guys who are ahead of him, and the challenge would be for Matt to push and move past some of these guys.”

There’s that. Run with this thought. It’s a little more positive for the WR group as a whole. And I totally agree with this. No. I wouldn’t have thought in March that Iowa wide receiver would be as good as it’s been this season (it’s not elite, but it’s moved the chains way more than I thought).

“Right now, the encouraging thing is we have healthy competition in that room,” Brian Ferentz said. “I don’t know if we could have said that back in March. That’s encouraging in and of itself that we’re talking about guys who aren’t seeing the field. I think that’s good news, right?”

 

I kind of agree. I think the jury still is out on the secondary. WR group could do more, but from where it started, it’s been a positive surprise.

The O-line’s struggles have been this season’s biggest surprise. “Surprise” as in backing into a car and not “surprise” as in birthday.

You know how you guys hate it when Ferentz, either one, uses the word “execution”? I kind of get the same feeling when I use the word “injuries,” but that’s really been it. The overall performance things I would point to would be too much penetration and too slow getting out of the blocks. That, of course, could be just how defenses are playing Iowa this year. Defensive coordinators all over the Big Ten do their homework, too.

 

It took me a second, but let me be the first to offer Deron an electronic high five for the “BriNtheSky.” That’s just well done. I might go “Bri-IN-the-Sky,” but this is why a do the MusterOneUp. You guys are funny.

This is something I’ve thought a bit about. Has Kirk Ferentz handed some things off? If he has, I don’t see it. I started a question in the Illinois postgame with “Hey, after 19 years, you still have some firsts in you ...” I was talking about Tristan Wirfs being the first true freshman to start at offensive tackle in the Ferentz era.

His answer was “Many more to come.” The guy played linebacker for UConn in the Yankee Conference. He has a mangled thumbnail from something, probably gator wrestling. A lot of the important people in his life are old coaches. Now he’s one and I think he digs it.

That said, having watched and listened to Brian Ferentz on and off since 2001 or so, could you imagine saying no to that guy? Not everything is going to work, but I feel like there’s a balance. It feels like KF really likes his staff right now and it sure looks like he trusts their judgment.

(By the way, fake punts or field goals are vetted by LeVar Woods. I’m not sure if he actually calls it. KF holds veto power. Seth Wallace also coaches punt, so good question on where this actually comes from. I’m not sure and now I want to know.)

 

No and no.

Kidding, kidding. That’d be the easy way out.

I think Josey Jewell is the identity of the defense. Iowa is tenacious and wants to rattle your cage. Now, do the numbers say Iowa defense has a steady identity? No, the numbers are weird, but I’d still contend that Iowa’s defense has largely been effective this season. Yeah, it gave up 579 yards to Penn State, but still lost on the final play of the game.

Is Stanley the identity of the offense? I think he kind of is. Every player just about every week comments on his calm demeanor. We don’t get to see it (not in an interview setting), but I’ll bet Stanley is absurdly competitive. Like “who can go to the bathroom faster” competitive. Calm and competitive, that rubs off. That can become an identity.

If the answer to this question was the “offensive line,” that’d probably be better for Iowa, but having the QB be named as the identity isn’t a bad thing.

 

For veteran players or players who’ve seen a lot of snaps, bye week is “chill out” time for the most part. Generally, Iowa concentrates on Iowa during bye practices. I’m sure it looks ahead a little. We found out from one of the players a few years ago, that Iowa does some opponent prep during August camp, so I’m guessing the notebooks were at least open to the Northwestern page last week.

I’m not sure if it was the case this year, but bye week usually includes a lot of “developmental.” Younger players and reserves scrimmage and practice hard during byes.

 

1. WR Nick Easley — Easley is an athlete who’s heard a lot of “no” in his career. Good thing he never paid attention. I think he landed in a perfect place. He almost went to Iowa State, where slot receivers Trever Ryen and Marchie Murdock are tearing it up. Iowa needed him more and it’s totally worked. His 27 receptions are ninth in the B1G, who saw that coming besides Easley? OK, his brother, Matt, and probably his parents saw it, too.

2. TE T.J. Hockenson — Great call here. During a postgame interview, I complimented him on his blocking. He smiled and gave a genuine thanks. Said it meant a lot.

That’s nice and everything, but check this Brian Ferentz quote: “T.J. Hockenson hadn’t played a down here, and I think he’s one of the better ones or has a chance to be one of the better ones we’ve had.”

3. OT Alaric Jackson — I thought he’d eventually be a starter. I didn’t think so this soon. Yes, he got the promotion because Boone Myers suffered an ankle injury in fall camp, but he’s taken the opportunity and run with it. He’s young and there have been ups and downs, but Jackson is more than hanging in there.

4. K Miguel Recinos — The surprise here is that Recinos is a junior and began the season behind sophomore Keith Duncan. Recinos said at a certain point last season he decided he was determined to be the specialist he thought he could be. Um, I want to go to that camp. It worked, whatever he did, it worked.

5. DE A.J. Epenesa — I thought he’d be pretty good. I also thought he might be tried at DT, so ... half right. And, I know, way to go out on the limb with the 5-star recruit.

I thought Josh Jackson would be good and, yeah, I thought he’d be this good.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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