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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Let’s allow this one little moment from No. 25 Iowa’s escape from almost New York before getting into the gore.
The Hawkeyes made a fourth-down stand late in their uncomfortably narrow victory over Rutgers, 14-7, before 44,061 fans Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium. This is a time of celebration. Unless, of course, you’re the free safety who missed a tackle that allowed the big gain that put the defense in that position.
So, when Brandon Snyder trotted off the field, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz got in his face. You’ve got to give Ferentz credit for originality. Snyder finished sixth in the state golf tournament as a junior at West Lyon High School. Oh yeah, Ferentz went there.
“That was the first thing he said to me, for sure,” Snyder said with a laugh. “He used the golf analogy and it made sense.”
Hey, they can all laugh now, right?
Snyder forced and recovered a fumble early in the fourth quarter to set up the Hawkeyes' (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) winning score, a 26-yard run by running back Akrum Wadley, who finished with 84 yards on 12 carries, tucked into the end zone in front of his home state family, old high school team and fans.
This gave Iowa a 14-7 lead with 8:35 left in the game that it would just kind of milk, rather unspectacularly, over a team with a first-year coach and a program that is just 4-13 in three years in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes allowed 193 rushing yards and were outgained, 383 to 355. Iowa’s offense had a beautiful 99-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead at the end of the first half (OK, there was a tipped pass that hung in the air and dropped into wide receiver Matt VandeBerg’s arms, so it wasn’t precision) and then punted four consecutive times in the second half before Snyder set it up.
The Hawkeyes’ defense played “bend don’t break” like that’s the goal, but it came up huge with a goal-line stand near the end of the first half that set the stage for the 99-yarder.
It’s OK to laugh now. They lived through this one. None of the red flags that were exposed in last week’s stunning loss to FCS kingpin North Dakota State were definitively answered. That is the takeaway, but so is the win. Maybe you played the “Victory Polka” somewhere after this pushed your TV off its stand in the third quarter.
“You shoot yourself in the foot, it’s tough to overcome that,” quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “You have a positive play, it gets called back and then you’re playing behind the chains. It’s tough to overcome those in drives.”
Is Beathard trying to do too much? He finished 12 of 23 for 162 yards and a TD. He was sacked twice and was pressured. He was frustrated. He tried to make things happen with his feet and took some whacks.
“When things aren’t going well sometimes, players try to do too much. Good players do,” Ferentz said. “The best thing he can do is just play like he plays. When he does that, he’s absolutely fine. But there are times he’s trying to do too much and make something out of whatever situation it might be.”
Another answer to frustration on offense was penalties. They did take a huge bite. On the first play of the second half, running back LeShun Daniels had what appeared to be a 75-yard run. The play was killed on an illegal block below the waist penalty on tackle Ike Boettger. The call set Ferentz off in the postgame, pointing a finger not at officials but at a rule that’s been changed and is, in his opinion, being misinterpreted.
Ferentz said he’s ready to pay the fine on this one.
“We all have bosses and if they give you rules that are cloudy and not clear, it’s hard to execute your job well,” he said. “That’s my concern right now.”
The Hawkeyes were hit with seven penalties for 57 yards, the most penalties against Iowa in a game this season.
“It’s a team thing,” Ferentz said. “Everybody has to understand why certain things are important and why you have to stay with your keys or your roles.”
For Iowa’s defense, linebacker Josey Jewell was pulled away from the line of scrimmage continuously because of alignment. This gave Rutgers (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) a numbers advantage and the Scarlet Knights hit it over and over. Ferentz said it’s not so much the alignment as it is inside defenders missing calls.
“We’ve had too many instances, in my opinion, where not everybody gets the call,” Ferentz said. “We have intricate calls that we make up front and that’s good unless everyone isn’t on the same page. That opens up seams and they hit a couple of those.”
More: Iowa-Rutgers Game Report
On the other hand, the defense did allow just seven points. On another hand, Iowa ran through a bunch of personnel packages on defense and linebacker Bo Bower and defensive end Parker Hesse had a pair of sacks. On yet another hand, the defense produced a goal-line stand that set the stage for the offense to put together a 99-yard drive.
The only sell here is the win. You can buy it or not. The Hawkeyes sang the school fight song in the corner of the end zone and they seemed happy to be able to do that.