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IOWA CITY — Today with the Hawkeyes it was all about change that might or might not come. Whether it’s personnel or playbook, this isn’t something you advertise on a Tuesday of game week.
It was Tuesday as usual for the Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten). It’s the day the Hawkeyes talk, but it’s not a day when they discuss their plans to fix the six sacks that were the stick in the spokes of the offense or what’s turning out to be a season-long problem in stopping the run on defense.
You’ll have to wait until Saturday at Minnesota (3-1, 0-1) to see the plan that will try to keep them in the conversation for the Big Ten West Division title.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t some hints.
Protecting quarterback C.J. Beathard has been a problem all season. The Hawkeyes now have allowed 14.0 sacks, which is 13th in the Big Ten. Iowa showed flashes of a no-huddle offense and a quick passing game that did give it some room to breathe during last weekend’s 38-31 loss to Northwestern, in which Beathard was sacked six times.
You’ll probably see more three-step and quick throws than you see 5- and 7-step drops against the Gophers.
“We’re going to do some things to get the ball out quicker and protect better,” Beathard said. “We’re going to do a lot of stuff like that.”
That also might look like slant and hitch routes for receivers, which are shorter and don’t require 3-plus seconds of protection.
“When we go tempo and throw the ball short like we did last week, the slants and the hitches, that gives the offense a smaller job to do and gets the ball out of C.J.’s hand so he won’t get hit that much,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “It’s very effective.”
Late in the second quarter, Iowa’s offense flipped into a no-huddle mode. That drive ended up as a touchdown. Then, the no-huddle disappeared, which probably had more to do with the defense allowing 198 rushing yards than anything the offense wasn’t able to do.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz made the call to flip the no-huddle switch.
“Nothing was really looking good at that point, so it was just a shot in the dark,” Ferentz said. “There’s no guarantee. If that was the answer, you’d do it all the time.”
OK, so quick passing game and maybe some no-huddle. What about personnel?
Out of last weekend’s result, the positions you jump to are left offensive tackle and the safeties. Senior Cole Croston was beaten four times for sacks against the Wildcats. Safety Miles Taylor had a missed tackle that led to NU running back Justin Jackson’s 58-yard TD run. Safety Brandon Snyder failed to wrap on receiver Austin Carr, who bounced off Snyder and gave NU a 38-24 lead with 12:06 left in the fourth quarter.
Everyone made mistakes against Northwestern. Beathard copped Tuesday to waiting too long for receivers to break open on third-and-long situations. That led to the senior not sensing the rush and left him with the fetal position as his only move. Senior wide receiver Riley McCarron said the receivers need to run better routes and find ways for their quarterback to see them.
The sacks killed Iowa’s offense. Obviously, missed tackles that led to touchdowns ultimately buried the Hawkeyes.
On the possibility of lineup changes, Ferentz said, “Nothing major, but you never rule anything out. We’ll see how practice goes this week.”
It’s on Ferentz and his staff to decide if these are recurring mistakes and if their team can or can’t live with them. Basically, the best chance anyone has to ascend on the depth chart is spring and fall camp. When the season starts, it’s preparation for games and not much for getting a look at a backup, although, Ferentz did say there still is an element of that. Ferentz also mentioned health as a factor. Redshirt freshman Brett Waechter did start the season as No. 2 left tackle, but has been out with an undisclosed injury since week 2.
“Unless a guy is just flat-out not getting it done or is really struggling, if they’re out there drowning in the ocean, you’re going to try to throw a life preserver in there, for sure, and get a guy out of there,” Ferentz said. “But there are ups and downs in everything you do, and you have to work through those ups and downs.”
That seems to be where the coaches are as far as the lineup goes.
Ferentz was asked about senior safety Anthony Gair.
“Typically, we don’t like to be reactionary with our decisions, and hopefully you’re looking at things and being rational and basing it over the big picture and not just a momentary blip,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz coached Croston’s dad, Dave, when he was an offensive lineman at Iowa. Dave Croston was an all-American in 1986 and was named Big Ten offensive lineman of the year.
The evaluation on who becomes a starter begins in January. Every practice is put on video and evaluated and that’s how coaches arrive on the depth chart. According to Pro Football Focus, Croston has graded as one of Iowa’s better pass blockers most of the season.
Ferentz talked about the process of how his staff finds its starters. A lot goes into it and everyone wants to see it work. Hopefully, you got a sense of that.
Ultimately, they decide what’s the big picture and what’s a momentary blip.
“It’s kind of like our football team, we have a lot of really good players and good people on our team,” Ferentz said. “So, it’s not going perfect right now by any stretch, but the guys are working hard, they’ve got the right attitude. They really care, they’re invested. And everything I’m saying, that’s Cole Croston.
“He’s a really tremendous young man. He’ll work through this. He’ll fight through this. He’s played good football for us. We’ll get him back to where he needs to be. He’ll get himself back there. That’s the most important thing. It’s not fun, but that was yesterday and now we’re moving forward.”
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