IOWA CITY — With seven minutes left in the second quarter during last weekend’s loss to Northwestern, Iowa went into a no-huddle mode on offense.
It gave the Hawkeyes a push. Quarterback C.J. Beathard hit wide receiver Jay Scheel on what looked like a broken play for a 22-yard gain and Iowa scored on a brisk seven-play, 55-yard drive in 2:05.
The Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) didn’t totally jump in with the no-huddle again. It wouldn’t have solved all of their problems, not with a defense that allowed 198 rushing yards and 38 points, but it was the only time Iowa’s offense approached a healthy, workable rhythm.
“Up until then, we didn’t have much tempo or rhythm,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It was just a little change-up to try to get us in a groove.”
Who knows what changes Ferentz and his staff might have in store for this week’s trip to Minnesota (3-1, 0-1), where the Hawkeyes are a two-point favorite at TCF Bank Stadium? Iowa’s third consecutive lackluster performance calls for something.
Clearly, after today’s ballgame, everything’s up on the board, everything is open again to discussion,” Ferentz said. “That’s something for us as coaches. We’re going to have to find something to get our guys on track a little faster, a little quicker. That’s a coaches’ thing and that’s a players’ thing. We’ve all got to work together and we will.”
Pass protection needs an inspection. Northwestern sacked Beathard six times. NU defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo earned Big Ten defensive player of the week with four sacks, all coming against left tackle Cole Croston.
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Asked if there was any discussion during the game to fix that — perhaps keeping a back in or having a tight end chip — Ferentz said, “Historically, we haven’t done a lot of that, and I haven’t seen the film yet. I’m not convinced that’s the answer.”
Ferentz instead pointed to rhythm and tempo for moving the ball. More than a half dozen of Beathard’s 19 completions came off quick drops, nothing more than three steps. Another half dozen or so came out of shotgun. Iowa’s three 20-plus yard receptions were shotgun and a pair of play-action passes.
Beathard never looked comfortable in throws that required five- or seven-step drops. Five of the six sacks came out of shotgun formation and from NU’s defensive line, which also produced six of NU’s seven QB hurries.
“My experiences tell me where it’s not quite as bad as it seemed, it felt pretty bad there,” Ferentz said. “Certainly, when you get sacked it always feels bad, but we can do some things to help that.”
There were no changes on the depth chart released Monday by Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ Oct. 15 game at Purdue is an 11 a.m. kickoff.
Offensive personnel groups
11 (one back, one tight end, three WRs) — 6 rushes for 32 yards and a TD; 4 of 7 passes for 64 yards
11 shotgun — 3 rushes for 17 yards (12 on a scramble); 5 of 7 for 59 yards and a TD (five sacks in this formation)
21 (running back, fullback, one TE, two WR) — 14 runs for 127 yards and TD; 1 of 3 for 6 yards
22 (two backs, two TEs) — 1 run for 8 yards
12 (one back, two TEs) — 12 rushes for 39 yards; 4 of 5 for 26 yards passing
23 (two backs, three TEs) — 1 rush for 1 yard and a TD
Let’s check some Pro Football Focus grades
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Iowa’s run blockers ranked by PFF (starting O-line, fullbacks and TE)
1. T Ike Boettger (only positive grade)
2. TE George Kittle
3. G Boone Myers
4. G Sean Welsh
5. TE Peter Pekar
6. (tie) FB Drake Kulick, FB Brady Ross
7. C James Daniels
8. OT Cole Croston
One week after grading as Iowa’s lowest-ranked run blocker, Boettger, a junior, rebounds as Iowa’s only positive grade. Everyone else rated neutral except for Daniels and Croston, who received negatives.
PFF’s top pass blocker this week
Junior guard Sean Welsh put up Iowa’s only positive number. Croston was Iowa’s only negative number. The Hawkeyes allowed six sacks, nine hits and seven hurries on the quarterback.
Best PFF overall grades for the offense this week
1. T Ike Boettger
2. G Sean Welsh
3. WR Riley McCarron
4. QB C.J. Beathard
5. G Boone Myers
Big rebound week for Boettger. He did allow one sack, but mostly kept things moving forward for Iowa. Boettger, Welsh, McCarron and Beathard received positive grades. Three players finished with negatives — Croston, James Daniels and WR Jerminic Smith. WR Ronald Nash had 11 snaps. WR Devonte Young got one. Basically, Matt VandeBerg’s targets went to McCarron, who rose to the occasion. Part of his role slid to Nash. That really was it. No other WR was really activated. Iowa has a deficit of playmakers without VandeBerg. It ran 34 plays vs. Northwestern with No. 2 TE and/or fullback, retreating to heavy formations.
— Eight targets, eight catches for McCarron. That’s something you can build off. McCarron is effective in the quick passing game, which is kind of being forced on Iowa due to protection issues. Yes, only 78 yards (20 YAC), but McCarron is made to move the chains and he did his job well vs. Northwestern.
— Beathard’s NFL QB rating on 23 dropback passes with no pressure was 69.7. Under pressure, he was 4 of 5 for 47 yards and a TD (a 145.4 rating). Beathard could help himself in the making makable department.
— Iowa ran left of the center eight times for 27 yards. Right of center was 12 times for 52 yards. RB Akrum Wadley received a negative grade running the ball after his fumble.
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Iowa’s run defenders ranked by PFF (starting D-line and linebackers)
1. (tie) LB Josey Jewell, DE Anthony Nelson
2. DE Parker Hesse
3. DT Nathan Bazata
4. OLB Ben Niemann
5. SS Miles Taylor
6. (tie) DE Matt Nelson, FS Brandon Snyder, CB Desmond King
7. LB Bo Bower
8. DT Jaleel Johnson
9. CB Greg Mabin
Iowa gave up 198 rushing yards, so another rough week. That said, Jewell, Anthony Nelson, Hesse, Bazata and Niemann had positive grades. Bower, Johnson and Mabin were negative grades.
PFF’s best against the pass
King was Iowa’s best coverage grade with three targets, one reception and two pass breakups. His play his refined. You saw him give Iowa’s its best return game since that one Kevonte Martin-Manley put on Western Michigan in 2013. King might be better than last year, just without the interceptions. Iowa had three positive grades in coverage, with CB Joshua Jackson and Niemann joining King. Jackson was in for three raider plays.
Johnson’s pass rush grade was terrific. He was Iowa’s only positive grade and was credited with five hurries and a hit.
Best PFF overall grades for the defense this week
1. CB Desmond King
2. DE Anthony Nelson
3. OLB Ben Niemann
4. LB Josey Jewell
5. DE Parker Hesse
King is holding up his end of the bargain. Why is Anthony Nelson grading so well? He’s doing his job, with three QB hurries and the Wildcats were held to 15 yards on six carries rushing to the right. Also, did you notice him in two zone blitzes? Yes, one did go for a TD, but that pass went into the space vacated by a safety blitz.
PFF had Mabin and Snyder with negative grades.
— NU wide receiver Austin Carr beat everyone Iowa sent at him. Or did he beat everyone Northwestern’s scheme found a matchup on? Carr caught three of four targets against Taylor, including a TD that was reviewed. He was 1 of 1 on Mabin, 1-for-2 on Niemann and 1 of 1 vs. Anthony Nelson (NU noticed him in zone blitz). Freshman Manny Rugamba was targeted with Carr once for an incompletion.
— Running back Justin Jackson did his damage between the center and right guard, rushing three times for 64 yards, including a 58-yard TD.
— PFF had Iowa with 10 blitzes and NU QB Clayton Thorson made the Hawkeyes pay, hitting 6 of 9 for 65 yards and two TDs (NFL QB rating of 127.3).
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